Malcolm X was eulogized by Ossie Davis (see no. 77) after his assassination as “our manhood, our living black manhood….And we shall know him for what he was and is — a prince, our own black, shin¬ ing prince, who did not hesitate to die because he loved us so.”During the two centuries between Crispus Attucks (see no. 1) and Malcolm X, a revo¬ lution had occurred in the African-American psyche.
African-Americans were now able to adore and admire a black leader because he embod¬ ied revolution, self-respect, and the steadfast rejection of any sublimation.Malcolm X was bom Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Rev. Earl Lit¬ tle, a bold Baptist preacher who moved his family to Lansing, Michigan after receiving consistent threats from the Ku Klux Klan.
In Lansing, Little’s house was firebombed in response to the minister’s radical notions of social justice. When Malcolm was six, his father was murdered for his egalitarian ideals. Malcolm quit school in the eighth grade and went to the streets for his educa¬ tion. Deeply involved in a world of drugs, crime and prostitution in Detroit and Harlem, New York, he was jailed in 1946 for burglary. His six year sentence taught his soul to thrive.
Malcolm joined the Nation of Islam in 1948. He studied the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s teachings and spent his time reading encyclopedias, learning new words from the dictionary, and honing his intellect on the teachings of the Black Muslims.
He met Elijah Muhammad in 1952, while on parole, and was later invited to join him in Chicago. Malcolm X, using the new name given him, rose to the second highest position in the sect. For nearly 12 years, Malcolm X’s pride, intelligence, and effec¬ tive speeches drew new mem¬ bers to the Nation of Islam.
Teaching African-Americans to embrace rather than hate the color of their skin, find pride in their heritage and their accom¬ plishments, and rebel against any form of racism, Malcolm X embodied the “black prince” of Davis’ speech.
In 1963, after Malcolm X’s success as an orator and an organizer had earned him his own following, Elijah Muhammad decided that Malcolm X’s power was out of hand. He suspended Malcolm X for 90 days after hear¬ ing him state that John F. Kennedy’s assassi¬ nation amounted to “chickens coming home to roost.” Malcolm X responded by forming the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
After a trip to Mecca in 1964, he converted to Orthodox Islam, returning to the US with a new tolerance. He had walked among men of every color, all taking the pilgrimage required of every Muslim, and heard the words of Muhammad, “The Prophet. ‘ He changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El- Shabazz and denounced Elijah Muhammad publicly.
Never afraid of the consequences of his statements, Malcolm X ignored the death threats that followed and kept his public engagements, including the one at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem on February 21, 1965. As he began to speak to the crowd, he was shot to death. Three Black Muslims were convicted for murder, though the Nation of Islam denied any involvement.
Malcolm X’s death was one of the two most painful blows to the progressing civil rights movement. The second was the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (see no. 91), who opposed Malcolm X’s tactics, but supported his ideal of complete equality.