Malcolm X, whose birth name was Malcolm Little, was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925. Malcolm X became a very controversial figure during the classic years of the American civil rights movement as he preached race separation as opposed to integration. Malcolm X even angered the leaders of Nation of Islam (NOI) and he left the organisation in 1964 and formed his own movement. In 1965, members of NOI murdered Malcolm X. Malcolm X believed in separatism – blacks living separate from whites in USA.
His father was a Baptist minister who had been influenced by Marcus Garvey who believed in separatism and this was inculcated into Malcolm X in his youth. His family was poverty stricken as his father died young. His mother could not cope and white foster parents brought him up. Malcolm X grew up an angry young man. In 1941 he dropped out of school and moved to Boston’s ghetto. He became a shoeshine boy and a railroad waiter. He got involved in drug dealing, burglary and pimping. In 1945 Malcolm X received a 10-year jail sentence for his crimes. While in prison in Massachusetts, Malcolm X became a member of NOI.
He was persuaded to do so by his brothers Philbert and Reginald who were both members of NOI. Malcolm X He was released from prison in 1952 and adopted the name Malcolm X, as he believed Malcolm Little represented a slave name. He worked within the NOI movement. He quickly rose in importance within NOI and as Minister of Temple Number 7 in Harlem (NY) he gathered around him a number of devoted followers all from the ghetto. Malcolm X referred to white people as “devils” and he rejected integration in favour of segregation. His verbal attacks against White America became more and more bitter.
Malcolm X became a national/international figure between 1959 and 1965. However, members within NOI believed that he was using the organisation for his own benefits – to push his name forward at all costs. Some believed that he was scheming to replace Elijah Muhammad as leader of NOI. In 1963 members of NOI had been told by Elijah Muhammad not to comment on the death of JF Kennedy. Malcolm X refused to obey this instruction and made unsympathetic comments about Kennedy’s murder stating that his assassination was “chickens coming home to roost”. Elijah Muhammad banned him from speaking in public for 90 days and Malcolm X adhered to this.
But it was a sign on the tension within NOI. Malcolm X left NOI in March 1964 as he felt that NOI was too passive as an organisation and that it was waiting for change to come as opposed to trying to force it through, as he wanted. However, he had made enemies in NOI. He set up the Muslim Mosque. Inc. and then the Organisation of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). The aim of the latter was to unite all people of African origin and to push for full independence – segregation – of black people in USA. However, as he got older, Malcolm X adapted his beliefs. This was almost certainly as a result of a pilgrimage he made to Mecca.
By the time of his death he had embraced orthodox Islam, which included racial toleration. He started to make contact with white non-American Muslims. His supporters claim that this development was simply a sincere development in his beliefs. His detractors believed that he was reshaping his beliefs to broaden his popularity that up to that point had targeted a very narrow front. But it counted for nothing as Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21st 1965 in Manhattan. Three members of NOI Temple No 25 were arrested, tried and found guilty of his murder – Norman Butler, Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Johnson.
Did he achieve anything? Malcolm X certainly highlighted what we now view as the classic symptoms of prejudice almost like the legendary civil rights broadcast done by J F Kennedy, when the president highlighted the differences in lifestyle between blacks and whites in USA. The huge difference was the way Malcolm X believed such problems could be solved. Another argument has been forwarded. Malcolm X knew all along that what he was saying and pushing for would be rejected by Washington and that his views would shock the white political power brokers in Washington and make the views of Martin Luther King seem far more acceptable.
By rejecting Malcolm X, it is said that he made Washington accept the views of King – a ploy he was not only aware of but was driving all along. Thurgood Marshall was highly critical of Malcolm X and claimed that NOI was “run by a bunch of thugs”. However, many young dispossessed black youths followed him, as he at the time seemed to be the only one who offered them some form of hope and future. Rosa Parks Rosa Parks is famous for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a white man.
In ‘America’s women’ Gail Collins writes: The legend that built up around the incident, which would turn out to be one of the critical events in the American Civil Rights movement, was that Parks, exhausted from a hard day at work, took her stand because she was tired. In truth, she had been moving towards that moment of defiance all her life. “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in”. She explained later. Her husband, Raymond Parks, won her by telling her about his efforts to raise money for the Scottsboro Boys, nine black youths who had been sentenced to die in a trumped-up rape case.
She began trying to register to vote in 1943, when only a few dozen blacks in Montgomery had managed to overcome the hurdles of shifting office hours, complicated qualification tests, and poll taxes that had been set up for the very purpose of excluding them. She had also attended the Highlander Folk School in Mississippi, where civil rights organizers were trained.
The petite. Tidily dressed middle-aged lady on the bus in Montgomery was, in a word, more of a powerhouse than she seemed. Parks said later that she had no intention of challenging the system that day when she started the ride on he Cleveland Avenue bus and wound up in a jail cell. But the leaders of the black community knew they had found in her the perfect test case. “My God, look what segregation has put in my hands,” said her euphoric lawyer. Jo Ann Robinson and the women’s Political Council began mimeographing 35,000 handbills, calling for a one-day boycott on the day of Parks’ court appearance. The perfect client went to court on Monday, December 5, 1955, wearing a long-sleeved black dress with white cuffs and collar and a small velvet hat with pearls across the top.
They’ve messed with the wrong one now” trilled a girl in the crowd. At a mass meeting that night, local black residents packed the Holt Street Baptist Church, where a reporter for the city’s white daily found a crowd with “almost military discipline combined with emotion” listening passionately to a local minister who the reporter did not recognise, but would learn later was Martin Luther King Jr. They voted to boycott the city bus system indefinitely, sang hymns, and scrambled for the chance to put money in the hats being passed around.
Rosa Parks was given a standing ovation, but she was not given a chance to speak on a night in which virtually every black man in Montgomery wanted a moment in the spotlight. “You’ve said enough” one of the leaders assured her. Martin Luther King Jr Born in Atlanta, Georgia, King’s exceptional oratorical skills and personal courage first attracted national attention in 1955, when he and other civil rights activists were arrested after leading a boycott of a Montgomery, Alabama, transportation company which required non-whites to surrender their seats to whites, and stand or sit at the back of the bus.
Over the following decade, King wrote, spoke and organized nonviolent protests and mass demonstrations to draw attention to racial discrimination and to demand civil rights legislation to protect the rights of African-Americans. In 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, King guided peaceful mass demonstrations that the white police force countered with police dogs and fire hoses, creating a controversy, which generated newspaper headlines throughout the world. Subsequent mass demonstrations in many communities culminated in a march hat attracted more than 250,000 protestors to Washington, DC, where King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech in which he envisioned a world where people were no longer divided by race.
So powerful was the movement he inspired, that Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the same year King himself was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize. Posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, King is an icon of the civil rights movement. His life and work symbolize the quest for equality and non-discrimination that lies at the heart of the American—and human—dream.