Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Life of Malcolm X

Malcolm XImage by cliff1066 via Flickr

The Life of Malcolm X by Russell Shortt

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1925. His father, Earl Little was an outspoken Baptist preacher and an avid supporter of the Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. The young Malcolm was to be moulded by his father and the terrible oppression that was inflicted upon his family.

The family was forced to move twice after receiving death threats from white supremacists. The family eventually settled in Lansing, Michigan but their efforts to escape trouble failed, the family home was burned to the ground and two years later Earl Little was found dead in suspicious circumstances.

His father's death had a devastating effect on the family, his mother began to suffer mental problems, eventually being committed to a mental institution. Devastatingly, the children were broken up and sent to different foster homes and orphanages.

The young Malcolm was moved around a series of white foster homes, he was certainly unsettled but he managed to remain focused on his studies, graduating from junior high school at the top of his class. However, when a favourite teacher scoffed at his lofty ideals of becoming a lawyer, telling him that such high aspirations were not for a black man, he dropped out of school entirely. He moved to Boston to live with his older half-sister Ella Little Collins.

Collins lived in Roxbury, which was the centre of the African-American community in Boston. Malcolm was attracted to the energetic, bubbling, communal lifestyle. He worked a number of odd jobs, before taking to the road and drifting from city to city; he eventually shored up in Harlem, New York. He began to peddle in the criminal underbelly of the city, becoming involved in narcotics, prostitution and racketeering rings. He managed to avoid the draft during World War Two by putting on a show of madness when he was being interviewed.

In 1945 he returned to Boston becoming involved in a number of robberies, he was soon arrested, charged and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He served his sentence at the Massachusetts State Prison in Charlestown. It was there that he met John Elton Bembry, who would profoundly influence Malcolm's way of thinking. Malcolm was hugely moved by the way in which Bembry stirred respect amongst his fellow prisoners just through the use of words and language.

The two struck up a friendship, Bembry encouraged Malcolm to educate himself. In 1949, after being informed of the Nation of Islam by his brother, Malcolm began to become very interested in the movement. The Nation promoted the concept of black self reliance and actively sought to assist African-Americans in achieving political, economic and social success.

He began to correspond with the leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad and soon became a member. In 1952, Malcolm was released form prison, he went to visit Muhammad, becoming prominent in the movement. He changed his surname, dropping 'Little' as he viewed it as his slave name and adopting the surname X to signify the tribal identity that had being lost to him forever.

He was soon appointed as a minister and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam and was charged with the establishment of new mosques. Charismatic and compelling, Malcolm began to seriously increase the membership of the Nation, utilising all forms of media to spread the movement's vision. He began to become a media magnet, being featured in countless interviews, programmes and articles.

He was featured in a week long television programme called The Hate That Hate Produced with Mike Wallace in 1959. The programme explored the movement and Malcolm's place in it, by the end of the run, it was apparent that Malcolm X had eclipsed his mentor Elijah Muhammad's influence within the movement. As opposed to the civil rights movement, the Nation condoned any means necessary to achieve it's aims. Such a stance alarmed the authorities, FBI agents infiltrated the organisation and began to monitor all the group's activities.

By 1963, Malcolm had become disillusioned with the Nation; he had learnt that his mentor Elijah Muhammad had secretly been having affairs with several women within the movement and indeed some had given birth to his children. Malcolm was dismayed, Muhammad had taught celibacy. Malcolm felt cheated and more importantly he felt that he had in turn cheated all the people that he had persuaded to join the Nation which he now perceived as a fraudulent organisation.

To compound the fall-out, Malcolm had made scathing comments about JFK's assassination, the Nation publicly censured their talisman, Malcolm had enough and split from the movement. He founded his own religious organisation, the Muslim Mosque Inc. and a secular organisation, the Organisation of Afro-American Unity, a group that advocated black nationalism. In the spring of 1964, he converted to Sunni Islam and embarked upon a pilgrimage to Mecca, it was to fundamentally alter his outlook.

During his pilgrimage, he encountered and observed Muslims of different races interacting as equals, he began to believe that Islam could be used as a vehicle with which racial problems could be overcome. On his return to America, he began to preach not just solely to African Americans but to all races, his vision had definitely broadened.

This led to an even further deterioration in relations between Malcolm and The Nation of Islam, the latter taking the rather drastic decision of marking him for assassination. Tragically, on 21 February 1965, whilst speaking at an Organisation of Afro-American Unity meeting, Malcom X was shot and killed by three gunmen who rushed the stage.

Russell Shortt is a travel consultant with Exploring Ireland, the leading specialists in customised, private escorted tours, escorted coach tours and independent self drive tours of Ireland. Article source Russell Shortt,

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