Nov 19, 2020 in History

Malcolm X

Malcolm X 1

Malcolm X 6

Malcolm X


Malcolm X was one of the greatest and most influential African-American civil rights activist in the 1950s and 60s. He served as a spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. By his contributions, membership of the Nation of Islam grew from less than 500 members before and at the time of his release from prison to about 40,000 in 1960s. He was an articulate and talented leader. Malcolm X encouraged blacks to break racism within their reach, including violence, where necessary. He was born as Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, to Louise, a housewife, and Earl Little, a Baptist speaker, who was also a prominent member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and follower of Pan-African activist Marcus Garvey. Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska and was the fourth of seven children. Due to his fathers activism, harassment from the whites became obvious and it subjected Malcolm X to racism at a very early age. According to Goldman (1979, p. 67), Earl Little and his family, being black, faced enormous hostility, separation and racism, which forced them to migrate to East Lansing, Michigan. At one point racists burned down his house and the white fire brigade did nothing to rescue the house from fire. Two years later, Malcoms dad was found dead on the municipal streetcar tracks; a clear hint that he was murdered by the white supremacists that used to send him threats. The police only declared his death a suicide but did nothing to investigate the cause. In 1937, Malcoms mother was admitted to a mental institution since she had not fully recovered from the death of her husband. Malcolm X had no other option but to leave home to live with family friends.

Malcolm attended West Junior High School. He happened to be the only African American student in this school. However, he was a gifted boy and many students liked him to the extent that they had been electing him the class president all the way from eighth grade until ninth grade, when he happened to drop out of school. However, at times he felt that his fellow students were treating him more like a pet than a human being. In 1939, when the boy was still at West Junior, a lesson that seemed normal turned Malcolms life for worst. During the English lesson, the teacher asked him what he would want to be when he grew up. Malcolm X answered that he dreamt to be a prominent lawyer. The teacher replied back, Malcolm, one of our first lives needs is for us to be realistic. Do not misunderstand me, now. We all like you here and I think you know that well. However, you need to think of something you can be. Why dont you settle on carpentry? Clarke (1990, p. 56) explains that from that moment Malcolm realized that a black had no point in pursuing education. That moment with his English teachers interrogation happened to be the turning point in his entire life, since it made him consider schooling as valueless and thus resorting to other activities, which could prove better. This decision was sweeter to him, and no one could influence him anymore. A year later he dropped out of school.

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Malcolm X left for Boston, where he lived with his half-sister, Ella. She turned out to be the only woman in those days that was proud of having dark skin. With his African-American descent and his education level, there was no opportunity for him. Ella assisted him to find a shoes shining job at the Roseland Ballroom. Malcolm was not the type that could stay on the job for long as he joined the criminals underworld and turned into a drug pusher. He met Shorty Javis, who introduced him to dancing around bars. He soon learnt that he could easily make good money by selling marijuana to Roselands clients. He found another new job as a soda fountain clerk in the nearby shop in a nice and attractive part at Roxby. He slowly advanced into drug selling and city crime. He became reckless and frequenter of nightclubs and dance halls. Away from Ella, he engaged into bad living habits by continuing to sell marijuana and smoking excessively. The use of drugs gave Malcolm a false belief of control over his life, a factor that made him feel comfortable to misuse his opportunity at the place of work, by pushing by conmen and robbers. Soon he adopted the new behaviors from the company, and could even learn to use a gun for evil purposes. He plunged into crime even deeper due to his extravagant lifestyle. Malcolm X was not lucky and in 1946 he was arrested, charged for burglary and sentenced to ten years imprisonment to Charlestown Prison, Massachusetts.

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It was the place where Malcolm had wasted his life, engaging in aimless rebellion and drug use. Malcolm X did not see anything good in his life until he was encouraged by John Bembry, an old convict, who had spent many years in prison yet he had not wasted his time there. Bembry was a self-educated and well-organized person. Because of his character, he became a coach and inspiration to Malcolm X. Bembry urged Malcolm to read and acquire knowledge. He encouraged Malcolm to use the prison library to his advantage and enroll in English courses that were offered for prisoners.

During this time Malcolm discovered that his working vocabulary was just about two hundred words, something that limited his ability even in writing a decent letter (Goldman 1979, p. 25). After he enrolled in English courses and started reading books from the prison library, he became a letter writer. He also got himself a dictionary and began to read it word by word and from cover to cover. Reading became interesting to Malcolm and by the time he was released he had finished copying the whole English dictionary.

He was reading all his free time, devouring books to make up for the years of education he missed after dropping out of school (Goldman, 1979, p. 32). He also had numerous visitors, his siblings, who had converted to the Nation of Islam. Black Muslim members adopted the Black Nationalism ideology. It included ideas that required the blacks to establish their own state free of white Americans as a way of securing freedom, justice and equality. In prison, Malcolm Xs life was transformed completely. When he left prison, he first learnt about Honorable Elijah Mohammed from his brothers and sister outside the prison. Honorable Elijah Mohammed was the leader of the Nation of Islam, and was overseeing all the running of Islam religion, when Malcolm showed interest of pushing Islam religion to a higher scale. The two therefore struck up a mutual friendship.

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It was during this time in prison that Malcolm started to reflect seriously upon his past life. He was able to view the surrounding and the society in which he was part of, in a completely different way. Malcolm started to question how things in the society were done and believed that the society should be turned into a better one, for the benefit of all citizenry. He concluded that there was a need of change in the society and in its life and it was perfectly possible and necessary (Goldman, 1979, p. 59). Before his imprisonment, Malcolm was reckless and lived his life as a drug addict, a thug and a parasite that could not imagine getting outside of that world. In prison Malcolm engaged in reading in a search for knowledge, which exposed him to a completely new world. Reading gave him an opportunity to see other alternatives in his life than the lifestyle of a parasite. Malcolm was further motivated by a high sense of self-significance and identity for his purpose.

According to Clarkes introspective (1990, p. 68), Malcolm X had a very challenging life at the beginning after being released from prison, but he turned out to be among the most prominent social activists of the 1950s and 60s. If I were Malcolm X, I would have joined hands with other activists of the time like Martin Luther King Junior to fight for equality among all races in the efforts to end racism. I would be socially active to fight for the equality of poor African-Americans who suffer the same way he had also suffered in his childhood, and experience humiliation, which his family went through. I would fight against racial and color discrimination, which has pained the lives of blacks from time immemorial in America. Not only would I teach people Islam, but I would also focus on teaching them the essentiality of using religion as a cohesive tool to harmonize and make life in the society enjoyable to live.


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