ICONIC CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS – X


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Malcolm x.

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. His mother, Louise Norton Little, was a home­maker occu­pied with the family’s eight chil­dren. His father, Earl Little, was an out­spo­ken Baptist min­is­ter and avid sup­porter of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. Earl’s civil rights activism prompted death threats from the white suprema­cist orga­ni­za­tion Black Legion, forc­ing the fam­ily to relo­cate twice before Malcolm’s fourth birthday. Regardless of the Little’s efforts to elude the Legion, in 1929, their Lansing, Michigan home was burned to the ground. Two years later, Earl’s body was found lying across the town’s trol­ley tracks. Police ruled both inci­dents as acci­dents, but the Littles were cer­tain that mem­bers of the Black Legion were respon­si­ble. Louise suf­fered emo­tional break­down sev­eral years after the death of her hus­band and was com­mit­ted to a men­tal insti­tu­tion, while her chil­dren were split up among var­i­ous fos­ter homes and orphanages.

Eventually, Malcolm and his long-​time friend, Malcolm “Shorty” Jarvis, moved back to Boston. In 1946, they were arrested and con­victed on bur­glary charges, and Malcolm was sen­tenced to 10 years in prison, although he was granted parol after serv­ing seven years. Recalling his days in school, he used the time to fur­ther his edu­ca­tion. It was dur­ing this period of self-​enlightenment that Malcolm’s brother Reginald would visit and dis­cuss his recent con­ver­sion to the Muslim reli­gion. Reginald belonged to the reli­gious orga­ni­za­tion the Nation of Islam (NOI). Intrigued, Malcolm began to study the teach­ings of NOI leader Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad taught that white soci­ety actively worked to keep African-​Americans from empow­er­ing them­selves and achiev­ing polit­i­cal, eco­nomic, and social suc­cess. Among other goals, the NOI fought for a state of their own, sep­a­rate from one inhab­ited by white peo­ple. By the time he was paroled in 1952, Malcolm was a devoted fol­lower with the new sur­name “X” (He con­sid­ered “Little” a slave name and chose the “X” to sig­nify his lost tribal name.). Intelligent and artic­u­late, Malcolm was appointed as a min­is­ter and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad also charged him with estab­lish­ing new mosques in cities such as Detroit, Michigan, and Harlem. Malcolm uti­lized news­pa­per columns, as well as radio and tele­vi­sion, to com­mu­ni­cate the NOI’s mes­sage across the United States. His charisma, drive, and con­vic­tion attracted an astound­ing num­ber of new mem­bers. Malcolm was largely cred­ited with increas­ing mem­ber­ship in the NOI from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963. The crowds and con­tro­versy sur­round­ing Malcolm made him a media mag­net. He was fea­tured in a week­long tele­vi­sion spe­cial with Mike Wallace in 1959, called The Hate That Hate Produced. The pro­gram explored the fun­da­men­tals of the NOI, and tracked Malcolm’s emer­gence as one of its most impor­tant lead­ers. After the spe­cial, Malcolm was faced with the uncom­fort­able real­ity that his fame had eclipsed that of his men­tor Elijah Muhammad. In addi­tion to the media, Malcolm’s vivid per­son­al­ity had cap­tured the government’s atten­tion. As mem­ber­ship in the NOI con­tin­ued to grow, FBI agents infil­trated the orga­ni­za­tion (one even acted as Malcolm’s body­guard) and secretly placed bugs, wire­taps, cam­eras, and other sur­veil­lance equip­ment to mon­i­tor the group’s activ­i­ties.

Malcolm’s faith was dealt a crush­ing blow at the height of the civil rights move­ment in 1963. He learned that his men­tor and leader, Elijah Muhammad, was secretly hav­ing rela­tions with as many as six women within the Nation of Islam orga­ni­za­tion. As if that were not enough, Malcolm found out that some of these rela­tion­ships had resulted in children. Since join­ing the NOI, Malcolm had strictly adhered to the teach­ings of Muhammad, which included remain­ing celi­bate until his mar­riage to Betty Shabazz in 1958. Malcolm refused Muhammad’s request to help cover up the affairs and sub­se­quent chil­dren. He was deeply hurt by Muhammad actions, because he had pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered him a liv­ing prophet. Malcolm also felt guilty about the masses he had led to join the NOI, which he now felt was a fraud­u­lent orga­ni­za­tion built on too many lies to ignore. Shortly after his shock­ing dis­cov­ery, Malcolm received crit­i­cism for a com­ment he made regard­ing the assas­si­na­tion of President John F. Kennedy. “[Kennedy] never fore­saw that the chick­ens would come home to roost so soon,” said Malcolm. After the state­ment, Elijah Muhammad “silenced” Malcolm for 90 days. Malcolm, how­ever, sus­pected he was silenced for another rea­son. In March 1964, Malcolm ter­mi­nated his rela­tion­ship with theNOI. Unable to look past Muhammad’s decep­tion, Malcolm decided to found his own reli­gious orga­ni­za­tion, the Muslim Mosque, Inc. That same year, Malcolm went on a pil­grim­age to Mecca, which proved to be life alter­ing for him. For the first time, Malcolm shared his thoughts and beliefs with dif­fer­ent cul­tures and found the response to be over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive. When he returned, Malcolm said he had met “blonde-​haired, blued-​eyed men I could call my broth­ers.” He returned to the United States with a new out­look on inte­gra­tion and a new hope for the future. This time when Malcolm spoke, instead of just preach­ing to African-​Americans, he had a mes­sage for all races. After Malcolm resigned his posi­tion in the Nation of Islam and renounced Elijah Muhammad, rela­tions between the two had become increas­ingly volatile. FBI infor­mants work­ing under­cover in the NOI warned offi­cials that Malcolm had been marked for assas­si­na­tion – one under­cover offi­cer had even been ordered to help plant a bomb in Malcolm’s car. After repeated attempts on his life, Malcolm rarely trav­eled any­where with­out body­guards. On February 14, 1965 the home where Malcolm, Betty, and their four daugh­ters lived in East Elmhurst, New York was fire­bombed. Luckily, the fam­ily escaped phys­i­cal injury.

portraitMalcolm X.

One week later, how­ever, Malcolm’s ene­mies were suc­cess­ful in their ruth­less attempt. At a speak­ing engage­ment in the Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965, three gun­men rushed Malcolm onstage. They shot him 15 times at close range. The 39-​year-​old was pro­nounced dead on arrival at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Fifteen hun­dred peo­ple attended Malcolm’s funeral in Harlem on February 27, 1965 at the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ (now Child’s Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ). After the cer­e­mony, friends took the shov­els away from the wait­ing gravedig­gers and buried Malcolm themselves.Later that year, Betty gave birth to their twin daughters.

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Thomas Hagan in an emer­gency room after shoot­ing Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan on Feb. 21, 1965

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Malcolm’s assas­sins, Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler, and Thomas 15X Johnson, were con­victed of first-​degree mur­der in March 1966. The three men were all mem­bers of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X’s legacy has moved through gen­er­a­tions as the sub­ject of numer­ous doc­u­men­taries, books, and movies. A tremen­dous resur­gence of inter­est occurred in 1992 when direc­tor Spike Lee released the acclaimed movie, Malcolm X. The film received Oscar nom­i­na­tions for Best Actor (Denzel Washington) and Best Costume Design. Malcolm X is buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. http://​www​.mal​colmx​.com/​a​b​o​u​t​/​b​i​o​.​h​tml

THE MAN WHO DID NOT KILL MALCOLM X.

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Khalil Islam.

The Man Who Didn’t Shoot Malcolm X. He spent twenty-​two years in prison for an infa­mous mur­der he didn’t com­mit. But Khalil Islam, con­fined, trav­eled inward. http://​nymag​.com/​n​e​w​s​/​f​e​a​t​u​r​e​s​/​3​8​3​58/