One of the greatest and most influential men that captured the attention of both his friends and enemies, and articulated the struggle, the hunger, and the credence of African-American in the early 1960s is none other than Malcolm X. Malcolm X lived a complex and controversial life, at times landing a job of shoe-shinning, a dancer, criminal, a leader, a minister, and an icon, before his life was drastically ended by an assassins’ bullets at a tender age of thirty nine.
He worked tirelessly giving speeches and educating both young and old black Americans to better their lives and create strong communities that embraces strong fabric of self actualization and independent man.
Interestingly, Malcolm X is also known for using and changing his names from Malcolm Little, El Hajj Malik, Detroit Red and El-Shabazz. Most historians argue that those different names of Malcolm represented the different spheres of his live. Needless to say, Malcolm X became one of the greatest symbols of reconciliation and resistance for millions of people around the world.
This study will endeavor to explore the life history of Malcolm X who was a son of a Baptist minister. The autobiography of Malcolm X is the outstandingly true story of an African-American man, and it presents the daily struggle of millions of black during the period of racial discrimination and segregation.
The study will explore the transformation and individuality of Malcolm X that led him to sustain dedication and will to get education. Malcolm X autobiography unfolds a society that is plagued by discrimination and class segregation in every sphere of America society. Malcolm unveils the struggle of civil rights movements and the emergence of the Black Nationalism.
The autobiography of Malcolm X give a detailed true story of Malcolm X as he struggled with the life of hustling, dope peddler and a thief to become a dynamic and influential African American leader. The autobiography captures a span of four decades from the birth of Malcolm X in May 1925, to his assassination on 21 February 1965.
Malcolm X was one of the eight children of Louise Little and Reverend Earl. Like many other black American children Malcolm X was raised amidst racial prejudice and poverty stricken family. Malcolm X only attended school up to the eighth grade and he spent most of teenage life in street and prison. During the late 1950s, discrimination and racial segregation was institutionalized in every aspect of America society.
Schools, neighborhoods and businesses were segregated along skin color, and the Supreme Court legalized racial segregation through allowing separate but equal treatment of both black and white citizens. Furthermore, several states in America prevented African-Americans from voting. All African-Americans experienced grave hardship during this period given their inferior status in American society (Henry and Nellie, 9).
In the early 1950, Malcolm X together with several African Americans leaders organized black militancy that organized both violent and nonviolent demonstration. Malcolm believed that African American had the right to defend they society using any means necessary to gain their freedom. Malcolm X was against the white power structure and racist vigilante groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, which at one time threatened their family (Malcolm X, Haley and Shabazz, 2).
In addition, Malcolm was against some civil rights organization for their soft stance against American’s racial problems. Before being assassinated Malcolm had moderated his stance against black discrimination and advocated for solidarity among African-Americans, and urged both people of all races to work together and end racism.
According to the autobiography of Malcolm X, his life is a good example of how determination, confidence and perseverance can change the life of an individual (Manning, 5). The next section will critically explore the life history of Malcolm X from his birth to up to his assassination. The section will critically analyze some of the achievements and setbacks that Malcolm went throughout his life.
Malcom X was born on 19th May 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, and was a son of an African Baptist preacher. His mother, Louise Norton Little was a house wife and took responsible of raising the eight children. Malcolm X, Haley and Shabazz, (2) explains that the father of malcoml X, Earl Little was an outspoken activists and minister, and was among the strongest members of Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and a member of Marcus Garvey.
This organizations made Earl Little to brush shoulders with white supremacist groups including the Ku Klux Klan. The family of Malcolm X was in constant fear of being attacked from these groups. From the autobiography of Malcolm X (6) he recall that “When my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later, a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home in Omaha, Nebraska, one night.
Surrounding the house, brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out”. The group smashed their family house destroying all their windows and doors, which angered Malcolm X father. The family late moved to Lansing, but their house was late burned by the Ku Klux Klan and the family managed to escape without any major injuries.
Aboulafia (7) explains that on 8th September 1931, the further of Malcolm X was fatally killed by streetcar on his way to home, at then Malcolm was only six years old. The police ruled his death to be an accident although the black community refuted the finding of the police claiming that the white supremacy groups had a hand on his death.
The death of Malcolm X father changed their family life drastically. Henry and Nellie (67) explains that since their father was the bread winner, their financial problems worsened. Furthermore, Mrs. Louise Norton Little was most devastated by Mr. Earl death, which made her suffer from enormous stress and anxiety caused by the responsibility of raising the eight children. Her mother was later institutionalized in the early 1937, which left the eight children leaving with friends, foster families or their in lasing.
Malcolm X, Haley and Shabazz (78) explain that Malcolm attended school up to the level of eighth grade. At the age of thirteen Malcolm became expelled from school and the state officials moved him to detention home. During this period, Malcolm had defiant behavior, but he was an outstanding student among his schools mates.
At the detention home Malcolm was treated as a mascot to the couples who lived at that home. Malcolm aspired to become a lawyer, but his English teacher discouraged him from becoming a lawyer because he was black. In 1941, Malcolm asked to be transferred to the guardianship of his half sister who was living in Boston.
During the stay in Boston, Malcolm was more attracted to street life than in the upper class that her sister resided. Malcolm landed a job of shoe shinning at Roseland Ballroom, which became a center of his life. During this period, Malcolm became a hustler, where he leant how to sell drugs, dancing, con man, dope pusher and a thug. His love life was also affected and he dated many women a white woman Sophia and Laura.
In some instances Malcolm explains that Sophia “was bothered about me living among the prostitutes until I introduced her to some of them, and they talked, and she thought they were great. They would tell her they were keeping me straight for her” (104). Malcolm X, Haley and Shabazz explain that during World War II, Malcolm was able to secure a job in the army by lying about his age.
Malcolm secured a job in the railway since the American army was in dire need of cooks, porters and waiters. As a worker in railway, Malcolm became even more dangerous by engaging in drug peddling and gambling. At one point Malcolm X argue that “One day, in a blackjack game, an old cook who was dealing the cards tried to be slick, and I had to drop my pistol in his face” (119).
Breitman (46) explains that Malcolm was able to secure a job at Small Paradise as a waiter, where he became acquitted with many drug loads and elites. After losing the job at Small paradise, Malcolm was able to form a burglary ring that terrorized many residence together with their sister and girl friend.
Malcolm became a drug addict and cocaine dealers, whereby he was well known by the police. He escaped several attempts to be caught by the police. At the age of 20 years, malcon became a well known drug dealer, burglar and peddler. In 1946, Malcolm was arrested and sent to 10 years in jail.
Manning (9) explains that the prison life changed Malcolm character and behavior for the rest of his life. During the prison life Malcolm met another prisoner called Bimbi who was a self educated man. For the long time that Malcolm had left school he had forgotten how to read and write.
With the help of Bimbi encouragement and training Malcolm was able to learn how to read and write. In addition, Malcolm underwent spiritual and moral transformation through the teaching of honorable Elijah Muhammad. Elijah Muhammad was known as the message of Allah (Allah is the name for Muslim god).
Elijah was very much adored by the black prisoners since he instilled a sense of self-respect and admiration. Furthermore, Elijah Muhammad condemned very strongly the white supremacist segregation of black people and blamed them on the poor government policies. Elijah blamed whites for the harsh treatment of African-American in the North, and he argued that the only way to solve the injustice was through black separatism (Aboulafia, 8).
Breitman (57) explains that it was during this period that Malcolm brother Reginald visited him severally to offer spiritual support. During the numerous visits Reginald advised Malcolm that he had a way of removing him from the prison. During the meetings Reginald advised Malcolm not to eat any pork meat because of religious reasons.
The plan of Reginald was to enlist Malcolm in the Nation of Islam, which was an organization known as Black Muslims. The organization was founded by Elijah Muhammad in the early 1930s and their main objective was to urge for the separation of races. The organization viewed the white man as being evil, and blamed them for the misfortune of blacks. Malcolm was very ready to receive this ideology since the white supremacists groups terrorized them constantly.
The ideology and teachings of Elijah Muhammad inspired Malcolm to study African American history. Through studying history Malcolm was strongly convinced that the white were responsible for their suffering and mistreatment. Through studying Malcolm joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to the famous Malcolm X (Henry and Nellie, 9).
Aboulafia (78) explains that Malcolm actively studied the work of Elijah, which advocated that the white supremacists worked tirelessly to prevent the blacks from gaining independence. The white ensured that the African Americans did not achieve economic, social and political power. The organization also taught Africans American to fight for their state that was not habited by white. Malcolm became an active member of the group and stated his new career teaching other African Americans to fight for their rights.
After serving for seven years Malcolm was released from jail through a paroled and went to recede in Detroid. Malcolm became an active member of the Black Muslim and took up studies to understand the ways of Muslims. In early 1952, Malcolm travelled to Chicago to meet with Muhammad who played an important role in educating him while he was in prison.
Malcolm was very determined to understand Muslim and he decided to study personally under the guidance of Elijah. To show his dedication to revolutionize the African American Malcolm returned to Boston and implemented the black temple. In 1954, Malcolm X was elected as the minster of Nation of Islam, which was located in the New York (Aboulafia, 78).
Through the leadership of Malcolm the Nation of Islam grew significantly, and Malcolm gained popularity among the African Americans. The organization grew from a small number of worshippers into a large organized movement that was dedicated to Black separatisms ideology.
Malcolm became the greatest and exceptional speaker and teacher for the Black Muslim. Aboulafia (78) explains that Malcolm became increasingly close to Elijah because of his popularity and the successful launch of several temple in different cities. Henry and Nellie, (9) explains that with time Malcolm became the leading symbol of the organization as he organized several lectures and establishment of several mosque.
The social life of Malcolm significantly changed through the new status he gained in the Black Muslim organization. In 1955, Malcolm X met Betty Sanders during his lectures at temple Number seven.
Betty sander had been invited to several lectures of Malcolm X, and she was impressed with the teaching of Malcolm X. the two friends met severally and Malcolm managed to convert Betty to become one of the most active lady in Nation of Islam. In 1958, Malcolm and Betty were officially married in Lansing, Michigan. The two couples were blessed with six daughters. Their names were Attallah, Qubilah, llyasah, Gamilah, Malka and Malaak (Henry and Nellie, 89).
During his lectures, Malcolm X stated to advocate for violent revolution citing numerous countries that went through the same situation. In one of his numerous speeches, Malcolm cited the American Revolution, French revolution, Russian revolution.
In all this revolution, Malcolm argued that it involved the shade of blood. Malcolm argued that you cannot have a revolution without bloodshed and the African American should be ready to shade blood for them to gain independent. In early 1959, the speeches of Malcolm stated to attract media attention through the country.
Most importantly the media covered the two leaders that are Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad because of their strong separatist ideology and hatred for whites. This new found publicity made Malcolm have violent confrontation with police after organizing several protest and demonstrations. Malcolm became a symbol for an angry black man that was tired of constant discrimination (Aboulafia, 78).
Malcolm sudden extremist speech and notoriety made Elijah Muhammad fearful. Elijah stated to reduce the support that was given to Malcolm and during the same period Malcolm had rumors that Elijah had violated the code of Nation of Islam. The disagreement between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad became unsolvable, which led to the ultimate suspension of Malcolm.
The suspension was meant to last for only 90 days, but Malcolm inquired that Elijah had planned to make the suspension permanent. Malcolm X (300) explains that his suspicions was correct after a member of the group confessed to him that he was paid to assassinate Malcolm through placing a bomb in his car.
In 1964, Malcolm decided to leave the Nation of Islam and formed his own organization called Organization of Afro-American Unity. After visiting pilgrimage in Mecca, Malcolm stated to form different ideology regarding the new war against segregation. Malcolm came up with the ideology of brotherhood.
Malcolm stated to blame the American culture and ideology on racism and hugged the African-American to join other whites to end racial discrimination. The ideology that Malcolm came up with was quite different from the Black Muslim ideologies. He rejected the earlier ideology that he was taught with Elijah.
He explained that the African American should labor like any other races to build their businesses and homes. Malcolm argued that the African Americans should patronize their own people, and start to build their own respect. According to Malcolm, the African-Americans were supposed to correct their morality, moral and spiritual life. Aboulafia, (200) explains that not most African Americans followed the new ideology of Malcolm.
Malcolm made several trips to Africa countries where he was received with government officials. He returned back home where he dedicated most of his time with Organization of Afro-American Unity. Malcolm X, Haley and Shabazz (119) explain that the last few month of Malcolm had intense pressure. His house was bombed and he received constant threat both from nation of Islam and his enemies.
In 21th February 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated with unknown men by being short several times. During that period, Malcolm was supposed to give a speech at Organization of Afro-America Unity meeting at ballroom in Harlem. Malcolm X, Haley and Shabazz, (400) explains that when Malcolm stood to speak a fight stated in the audience.
During the commotion three men emerged and short Malcolm several times where he died instantly. Three of the assassins were arrested and two of them were Muslims. Most of the followers of Malcolm believed the assassination was planned by a large number of organizations including the government officials. Malcolm was killed but killers were not able to stop his influence (Malcolm X, Haley and Shabazz, 409).
It is clear from the study that the autobiography of Malcolm X can be viewed in different perspective. When viewed as an autobiography it portrays an interesting life history of a young man. In addition, when viewed as sociological study, the autobiography gives a clear example of how young people struggle to meet the end meat.
Politically, the autobiography has influenced most African Americans to fight for their rights. It clearly shows how religion plays a fundamental role molding character of individuals. One of the difficult positions of the autobiography is that Malcolm X was life was constantly changing. His political ideas were very contradicting, and it was difficult to tell the direction of his ambitions.
Aboulafia, Anita. Alex Haley’s the autobiography of Malcolm X. REA.com, 1996. Web. 27 Feb. 2012.
Breitman, George. The Last Year of Malcolm X; the Evolution of a Revolutionary. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1967. Print.
Henry, Louis and Mckay Nellie. The Norton anthology of African American Literature. NY: WW Norton Company, 1996. Print.
Malcolm X, Alex Haley and Attallah Shabazz. The Autobiography of Malcolm X; As Told to Alex Haley. New York: Ballantine Books, 1987. Print.
Manning, Marable. Malcolm X; a Life of Reinvention. New York: Viking, 2011. Print.