Happy Birthday, Malcolm X, Civil Rights Activist
May 19, 2009
by findingDulcinea Staff
Though often eclipsed by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the historical
record, Malcolm X was a leading figure of the mid-20th century civil
rights movement. His involvement with the Nation of Islam and his
slogan "by any means necessary," made him controversial but his
sincerity, charisma and the perspective on human rights that he
espoused at the end of his life have earned him an honored place in
the history of the movement.
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Neb., on May 19, 1925. He
was one of seven children born to Baptist minister Earl Little and
Louise Norton Little. Earl's civil rights activism prompted threats
from the Black Legion, a white supremacist group, forcing the family
to relocate to Lansing, Michigan. In 1929, their house burned down,
and two years later, Malcolm's father was found dead. Both incidents
were ruled as accidents, but the family was certain that the Black
Legion was responsible. Several years later, Louise suffered a
breakdown and was institutionalized, and Malcolm and his brothers and
sisters were sent to various foster homes and orphanages.
Nicknamed "Red" due to the auburn tint of his hair, Malcolm was
studious and gifted in school, but lack of support from teachers led
him to quit and fall into a life of crime. He was eventually
sentenced to prison on a burglary charge but used his time there to
further his education, memorizing a dictionary and taking forensics
classes. Conversations held with his brother Reginald, who was also
incarcerated at the Norfolk Prison Colony, were instrumental in
Malcolm's joining the Nation of Islam, prompting Malcolm to jettison
Little as a "slave name" and adopt the surname X.
Malcolm X rose quickly in the Nation of Islam, a religious
organization led by Elijah Muhammad. He traveled the country as a
minister and spokesman, establishing new mosques and addressing civil
unrest with his characteristic passion and articulate expression,
attracting record numbers of new converts. During this period in his
life he married Betty X (formerly Sanders) in Lansing, Mich. in 1958.
Although his message was viewed as radical and inflammatory, he
actively espoused moral, mental and spiritual cleanliness as the
means to free his people from oppression.
When Malcolm X discovered that Elijah Muhammad was secretly having
affairs with female followers and had fathered several children, he
became disillusioned with the Nation of Islam's leader. Devastated by
the hypocrisy, Malcolm X left the NOI and formed his own
organization, Muslim Mosque, Inc. in March 1964. That same year, he
made a religious pilgrimage to Mecca; the trip had a profound effect
on the activist, prompting him to change his name to el-Hajj Malik
el-Shabazz and reevaluate his beliefs. "I believe in recognizing
every human being as a human being, neither white, black, brown nor
red," he said in an interview after the trip.
The Rest of the Story
Malcolm X was assassinated Feb. 21, 1965 by three Nation of Islam
members at Harlem's Audubon Ballroom. He was 39 years old. Malcolm X
and Betty Shabazz had six daughters; the last two, twins, were born
after Malcolm X died.
Followers of Malcolm X sought revenge against the Black Muslims for
their leaders' death by setting fire to Nation of Islam mosques in
Harlem and San Francisco.
The funeral for Malcolm X was held in Faith Temple Church of God in
Christ in Harlem on Feb. 27, 1965. Nearly 2,000 people were in
attendance. The actor Ossie Davis delivered a moving eulogy. Malcolm
X was interned at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, N.Y.
Malcolm X had been collaborating with writer and journalist Alex
Haley on an autobiography. "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" was
finished and published later in 1965. The book, Haley's first, was a
best-seller and was adapted into the 1992 biopic "Malcolm X,"
starring Denzel Washington in the title role.
Sources in this Story
The New York Public Library: Malcolm X: A Search for Truth
The Biography Channel: Malcolm X Biography
Malcolm-X.org: The Playboy Interview
YouTube: Malcolm X: after hajj, discussion of race and re-education
findingDulcinea: On This Day: Malcolm X Was Shot Dead
findingDulcinea: Happy Birthday, Alex Haley
The Man and His Work
Malcolm X and Alex Haley: The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Malcolm X: (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Malcolm X: The Wisdom of Malcolm X
Walter Dean Myers: Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary
Malcolm X at 84: A Compendium
In honour of the 84th birthday of Malcolm X, included below is a 30
minute audio of some of his most celebrated speeches as well as 20
"Best of Malcolm" video excerpts:
SHABAZZ FAM TO MEMORIALIZE AUDUBON BALLROOM:
Occasion will also mark Malcolm X's 85th birthday
(May 19, 2009)
*The family of Malcolm X are scheduled to join some 200
business, political and community leaders and celebrities today to
memorialize the spot at the Audubon Ballroom where the activist was
gunned down in 1965.
The event, to take place from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in New York
City (3940 Broadway at 165th St.) will coincide with the celebration
of Malcolm X's 84th birthday and the kickoff to a national
fundraising campaign titled "The Sign of Time: Malcolm X in the
Activities include a filmed tribute, individual salutes,
memorial ceremony, unveiling of the first photograph in The Sign of
Time campaign, live musical performance by In the Key of Gi and
cuisine by The Shark Bar, and Cakeman Raven.
Notables expected to be on hand include Ilyasah Shabazz
(author of "Growing Up X") and Malaak Shabazz, two of the six
daughters of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz; Rev. Al Sharpton,
President, National Action Network; Maurice DuBois, award-winning
co-anchor, "CBS 2 News This Morning," New York; Jamie Hector, HBO's
"The Wire"; Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, comedic actress; Jill Marie
Lawrence, NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and more.