By Abayomi Azikiwe
Feb 22, 2010
Forty-five years ago on Feb. 21, Malcolm X El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz
had begun his address to a mass meeting of the Organization of
Afro-American Unity in New York City at the Audubon Ballroom when
several men opened fire on him with shotguns and pistols, killing him.
At the time the corporate media framed the threats, attacks and
assassination of Malcolm X as a feud between the Nation of Islam
under Elijah Muhammad and former members of the organization who were
led by Malcolm X. Yet it has been well documented that the membership
of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X were all under FBI and local
The FBI wanted to cause a rift between Malcolm X and the members of
Elijah Muhammad's family in order to weaken the impact of these
organizations on developments within the broader African-American struggle.
Malcolm X's assassination came at a critical point during the
African-American political movement of the 1960s. The Nation of
Islam's newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, had done a superb job in covering
developments within the civil rights movement from 1961 to 1963, but
had remained largely aloof from the direct action efforts of the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial
Equality (CORE) and other organizations.
The program of the NOI called for the creation of a separate state
for African Americans in the United States or in Africa. The
organization felt that based on the legacy of racism and national
oppression it would be impossible for Blacks and white people to be
integrated into the same society on an equal basis.
After the April 1962 police attack on the NOI mosque in Los Angeles
that resulted in the killing of NOI member Ronald Stokes and the
wounding of several others, Malcolm X wanted to engage in broader
political efforts to seek justice in the case. City authorities found
the killing justifiable. Differences between Malcolm X and Elijah
Muhammad over the character of the NOI's response to the killing of
Stokes, coupled with the burgeoning mass movement for civil rights,
increased tensions inside the organization.
When the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in
Birmingham, Ala., in September 1963, killing four African-American
girls, Malcolm X's statements became even more militant in response
to this act of racist terrorism and the failure of the John F.
Kennedy administration to take effective action in support of civil rights.
Consequently, when Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, and
Malcolm later made comments at the Manhattan Center on Dec. 1 that
Kennedy's death was a case of "the chickens coming home to roost," he
was silenced by Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm would eventually leave the
organization by March 1964.
Following his departure from the NOI, Malcolm formed two other
organizations, the Muslim Mosque Inc., a Sunni Islamic organization,
and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, a pan-Africanist group
patterned on the Organization of African Unity, in an effort to build
a united front in the U.S. in solidarity with the struggle for
independence and unity on the continent of Africa.
Malcolm X: A transformative figure in African-American history
Building on the legacy of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X emerged during the
1950s as a leader within the Nation of Islam and a militant
spokesperson for urbanized African Americans in the U.S. Born to
Garveyite activist parents Earl Little and Louise Little in 1925,
Malcolm's exposure to nationalist and pan-Africanist thought began at
a very early age.
Malcolm was one of seven children in the Little family. His father
Earl, a Baptist minister, often carried him to the mass meetings he
attended during the depression years of the 1930s. His father was
originally from Georgia and his mother Louise had been born in the
Caribbean nation of Grenada. (The Autobiography of Malcolm X)
Malcolm's parents had originally met at a Universal Negro Improvement
Association-African Communities League conference, the organization
founded by Marcus Garvey, in 1919 in Montreal. They were leading
members of the UNIA-ACL. Louise Little's articles were often
published in the Garveyite newspaper, The Negro World.
Despite the economic crisis facing the U.S. at the time, Malcolm's
family, a close unit, remained self-reliant. The nationalist mood and
self-pride exhibited by this family caused tremendous hostility among
racist whites in Nebraska, where Malcolm was born. Malcolm and other
family members believed that Earl Little was murdered by white
racists in 1931 in Mason, Mich., near the state capital of Lansing.
The social pressure from the white power structure in the area around
Lansing, Mich., and economic isolation precipitated a nervous
breakdown for Louise Little. Her eventual commitment to a state
mental hospital and the breakup of the family by the welfare
department had a tremendous impact on the Little children.
During his primary school years Malcolm exhibited intellectual
capabilities and talents. He dreamed of being a lawyer but was
discouraged by a racist teacher who told him that he had to be
realistic because he was Black. By 1941, Malcolm had relocated in
Boston to stay with his older sister, Ella Collins, the daughter of
Earl Little from a previous marriage.
Malcolm worked in menial jobs in pool halls and on transport trains
during World War II. He eventually drifted into criminality and drug
abuse that resulted in his arrest and sentencing to prison for
burglary in 1946.
While in prison he was influenced by an older inmate to read and
develop his mind. He then set out to learn as much as possible and to
participate in the prison debating teams.
Malcolm soon accepted the teachings of the Nation of Islam at the
urging of his brothers, who had entered the organization prior to
him. When he was paroled in 1952, he immediately began to work as an
NOI organizer under Elijah Muhammad's leadership.
He rose swiftly through NOI ranks to become the Boston and later New
York minister during the mid-to-late 1950s. After he gained national
exposure through public speaking and media coverage, the press once
again set out to discredit another fearless spokesperson for the
Malcolm X created a newspaper for the Muslim organization, Muhammad
Speaks, which as with the Garvey movement proved to be a powerful
vehicle for the transmission of the NOI's ideas to the general
public. In addition, Malcolm's radio and television interviews and
debates drew national attention from both the African-American masses
and from U.S. political police agencies like the FBI.
By 1963, Malcolm X's speeches had become more decisively political
and secular. He began to de-emphasize certain aspects of Elijah
Muhammad's Black Muslim theology. His remarks at a mass rally held
during a grassroots organizers' conference in Detroit in November
1963 reflected his developing world outlook.
In this address, which was recorded and issued under the title,
"Message to the Grassroots," Malcolm X said, "The same man that was
colonizing our people in Kenya was colonizing our people in Congo.
The same one in the Congo was colonizing our people in South Africa,
and in Southern Rhodesia, and in Burma and in India, and in
Afghanistan, and in Pakistan. They realized all over the world where
the dark man was being oppressed, he was being oppressed by the white
man; where the dark man was being exploited, he was being exploited
by the white man." (Malcolm X Speaks, 1965)
In March 1964 Malcolm announced the formation of an orthodox Muslim
Mosque that would rival the NOI and arranged to make hajj in April to
Saudi Arabia in order to authenticate himself as a Sunni Islamic
believer. When he returned to the U.S. in May 1964, he then
established a political group, the Organization of Afro-American
Unity, whose objectives were decisively revolutionary nationalist and
pan-Africanist in orientation.
In July 1964, Malcolm departed again for Africa and the Middle East
to engage in further study, analysis and research and to establish
deeper contacts between the OAAU and other revolutionary movements in
the so-called Third World. Although many writers have placed emphasis
on his conversion to Sunni Islam, Malcolm never lessened his
commitment to the revolutionary transformation of the U.S. and the world.
Malcolm spent the bulk of his time between July and November of 1964
in various revolutionary and progressive states in Africa, including
Egypt, Ghana, Algeria, Tanzania and Guinea. He developed close
political relations with Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Ahmed Sekou Touré of
Guinea, Gamal Abdel Nassar of Egypt and Abdul Rahman Mohamed Babu, a
leading government official and Marxist theoretician from Tanzania.
It was Malcolm's connections with Babu that resulted in Malcolm's
meeting with the Cuban revolution leader, Che Guevara, during
Guevara's visit to the United Nations in late 1964. Malcolm took a
keen interest in Cuba and Che's role in Cuba's pending aid to Congo's
revolution during 1965.
Malcolm had been one of the most outspoken critics of U.S. foreign
policy towards Congo during 1964, when the Johnson administration had
intervened to halt the advances of the revolutionary forces. These
revolutionaries were fighting against the Western-backed forces that
had overthrown and assassinated Patrice Lumumba in 1960-61.
Malcolm's public statements became more anti-capitalist and
anti-imperialist in character and many believed that had he lived
longer, Malcolm would have advanced socialism as a political objective.
Malcolm X also visited England and France during late 1964 and early
1965. In England he made alliances with organizations within the
Black and Islamic communities. In France, he embarked upon efforts to
form alliances with expatriate Africans and Caribbean nationals
residing in Paris. Just before his assassination, the French
government prevented his making another visit, apparently in response
to U.S. State Department pressure.
During this period Malcolm began to emphasize the central role of
women in the national liberation process. In an interview in Paris he
told the public, "One thing I became aware of in my traveling
recently through Africa and the Middle East, in every country you go
to, usually the degree of progress can never be separated from the
woman. If you're in a country that's progressive, the woman is
progressive. If you're in a country that reflects the consciousness
toward the importance of education, it's because the woman is aware
of the importance of education."
Malcolm continued, "But in every backward country you'll find the
women are backward, and in every country where education is not
stressed, it's because the women don't have education. So one of the
things I became thoroughly convinced of in my recent travels is the
importance of giving freedom to the woman, giving her education, and
giving her the incentive to get out there and put that same spirit
and understanding in her children. And I frankly am proud of the
contributions that our women have made in the struggle for freedom,
and I'm one person who's for giving them all the leeway possible
because they've made a greater contribution than many of us men." (By
Any Means Necessary, p. 179, 1970)
Malcolm X's secure position in African-American history
Despite the efforts of the corporate media to distort his legacy and
international image since his assassination, Malcolm X has been
immortalized by many writers and commentators on African-American
affairs. According to journalist M.S. Handler, "No man in our time
aroused fear and hatred in the white man as did Malcolm, because in
him the white man sensed an implacable foe who could not be had for
any price a man unreservedly committed to the cause of liberating
the Black man in American society, rather than integrating the Black
man into that society." (El Hajj Malik Shabazz, documentary film)
During the later years since his martyrdom Malcolm has gained a
secure position within the collective consciousness of Africans,
oppressed peoples and workers worldwide. His image proliferates in
the urban areas of America and his name and spirit are often evoked
in relation to the uncompromising character of the African-American
struggle for total liberation from national oppression and economic
Consequently, the efforts of the mass media, U.S. intelligence
services and the capitalist class in general have failed to obscure
or co-opt his message due to the efforts of the political heirs of
Malcolm X, who have continued to maintain the integrity and
principled character of his legacy.