MALCOLM X AND ACTIVISM
This article was compiled by Jodi Phillips May 2014, for the Institute of Black Academics
concerning Black Under achievement.
PUBLISHED 09 MAY 2014 04:26
Born on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm X was a prominent black nationalist leader who served as a spokesman for the Nation of Islam during the 1950s and '60s. Due largely to his efforts, the Nation of Islam grew from a mere 400 members at the time he was released from prison in 1952 to 40,000 members by 1960. Articulate, passionate and a naturally gifted and inspirational orator, Malcolm X exhorted blacks to cast off the shackles of racism "by any means necessary," including violence. The fiery civil rights leader broke with the group shortly before his assassination, February 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, where he had been preparing to deliver a speech.
Malcolm X attended West Junior High School, where he was the school's only black student. He excelled academically and was well liked by his classmates, who elected him class president. However, he later said that he felt that his classmates treated him more like the class pet than a human being. The turning point in Malcolm X's childhood came in 1939, when his English teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he answered that he wanted to be a lawyer. His teacher responded, "One of life's first needs is for us to be realistic ... you need to think of something you can be ... why don't you plan on carpentry?" Having thus been told in no uncertain terms that there was no point in a black child pursuing education, Malcolm X dropped out of school the following year, at the age of 15.
After quitting school, Malcolm X moved to Boston to live with his older half-sister, Ella, about whom he later recalled, "She was the first really proud black woman I had ever seen in my life. She was plainly proud of her very dark skin. This was unheard of among Negroes in those days." Ella landed Malcolm a job shining shoes at the Roseland Ballroom. However, out on his own on the streets of Boston, Malcolm X became acquainted with the city's criminal underground, soon turning to selling drugs. He got another job as kitchen help on the Yankee Clipper train between New York and Boston and fell further into a life of drugs and crime. Sporting flamboyant pinstriped zoot suits, he frequented nightclubs and dance halls and turned more fully to crime to finance his lavish lifestyle. This phase of Malcolm X's life came to a screeching halt in 1946, when he was arrested on charges of larceny and sentenced to ten years in jail.
To pass the time during his incarceration, Malcolm X read constantly, devouring books from the prison library in an attempt make up for the years of education he had missed by dropping out of high school. Also while in prison, he was visited by several siblings who had joined to the Nation of Islam, a small sect of black Muslims who embraced the ideology of black nationalism—the idea that in order to secure freedom, justice and equality, black Americans needed to establish their own state entirely separate from white Americans. Malcolm X converted to the Nation of Islam while in prison, and upon his release in 1952 he abandoned his surname "Little," which he considered a relic of slavery, in favor of the surname "X"—a tribute to the unknown name of his African ancestors.
Now a free man, Malcolm X traveled to Detroit, Michigan, where he worked with the leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, to expand the movement's following among black Americans nationwide. Malcolm X became the minister of Temple No. 7 in Harlem and Temple No. 11 in Boston, while also founding new temples in Harford and Philadelphia. In 1960, he established a national newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, in order to further promote the message of the Nation of Islam.
Articulate, passionate and a naturally gifted and inspirational orator, Malcolm X exhorted blacks to cast off the shackles of racism "by any means necessary," including violence. "You don't have a peaceful revolution," he said. "You don't have a turn-the-cheek revolution. There's no such thing as a nonviolent revolution." Such militant proposals—a violent revolution to establish an independent black nation—won Malcolm X large numbers of followers as well as many fierce critics. Due primarily to the efforts of Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam grew from a mere 400 members at the time he was released from prison in 1952, to 40,000 members by 1960.
By the early 1960s, Malcolm X had emerged as a leading voice of a radicalized wing of the Civil Rights Movement, presenting an alternative to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of a racially integrated society achieved by peaceful means. Dr. King was highly critical of what he viewed as Malcolm X's destructive demagoguery. "I feel that Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice," King once said.
[Source : http://www.biography.com/people/martin-luther-king-jr-9365086#early-years]