MAY 18 — Many people may be unaware of what the date May 19 represents.
Ninety-two years ago, a man named Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Nebraska. However, he would not experience a childhood there due to his family moving to the small town of Lansing, Michigan when he was a very young boy.
His father was a very proud pastor, who was also a follower of Marcus Garvey, one of the earliest Negro civil rights activists in history. As a result, his father was scrutinised by the Ku Klux Klan, eventually being killed by the group.
Despite substantial evidence, no one was charged and his death was ruled a suicide. Having light skin due to his grandmother being raped by a white man, Malcolm’s mother often vocally despised the white rapist’s blood and sometimes would abuse Malcolm due to him having the lightest skin amongst his family.
His family’s poverty and constant pressure from child service eventually drove his mother insane, and Malcolm was sent to a foster home, and later to a juvenile detention school after he was charged with delinquency.
At the juvenile detention school, Malcolm was adored by his caregivers and schoolmates. However, Malcolm later said in his life that he recalls being called “nigger” so many times that he got used to it and considered it a nickname.
After meeting his elder sister Ella, he became fascinated in living in the much more liberal North and soon dropped out of school and lived in Boston, Massachusetts with her. Here, he began working as a shoe shiner at a dancing hall and met with people who would later on greatly impact his life such as his friend Shorty, and a white woman whom he refers to as “Sophia” in his autobiography. Sophia would become his girlfriend, much to the chagrin of the local whites, including his attorney in his court trial years later.
After successfully dodging the war draft by “playing dumb”, Malcolm soon moved to New York City, where he became known as “Detroit Red”. Detroit Red soon fell into a life of crime, involving himself in the betting racket and later on paraphernalia trade.
When he ran into trouble with a local gangster called West Indian Archie, he went away and started a burglary racket with Shorty, Sophia and her younger sister. Soon, he was caught and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Malcolm claims that his real crime was “sleeping with white girls”.
In prison, “Detroit Red” slowly became known as “Satan” for being an atheist who openly denounced God.
A visit from his brother Philbert introduced him to The Nation of Islam. However, at this moment, he laughed off the Nation’s previously unheard-of theories and doctrines.
It was his younger brother Reginald, whom had always been very close to Malcolm, that successfully convinced him. Ironically, later on when Reginald was ousted from The Nation of Islam, Malcolm, at Elijah Muhammad’s orders, cut off ties with his younger brother.
His last encounter with him was when Reginald came to The NOI’s Harlem restaurant looking for his brother, having nowhere else to go.
Malcolm instead told him that there was no place for him amongst the Muslims, and asked him to leave. Little did he know that he would one day suffer a similar fate.
Writing letters to Elijah Muhammad from prison slowly built his devotion to the self-proclaimed Messenger of Allah. It was through his devotion to Elijah that he began reading and accumulating a great deal of knowledge and sharpened his skill in debating.
When he left prison in 1952, he was immediately given a place amongst the Black Muslim Movement and quickly rose to the top when he successfully set up several Temples, most famously Temple No. 7 in Harlem, which he soon became the minister of.
His fame as a spokesman for the Nation also rose, and he was ranked No. 2 on “Most Requested Speakers in US Universities” behind then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
In 1957, Malcolm, at this point having renounced his last name “Little” and replaced it with “X” married Betty Sanders (later named Betty X) in a very modest but ceremonious occasion.
His father-son like relationship with Elijah Muhammad earned the envy of many, as Elijah himself had prophesised.
Malcolm also set up the Nation of Islam’s controversial newspaper “Muhammad Speaks”, which aimed to spread The Nation’s message across the country.
In his autobiography, Malcolm detailed his pride in seeing the changes in the Nation’s membership count. The first Saviour’s Day gathering (The Nation of Islam’s most important gathering) had a very small attendance, but a few years later the gathering packed an entire stadium.
Malcolm also expressed that his belief in the Nation strengthened when its addict-rehab programme managed to help more than 95 per cent of Nation converts.
Under the Nation’s doctrines, Malcolm made many controversial statements which resulted in him suffering immense scrutiny from the mass media.
In 1962, Malcolm was already the number-3 man in the Nation of Islam, behind Elijah Muhammad and Raymond Sharrieff. It was also then that he met an aspiring young boxer named Cassius Clay. The two quickly befriended each other and their first meeting was fondly remembered by both men.
Cassius walked over to Malcolm X at the Saviour’s Day gathering, shook his hand and said “I’m Cassius Clay”, expectant that Malcolm would immediately recognise him. Over time, Cassius started idolising Malcolm, but remained devoutly loyal to Elijah Muhammad.
The rift between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad began when rumours circulated regarding Elijah impregnating his young secretaries. The rumours, which were confirmed by Elijah’s son Wallace Muhammad left Malcolm in a confused state.
However, he remained loyal to Elijah. Elijah himself predicted that there would be many enviers towards Malcolm and his’ relationship.
Malcolm made a fatal mistake in late 1963 when he directly disobeyed Elijah Muhammad’s orders and made the notorious “chickens coming home to roost” comment regarding the recently-assassinated President John F. Kennedy. This allowed the aforementioned enviers, such as Louis X (now Louis Farrakhan, current leader of the Nation of Islam) and Herbert Muhammad (who later on became famous as Muhammad Ali’s manager.
Elijah Muhammad, under persuasion of several ministers, suspended Malcolm “indefinitely”.
Soon however, it became clear that there was going to be no reinstatement for Minister Malcolm X. This was when he heard some people chattering “If you had known what the minister did, you’d want to kill him yourself.” He figured out at this point that Elijah wasn’t who he thought he was, and that for such things to be said by his fellow Muslims, the order must’ve been approved of, if not actually initiated, by “The Messenger” himself.
Louis X, his former protégé, became one of his loudest critics, and he felt unwelcome in his own town of Harlem.
To clear his frustrations, Malcolm spent some time in Miami with his “blood brother” Cassius Clay. He had grown close enough to Cassius to consider him his younger brother.
According to Betty X, it was when he went to Miami to spend time with Cassius that she saw him truly happy again.
However, Cassius had been instructed by Elijah Muhammad to sever ties with Malcolm X. Cassius refused at the moment, going everywhere with Malcolm and became close enough that he was welcome to drop by unexpectedly at Malcolm’s Queens home (which he did).
After Clay won the title match against Sonny Liston, Elijah began to have real faith in Cassius. Malcolm soon left the Nation of Islam, and both men engaged in a tug of war to have Clay with them.
Malcolm believed that Cassius could be the image of the American Black Muslim to the world, whereas Elijah wanted Clay to be the poster boy for the Nation, earning it worldwide recognition.
To secure his grip on Cassius, Elijah gave him a new name: Muhammad Ali. Cassius proudly embraced this name and this marked that he had chosen The Nation over Malcolm. There were no hard feelings yet, however, as Cassius still met with Malcolm and referred to him as his brother in secret.
However, when Malcolm X went on a post-Hajj tour of Africa, he travelled to Accra, Ghana, where Ali was coincidentally touring himself. Malcolm called for Ali, and told him that he had discovered “true Islam” in Mecca and wanted to teach Ali what he had learned during his pilgrimage.
Heeding Elijah Muhammad’s commands, Ali ignored his “blood brother” and turned his back on him. In his 2004 autobiography “The Soul of a Butterfly”, Muhammad Ali claimed this to be his biggest regret, one that he would bring to his grave.
Malcolm X suffered in very eerily ironic situations in his life. When he was young, his house was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan to scare off his father. His house was also set on fire; but the culprits were the Nation of Islam. He abandoned his younger brother Reginald in service of Elijah Muhammad, and his “blood brother” Muhammad Ali abandoned him with a similar reason.
The scrutiny that Malcolm X suffered late in his life did not end with the Nation.
Ever since its conception in 1962, Malcolm also suffered constant harassment from the FBI under COINTELPRO. The mass media was his enemy ever since he rose to fame in the 50s, and even though they warmed up to him in 1964 after a letter he sent from Mecca saying that he had renewed his ideology, no longer considering the white man as “a blue-eyed devil”, he wasn’t regarded to in a positive light in the media.
The Nation’s attacks towards him, however, were more personal, at one point almost killing his children whom were only infants and toddlers at the time.
In February 1965, whilst at a speaking commitment at the Hotel Theresa (which had become the home for his new movement, Muslim Mosque Inc which aimed to strengthen voting rights for American Negroes, with the eventual intention of forming a political party), a scuffle occurred in the crowd, coining the infamous phrase “get your hand out of my pocket!”. The scuffle proved to be a mere distraction to draw away Malcolm’s security crew. Two gunmen, one armed with a shotgun and the other with a pistol opened fire on Malcolm, shooting him down in front of his wife and children.
Malcolm was pronounced dead by doctors prior to reaching the hospital. A man was arrested and soon tried and convicted, but claimed to have acted in his own accord. Both the gunmen were Negroes.
Betty X and Malcolm’s children were convinced that Louis X, with the approval of Elijah Muhammad, had ordered the assassination. Neither Louis nor Elijah faced charges for Malcolm X’s death; leading to speculation that law enforcement turned a blind eye on Malcolm’s death.
Despite dedicating his life to nothing more than the black man’s advancement in America, Malcolm X was eventually killed by the very people he called his brothers, the very people whom he was standing out in the line of fire for, in the name of racial justice.
Malcolm became a hero to many, but remained obscure to others, as the media continued to turn the other cheek on his sacrifices.
However, no one could deny the charisma and passion that Malcolm had. He was described by many, including filmmaker Spike Lee, as America’s first “African-American”.
Ninety-two years ago today, a man who would later be known as one of the most notorious orators of all time was born. However, people often forget the reasoning behind his oratory. A genuine love for his race, an undying drive for equality, and the courage to stand up for not only what he believes in, but for what is right.
Let this article be dedicated wholly to him.
Happy Birthday Malcolm X.
* Adam Michael is an 18-year-old post-SPM student.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.