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Malcolm X Essay, Research Paper

While in prison, Malcolm read widely and developed an interest in the Nation of

Islam, a black nationalist religious movement whose members were known as .

Malcolm studied the teachings of the leader of the Black Muslims, Elijah

Muhammad, who advocated an independent black state. The Nation of Islam was

based on a theology adapted from several models: traditional Islamic teachings,

Marcus Garvey’s principles of black nationalism, and economic self-help programs

that addressed the needs of African Americans living in urban ghettoes.

Unlike traditional Islam, which rejects all forms of racism, the Nation of Islam

declared that whites were the “devil by nature,” and that God was black. However,

the Black Muslims predicted that in the near future a great war would take place in

which whites would be destroyed and black people would rule the world through the

benevolence of Allah, their creator. To prepare for this new order, the Nation of

Islam stressed personal self-restraint, opposed the use of drugs and alcohol, and

organized economic self-help enterprises that eventually included farms, food

stores, restaurants, and small businesses. The Black Muslims recruited heavily

among the poorest of urban blacks and in prisons, where Malcolm Little was

converted to the faith

When Malcolm was released from prison in 1952, he went to Detroit, Michigan, and

joined the Nation of Islam temple in that city. He dropped his last name?considered

a “slave name” by Black Muslims?and became Malcolm X. In 1958 he married Betty

Sanders, later known as Betty Shabazz, and they eventually had six daughters.

Malcolm X rose rapidly in the Nation of Islam organization as a minister and

recruiter of new members. Elijah Muhammed appointed him as the chief minister of

Harlem’s main temple in June 1954. Malcolm X also helped establish the

movement’s main information and propaganda newspaper, Muhammad Speaks.

Within five years, Malcolm X had become a more prominent spokesperson for the

Nation of Islam than Elijah Muhammad.

During the decade between 1955 and 1965, while most black leaders worked in the

to integrate blacks into mainstream American life, Malcolm X preached the opposite.

He maintained that Western culture, and the Judeo-Christian religious traditions on

which it is based, was inherently racist. Constantly attacking mainstream civil rights

leader Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X declared that nonviolence was the

“philosophy of the fool.” In response to King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech,

Malcolm X quipped, “While King was having a dream, the rest of us Negroes are

having a nightmare.” Malcolm X believed that black people must develop their own

society and ethical values, including the self-help, community-based enterprises

that the Black Muslims supported. He also thought that African Americans should

reject integration or cooperation with whites.

His fiery style and natural speaking ability made Malcolm X a popular public

speaker, but his growing reputation caused tension with Elijah Muhammad and

other Black Muslim leaders. While Muhammad strenuously tried to maintain the

Nation of Islam as a religious self-help movement, Malcolm was increasingly moving

towards a political response to racism. He called for a “black revolution,” which he

declared would be “bloody” and would renounce any sort of “compromise” with

whites. In this way Malcolm X rejected the conservative values of the Nation of

Islam in favor of a more radical, revolutionary approach to social change. Malcolm X

also had come to reject some of the tenets of the Nation of Islam, including Elijah

Muhammad’s theory that the white race was created by a dissident “mad scientist”

named Yakub.

In 1963 Elijah Muhammad silenced Malcolm X for his statement that the

assassination of U.S. president John F. Kennedy had represented “the chickens

coming home to roost”?a repayment for America’s continuing failure to end racial

cruelty and hatred. This comment, often taken out of context, was not meant to be

disrespectful to the late president, although in fact, Malcolm X had little respect or

admiration for any white leaders. Rather, he was trying to make the point that the

violent treatment of blacks had now come back to the “roost” with violence against

a white president. However, the insensitive nature of the statement reflected poorly

on the Black Muslims and led Muhammad to silence Malcolm X. In essence,

Muhammad told his most prominent follower that he could not speak in public and

remain within the Black Muslim organization.

Rather than accept this silencing, Malcolm X publicly broke with the Nation of Islam

on March 8, 1964, and formed his own movement, the Muslim Mosque, Inc. Even

before the split, however, Malcolm X had already begun to part ways with the Black

Muslims because he felt stifled by the authoritarian organization of the Nation of

Islam. He was ready to be his own leader, rather than to follow the dictates of

Muhammad or anyone else

The Autobiography of Malcolm X


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