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The road to equal rights for African Americans has been a long, hard and treacherous road and even still similar occurrences plague the American Nation. Several prominent African Americans have historically become strong leaders in the fight to bridge the racial gap. Malcolm X is one of the most celebrated of these, a controversial leader dubbed as either a hero or racial monster . This report aims to evaluate impact of Malcolm X by exploring key aspects of his life and character. A brief biography is included however the examination mainly focuses on his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement in America during the 1950 s and 1960 s concerning the oppression of blacks. Delving in his ideology as a leader and political and public influences will surface the strengths and weaknesses of his leadership and draw out an overall assessment of his own and the movement s success.
Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska, as Malcolm Little. Malcolm’s father, Earl Little, was a Baptist minister, and an outspoken follower of Marcus Garvey, a Black Nationalist leader of the 1920s. When Malcolm was four, the family moved to Lansing, Michigan, where his father intended to run a store and continue his preaching and organise the black community in Lansing. However, this did not stand well with the white supremacists that called themselves the Black Legion. Malcolm s family was harassed and forced to move to a farmhouse outside town. Two years later Malcolm s father was found dead on a trolley track in East Lansing. The police claimed it was an accident, however, Malcolm believed he was murdered by the white men. The death of his father stood out in Malcolm s head through aging and it affected the way he thought of the white race. Malcolm’s mother, unable to cope with loss, suffered a nervous breakdown two years later and the welfare department took the eight children. Malcolm was sent first to a foster home and then to a reform school. After the eighth grade, Malcolm moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he worked at various jobs and eventually became involved in criminal activity. One of the most important events in Malcolm s life was when his eight-grade teacher told him to be realistic in life and in effect shattered his dreams of becoming a lawyer. With an unbearable feeling of worthlessness, Malcolm turned to street life .
In 1946, Malcolm was sentenced to prison for burglary. While in prison, Malcolm spent his time educating himself and grew a strong interest in the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Black Muslims, also called the Nation of Islam. Consequently, he joined a Black Muslim temple in Detroit upon his release from prison in 1952 , and took the well-known name of Malcolm X, the X representing the name given to Negroes by white slave masters. In 1958 he married Betty Shabazz, and together they had four daughters .
In 1964 Malcolm made a hajj (pilgrimage) to the Islamic holy city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia . Based on this trip, and other travels to Africa and Europe, he renounced his previous teaching that all whites are evil, and he began advocating racial solidarity, and adopted the Arabic name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. On February 21, 1965, in New York City, men allegedly connected with the Black Muslims sadly assassinated Malcolm .
Despite his bitter and traumatic past, Malcolm X became one of the most influential person of his time and also one of the greatest activists in history. In the beginnings of his chosen path as a Minister of Justice , Malcolm was a supporter of the Garvey Movement. This was a movement led by Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, which essentially believed in the impossible equality of races and the need for Africans to return to their homeland . This was of strong influence to Malcolm and in combination with his newfound Muslim faith, he soon progressed through the Nation of Islam and by 1961 became known as the leading spokesman for the Muslims , as well as one of the most prominent speakers of the Civil Rights Movement, alongside the great Martin Luther King Junior.
Although both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Junior were both essentially seeking equal rights for African Americans, they metaphorically stood on two separate platforms as their overall method and ideology of obtaining such rights were mostly divergent. Many didn t even consider Malcolm X a place in the non-violent Civil Rights movement as he mostly challenged the orthodox leaders . Malcolm was popular for his somewhat violent message of blacks defending themselves and his method of By Any Means Necessary . For the most part, he believed that non-violence and integration was a trick by the whites to keep the blacks in their places. He was angry at white racism and encouraged his supporters to rise up and protest against the white devils . Malcolm X s despair about life showed in his angry, pessimistic belief that equality is impossible because the white people have no conscience . For most of his life, Malcolm believed that only through revolution and force could blacks attain their rightful place in the society and thus promoted nationalist and separatist doctrine.
Malcolm believed that power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression . Power or real power comes from conviction, which produces action. These words were what inspired the black community to assess their situation and fight for their freedom; to be treated as equals. Publicity reached paramount and as Malcolm fired up the black community, white communities felt the fear and threat of his rising power. However, Malcolm s prevalence became a source of irritation to Muhammed and in 1964 Malcolm left the Muslim organisation and embarked on a pilgrimage to Mecca to discover the true Islam .
This was the most significant turning point in Malcolm s life as his attitude underwent an overwhelming transformation. His negative feeling towards the white people was greatly alleviated after experiencing a Muslim environment of such sincere hospitality and [an] overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood [with] people of all colours and races . There he discovered the true meaning of Islam, i.e. Allah is the one God and that it is his will that all people live together as one, regardless of race and colour. They made him realise that people, of all races can co-exist if they choose to do so. This somehow tempered his fiery beliefs and speeches about the white racism. This firsthand encounter of blacks and whites living together in peace and harmony broadened his scope and spurred Malcolm into further pushing equality in his own nation. Many were shocked upon his return by his contradicting yet more appreciable reformation in views. His change in views and methods gained increasing support in his endevour for equality. Malcolm was also able to hold his first rally for his own newly-formed group called the Organisation of Afr0-American Unity (OAAU) , which in its early days looked to be successful. Malcolm gained its further support by travelling and meeting with important international black leaders. However his move to equality was brought to an early end by his assassination.
This contested leader left a prominent footprint in the sands of 1960-America and even at present many vary in views concerning the degree of his success. While a lot of people looked to Malcolm for guidance and leadership, others regarded him with suspicion. To some people, his angry words ignited the fires that were burning then in a number of American cities . To others, Malcolm has not done enough to support his struggle. Other black leaders have been very active in marches and protests and others are even risking imprisonment or injury, whereas Malcolm, many insisted, stayed safely behind the podium or pulpit . He spoke angry, defiant words but often times he does not do anything to put into practice what he has taught.
Despite the negativity of the majority Malcolm s movement, he can be acknowledged as a stepping stone to the achievement of black rights. It is evident Malcolm has had no direct influence on the political system of America, however he can be indirectly be accredited with the formation and success of other parties of the late 1950 s and 1960 s. For example The Socialist Workers’ Party, follower of the teachings of Marxist political thinker Leon Trotsky, has long held Malcolm X as an inspirational icon. The militant political group of the Black Panther Party and The Malcolm X Grass Movement are two of many other radical organisations influenced by his philosophy, both the initial and the reformed. Some groups related to his violent tactics, while others identified and dwelled on his support of Black Nationalism . Malcolm also joined the Muslim Mosque Inc. and subsequently founded numerous mosques in Boston, Philadelphia in Harlem and was credited with the national expansion of a movement that, by 1963, included a membership of approximately 30,000 .
Malcolm can be viewed as a people s leader rather than a political leader in that he did not achieve the changing of laws but more the changing of views. His contribution to the civil rights movement is not set in concrete, however the fact remains that Malcolm X was instrumental in arousing the black people s desire to be treated as equals, enjoying the same freedom and preferences that a white man has . By comparing him with other black leaders of his time, and revealing some of his ideas, Malcolm X is indeed an important figure in the struggle for black power and freedom. Although his name is often overlooked when speaking of the great black leaders in America, and his efforts often overshadowed by those of Martin Luther King Jr., the legacy of Malcolm X is undoubtedly unforgettable.
What Malcolm uniquely contributed to the black man’s struggle in America and throughout the world opened another door for blacks in the land of Life and Liberty by opening the mouths and minds of the public people to feeling, speaking and acting in support of black unity. His achievements are not necessarily stamped on the body of the Constitution but his influences definitely printed boldly in the minds of many. Never had Malcolm fallen to his criticisms “Ahead of his time, ahead of his people, at the forefront of their struggle was Malcolm.”
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