Happy Birthday Malcolm X !
HE WAS known for his tireless fight for black rights and equality, captivating speeches and unquestionable integrity.
And today (May 19), Black Nationalist leader Malcolm X would have celebrated his 89th birthday.
Born Malcolm Little in 1925 in Nebraska, Malcolm X went on to become one of the greatest figures in the Nation of Islam and modern history.
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. His mother, Louise Norton Little, was a homemaker occupied with the family’s eight children. His father, Earl Little, was an outspoken Baptist minister and avid supporter of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. Earl’s civil rights activism prompted death threats from the white supremacist organization Black Legion, forcing the family to relocate twice before Malcolm’s fourth birthday.
Regardless of the Little’s efforts to elude the Legion, in 1929, their Lansing, Michigan home was burned to the ground. Two years later, Earl’s body was found lying across the town’s trolley tracks. Police ruled both incidents as accidents, but the Littles were certain that members of the Black Legion were responsible. Louise suffered emotional breakdown several years after the death of her husband and was committed to a mental institution, while her children were split up among various foster homes and orphanages.Eventually, Malcolm and his long-time friend, Malcolm “Shorty” Jarvis, moved back to Boston. In 1946, they were arrested and convicted on burglary charges, and Malcolm was sentenced to 10 years in prison, although he was granted parol after serving seven years.
Recalling his days in school, he used the time to further his education. It was during this period of self-enlightenment that Malcolm’s brother Reginald would visit and discuss his recent conversion to the Muslim religion. Reginald belonged to the religious organization the Nation of Islam (NOI).
Intrigued, Malcolm began to study the teachings of NOI leader Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad taught that white society actively worked to keep African-Americans from empowering themselves and achieving political, economic, and social success. Among other goals, the NOI fought for a state of their own, separate from one inhabited by white people. By the time he was paroled in 1952, Malcolm was a devoted follower with the new surname “X” (He considered “Little” a slave name and chose the “X” to signify his lost tribal name.).
Intelligent and articulate, Malcolm was appointed as a minister and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad also charged him with establishing new mosques in cities such as Detroit, Michigan, and Harlem. Malcolm utilized newspaper columns, as well as radio and television, to communicate the NOI’s message across the United States. His charisma, drive, and conviction attracted an astounding number of new members. Malcolm was largely credited with increasing membership in the NOI from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963.
The crowds and controversy surrounding Malcolm made him a media magnet. He was featured in a weeklong television special with Mike Wallace in 1959, called The Hate That Hate Produced. The program explored the fundamentals of the NOI, and tracked Malcolm’s emergence as one of its most important leaders. After the special, Malcolm was faced with the uncomfortable reality that his fame had eclipsed that of his mentor Elijah Muhammad. In addition to the media, Malcolm’s vivid personality had captured the government’s attention. As membership in the NOI continued to grow, FBI agents infiltrated the organization (one even acted as Malcolm’s bodyguard) and secretly placed bugs, wiretaps, cameras, and other surveillance equipment to monitor the group’s activities.
Malcolm’s faith was dealt a crushing blow at the height of the civil rights movement in 1963. He learned that his mentor and leader, Elijah Muhammad, was secretly having relations with as many as six women within the Nation of Islam organization. As if that were not enough, Malcolm found out that some of these relationships had resulted in children.
Since joining the NOI, Malcolm had strictly adhered to the teachings of Muhammad, which included remaining celibate until his marriage to Betty Shabazz in 1958. Malcolm refused Muhammad’s request to help cover up the affairs and subsequent children. He was deeply hurt by Muhammad’s actions, because he had previously considered him a living prophet. Malcolm also felt guilty about the masses he had led to join the NOI, which he now felt was a fraudulent organization built on too many lies to ignore.
Shortly after his shocking discovery, Malcolm received criticism for a comment he made regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. “[Kennedy] never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon,” said Malcolm. After the statement, Elijah Muhammad “silenced” Malcolm for 90 days. Malcolm, however, suspected he was silenced for another reason. In March 1964, Malcolm terminated his relationship with the NOI. Unable to look past Muhammad’s deception, Malcolm decided to found his own religious organization, the Muslim Mosque, Inc.
That same year, Malcolm went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, which proved to be life altering for him. For the first time, Malcolm shared his thoughts and beliefs with different cultures and found the response to be overwhelmingly positive. When he returned, Malcolm said he had met “blonde-haired, blued-eyed men I could call my brothers.” He returned to the United States with a new outlook on integration and a new hope for the future. This time when Malcolm spoke, instead of just preaching to African-Americans, he had a message for all races.
After Malcolm resigned his position in the Nation of Islam and renounced Elijah Muhammad, relations between the two had become increasingly volatile. FBI informants working undercover in the NOI warned officials that Malcolm had been marked for assassination—one undercover officer had even been ordered to help plant a bomb in Malcolm’s car.
After repeated attempts on his life, Malcolm rarely traveled anywhere without bodyguards. On February 14, 1965 the home where Malcolm, Betty, and their four daughters lived in East Elmhurst, New York was firebombed. Luckily, the family escaped physical injury.
One week later, however, Malcolm’s enemies were successful in their ruthless attempt. At a speaking engagement in the Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965, three gunmen rushed Malcolm onstage. They shot him 15 times at close range. The 39-year-old was pronounced dead on arrival at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
Fifteen hundred people attended Malcolm’s funeral in Harlem on February 27, 1965 at the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ (now Child’s Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ). After the ceremony, friends took the shovels away from the waiting gravediggers and buried Malcolm themselves.
Later that year, Betty gave birth to their twin daughters.
Malcolm’s assassins, Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler, and Thomas 15X Johnson, were convicted of first-degree murder in March 1966. The three men were all members of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X’s legacy has moved through generations as the subject of numerous documentaries, books, and movies. A tremendous resurgence of interest occurred in 1992 when director Spike Lee released the acclaimed movie, Malcolm X. The film received Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Denzel Washington) and Best Costume Design.
Malcolm X is buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.
- May 19, 1925 Malcolm Little is born in Omaha, NE.
- 1929 The family’s Lansing, MI, home is burned to the ground.
- 1931 Malcolm’s father is found dead on the town’s trolley tracks.
- 1946 Malcolm is sentenced to 8-10 years for armed robbery; serves 6 years at Charlestown, MA State Prison.
- 1948-49 Converts to the Nation of Islam while in prison.
- 1953 Changes name from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X and becomes Assistant Minister of Nation of Islam’s Detroit Temple.
- 1954 Promoted to Minister of Nation of Islam’s New York Temple.
- 1958 Marries Sister Betty X in Lansing, Michigan.
- 1959 Travels to Middle East and Africa.
- 1963 Nation of Islam orders Malcolm X to be silent, allegedly because of remarks concerning President Kennedy’s assassination.
- March, 1964 Malcolm X leaves the Nation of Islam and starts his new organization, Muslim Mosque, Inc.
- April, 1964 Travels to Middle East and Africa.
- May, 1964 Starts the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), a secular political group.
- February 14, 1965 Malcolm X’s home is firebombed.
- February 21, 1965 Malcolm X is assassinated as he begins speaking at the Audubon Ballroom, New York.
In December 1953, a little more than a year after he was paroled from prison, Malcolm was named the minister at the NOI’s Boston mosque, Temple No. 11. The following year he also became the minister at Temple No. 12 (Philadelphia) and Temple No. 7 (New York).
Muhammad Speaks, the NOI newspaper, was founded by Malcolm in 1957.Beginning in the 1960s, Malcolm was invited to participate in numerous debates, including forums on radio stations (Los Angeles, New York, Washington), television programs (“Open Mind,” “The Mike Wallace News Program”) and universities (Harvard Law School, Howard University, Columbia University).In 1963, the New York Times reported that Malcolm X was the second most sought after speaker in the United States.On June 29, 1963 Malcolm lead the Unity Rally in Harlem. It was one of the nations largest civil rights events.After befriending and ministering to boxer Cassius Clay, the boxer decides to convert to the Muslim religion and join the Nation of Islam. In February 1964, Clay announces he has changed his name to Muhammad Ali.In March 1964, after his split with the NOI, Malcolm forms the Muslim Mosque, Inc. Several months later, he also organizes the Organizations of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).Malcolm’s autobiography, which he worked on for two years with writer Alex Haley, was published in November 1965.
"A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything."
— Malcolm X"We are nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us."— Malcolm X"Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today."— Malcolm X"My alma mater was books, a good library… I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity."— Malcolm X"Stumbling is not falling."— Malcolm X"There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time."— Malcolm X"They put your mind right in a bag, and take it wherever they want."— Malcolm X"We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us."— Malcolm X"Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks."— Malcolm X"A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it can never fulfill itself."— Malcolm X"I for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they’ll create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action."— Malcolm X"If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary."— Malcolm X"I feel like a man who has been asleep somewhat and under someone else’s control. I feel that what I’m thinking and saying is now for myself. Before it was for and by the guidance of Elijah Muhammad. Now I think with my own mind, sir!"— Malcolm X"The thing that you have to understand about those of us in the Black Muslim movement was that all of us believed 100 percent in the divinity of Elijah Muhammad. We believed in him. We actually believed that God, in Detroit by the way, that God had taught him and all of that. I always believed that he believed in himself. And I was shocked when I found out that he himself didn’t believe it."— Malcolm X"I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation."— Malcolm X"It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country."— February 19, 1965 (2 days before he was murdered by Nation of Islam followers)— Malcolm X"Without education, you’re not going anywhere in this world."— Malcolm X"…I shall never rest until I have undone the harm I did to so many well-meaning, innocent Negroes who through my own evangelistic zeal now believe in him even more fanatically and more blindly than I did."— on those he encouraged to follow Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad— Malcolm X"When a person places the proper value on freedom, there is nothing under the sun that he will not do to acquire that freedom. Whenever you hear a man saying he wants freedom, but in the next breath he is going to tell you what he won’t do to get it, or what he doesn’t believe in doing in order to get it, he doesn’t believe in freedom. A man who believes in freedom will do anything under the sun to acquire … or preserve his freedom."— Malcolm X"You don’t have to be a man to fight for freedom. All you have to do is to be an intelligent human being."— Malcolm X"Dr. King wants the same thing I want. Freedom."— Malcolm X"I want Dr. King to know that I didn’t come to Selma to make his job difficult. I really did come thinking I could make it easier. If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King."— in a conversation with Mrs. Coretta Scott King.— Malcolm X"I am not a racist. I am against every form of racism and segregation, every form of discrimination. I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color."— Malcolm X
- Quotes from Articles and Speeches
"The common goal of 22 million Afro-Americans is respect as human beings, the God-given right to be a human being. Our common goal is to obtain the human rights that America has been denying us. We can never get civil rights in America until our human rights are first restored. We will never be recognized as citizens there until we are first recognized as humans."
— “Racism: the Cancer that is Destroying America,” in Egyptian Gazette (Aug. 25 1964)."You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom."— “Prospects for Freedom in 1965,” speech, Jan. 7 1965, New York City (published in Malcolm X Speaks, ch. 12, 1965)."The Negro revolution is controlled by foxy white liberals, by the Government itself. But the Black Revolution is controlled only by God."— Speech, Dec. 1, 1963, New York City."I believe in the brotherhood of man, all men, but I don’t believe in brotherhood with anybody who doesn’t want brotherhood with me. I believe in treating people right, but I’m not going to waste my time trying to treat somebody right who doesn’t know how to return the treatment."— Speech, Dec. 12 1964, New York City."There is nothing in our book, the Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That’s a good religion."— “Message to the Grass Roots,” speech, Nov. 1963, Detroit (published in Malcolm X Speaks, ch. 1, 1965)."It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep."— “Message to the Grass Roots,” speech, Nov. 1963, Detroit (published in Malcolm X Speaks, ch. 1, 1965)."Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner. You must be eating some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American."— “The Ballot or the Bullet,” speech, April 3 1964, Cleveland, Ohio (published in Malcolm X Speaks, ch. 3, 1965)."If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her. And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country."— Speech, Nov. 1963, New York City.
Quotes About Malcolm X
"Have I gotten any threats? All I get is threats. I get at least six or seven a day."
— Betty Shabazz, in an interview shortly before Malcolm’s murder
"…I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and the root of the problem. He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems we face as a race."
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a telegram to Betty Shabazz after the murder of Malcolm X
"The black student group I was in wrote him a letter saying we’d heard he’d suspended security provisions - people weren’t being searched fully like before. We told him we thought that was not wise, in fact more security should be in place. He wrote back, and after thanking us, said, ‘Brothers, our people are patted down and knocked down every day of their lives. We want them to come in here and know that they are among their brothers and sisters.’"
— James Turner, founding director of Africana Studies at Cornell University
"I had just moved to Harlem. It was the first night I was there, and I went for a walk and there was a rally going on. Of course, I had heard about Malcolm before that, but it was mostly the kind of negative things they were running about him in the press then. I felt as if I was hearing the truth. I had never heard anyone speak with such clarity and forcefulness. And he just stimulated me. I found if he mentioned a book or a magazine article, I would try to find it. You hear people use that clich about the University of the Streets. It really was that."
— A. Peter Bailey, journalist
"Here - at this final hour, Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes - extinguished now, and gone from us forever.. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain - and we will smile. .We will answer and say unto them, ‘Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever really listen to him? .For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him.’"
— Ossie Davis, actor, in his eulogy at Malcolm X’s funeral
"This was a brother you could believe. There was the sense that he was not in it for something. That was the extraordinary thing about him. He was in it because of his commitment to our liberation."
— James Turner, founding director of Africana Studies at Cornell University