Malcolm X: Remembering the civil rights giant

Africa Contributor
malcolm X
© Tiziano Casalta |

“As brother Malcolm said, we declare our right on this earth to be a man. To be a human being, to be given the rights of a human being, to be respected as a human being. In this society on this Earth, in this day, which we intend to bring in to existence,” These are the words of one of the great statesmen of the 20th century: Nelson Mandela. The ‘brother Malcolm’ he is referring to is Malcolm Little. He purposefully forsook his surname and replaced it with an X, to be known to the world as Malcolm X. And then as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, on becoming a Muslim.

This column is too little a space to cover, even modestly, his achievements and life, which was cut short by assassins’ bullets on February 21, 1965, even before he had stepped into his 40s. This can at best be a tribute to one of the greatest human rights’ moment leaders of the last century. Hence, I begin it with Mandela’s quotation, used at the end of famous American Director Spike Lee’s biopic Malcolm X.

Malcom X the activist

The ‘we’ that Mandela is referring to are the Afro-Americans of the whole world. Malcolm X will be remembered in history for his deep contribution to the civil rights movement of the African Americans in the US in the 1950s and the ‘60s. He demanded mainly equal rights for Blacks in America and the end of segregation in the society at large. His call, however, was larger than the specifics of that particular movement. He gave a clarion call for the liberation of all Afro-Americans from discrimination and oppression all over the world.

Malcolm X was born to a Baptist lay minister Earl Little and Louise Helen on May 19, 1925, in Omaha Nebraska. He was the fourth of his parents’ seven children. His parents were supporters of the African American people’s cause for the right to equality. They had to face serious harassment from radical white supremacist groups. His outspoken father eventually died in what was officially declared as a streetcar accident. It was claimed by Louise to be murder. At that time Malcolm was only six. Soon his mother landed in a mental hospital. The family was broken-up, with the children being sent to foster homes. Despite being a bright student racist harassment, even by a teacher, forced him to drop out of high school. Following which he had a deeply troubled teenage.

Change that occurred in Malcolm X

Malcolm X was involved in various criminal activities, including burglaries. On being arrested he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. And it was his prison experience along with his contact with an African American Islamic organisation named the Nation of Islam, which changed his life. He became a devout Muslim. One of the most popular minister speakers of the Nation, and a fireball civil rights activist.

By the late 1950s Malcolm X was using his Islamic name el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. He had become one of the most famous faces of the civil rights movement. He had connections with international leaders such as Gamel Abdel Nasser, of Egypt, Fidel Castro of Cuba, Keneth Kaunda of Zambia. Unfortunately, his sharp critic of the system and the state brought him into conflict with many moderate leaders. Such as Martin Luther King (Junior), and even the head of the Nation of Islam Elija Muhammad. In 1964 Malcolm left the Nation and founded two organisations. Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). In April 1964 he went to Mecca on Hajj. This pilgrimage influenced him deeply. He became convinced that the racial problems of the world could be solved through Islam.

His demise

Sadly, he did not live long to work on his cherished dream. Three men shot him with pistols and semi-automatic rifles, as Malcolm X was about to address a meeting of the OAAU in a hall in Manhattan, New York, on February 21, 1965. “While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem.” said Martin Luther King (Junior), on the news of his death.


(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)

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