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  • Writer's pictureMichele Thomas

BLACK HISTORY MONTH - Looking Back: Malcolm X

In this, Black History Month, let us have a look at some of the Black individuals who helped

shape Black history and events. A good place to start would be Malcolm X.

Born Malcolm Little in 1925, he was an African-American Muslim minister and human rights

activist, and he had a profound influence on both the way Blacks saw themselves and the way

whites viewed Blacks and the growing Black Power movement. Most POCs saw him as a

fearless fighter for Black rights; many whites accused him of racism and violence.

His early years were rocky. His dad was killed when Malcolm was just six, and when he was 13, his mom was committed to a mental hospital. After that, Malcolm bounced from foster home to foster home until, at age 20, he was arrested and imprisoned for larceny and breaking and entering.

It was while he was in prison that he became a member of the Nation of Islam, which was also the point at which he dropped the name “Little,” stating later that he took the surname “X”

because “Little” was “the name that the white slavemaster...had imposed upon my paternal


In 1952, six years after his incarceration had begun, he was paroled. Thereafter he became one of the Nation of Islam’s most recognized and most influential leaders. For a dozen years, Malcolm X was the public face of the Nation of Islam, revered by many Blacks and hated by many whites. It’s true that he argued for the separation of Blacks and whites, and that he promoted Black supremacy, which struck fear in the hearts of many whites. But there is no gainsaying the social achievements the Nation of Islam made under him, most notably its free drug rehabilitation program. Malcolm disdained the civil rights movement because its emphasis on integration was antithetical to the complete separation of the races that he advocated.

But by March 1964, Malcolm was finished with the Nation of Islam and its leader, Elijah

Muhammad. Instead he turned to Sunni Islam and once again changed his name, this time

reinventing himself as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. Now the man who had been born Malcolm

Little and was best known as Malcolm X changed his thinking and disavowed racism. At this

stage in his life he founded Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. But he still stood strong on black self-determination and black self-defense.

His changed attitudes did not sit well with members of his former group, however, and in

February of 1965, three members of the Nation of Islam assassinated el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, the man most Americans who were around then, whether Black or white, still remember as Malcolm X.

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