“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and
the overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of
all colors and races here in this Ancient Holy Land…..”, so began the
letter written by El-Hajj Malik El-Shabbaz, formerly Malcolm X, on his
Hajj trip in 1964. He continued, “…There were tens of thousands of
pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from
blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans. But we were all
participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and
brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never
could exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to
understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its
society the race problem…”
Malcolm X’s life had been a series of changes. He was
born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925. After his father’s violent murder
in 1931, Malcolm’s family was left poor and destitute. They were forced
to accept support from the state Welfare people, who kept their pressure
on them, especially on Malcolm’s mother, until she suffered a complete
breakdown and was institutionalized. The family was torn apart, with
children placed in separate households.
Malcolm attended school until the eighth grade. A
white teacher’s remark concerning his desire to become a lawyer (“A
lawyer – that’s no realistic goal for a nigger.”) hurt him deeply and he
became disillusioned with school.
Malcolm left Lansing and moved to live with his
half-sister, Ella, in Boston. There he began to explore the streets and
quickly caught on the slang and ways of the street. After getting a job
on the train, he visited Harlem and became enchanted. He moved there in
1942, at the age of seventeen.
Malcolm became a hustler, dope peddler, and gambler
and was nicknamed “Detroit Red.” After becoming involved in a fight with
another hustler, he escaped to New York, where he became involved in
armed robbery. He was addicted to drugs, which he used as an escape from
the worries and strains of the street. In February 1946, he was caught
and charged with burglary and sentenced to ten years in prison.
Prison changed Malcolm greatly. He started to reform.
A fellow inmate called “Bimbi” made a positive impression on Malcolm and
urged him to take prison correspondence courses and use the library.
Malcolm, who had lost all of his eighth-grade education on the streets,
began to study seriously and his grammar and penmanship improved. He
also started to learn Latin.
In 1948, Malcolm’s siblings introduced him to the
Nation of Islam and urged him to accept its teachings. Though at first
hostile to religion, Malcolm became more interested when his brother
Reginald sent a letter saying, “Malcolm, don’t eat any more pork, and
don’t smoke cigarettes. I’ll show you how to get out of prison.” Malcolm
was interested and gave abstinence a try. His actions made him feel
proud, especially when he startled his fellow convicts with his refusal
to eat pork.
Malcolm began to learn the teachings of the Nation of
Islam. Original man was black, who built great empires and
civilizations, while the “devil white man”, was created by a mad
scientist, called Mr. Yacub, and had pillaged, murdered, and exploited
every race of man not white. This white man had “whitened” history and
brainwashed the black man so much so that he did not know his own name,
language, culture, religion, or ancestry. Christianity was the white
man’s religion, used to subjugate the blacks by promising them heaven
after death, while enjoying his heaven right here on earth.
According to the Nation of Islam, a man named Wallace
D. Fard had appeared on Earth and was “God in person.” He appointed
Elijah Muhammad as his messenger to the “lost-found Nation of Islam here
in this wilderness of North America.”
Malcolm was fascinated. He began to read history and
read about the horrors that the white race perpetrated on members of
other races all over the world throughout history and how this race has
always been haughty and proud.
After his release from prison, Malcolm became an
active member of the Nation of Islam. He would go out on the streets,
“fishing” for more converts. His efforts and dedication pleased Elijah
Muhammad and he was appointed minister of Temple Seven in New York City
in June 1954.
Publicity came slowly at first and then rapidly
increased. In 1957, a police brutality event and its reaction brought
the Nation of Islam to the headlines. Then in 1959, the Nation was
catapulted to mainstream news. The television program “The Hate that
Hate Produced” was aired, producing sudden interest in the Nation of
Islam. Newspapers began to run series of stories on the Nation.
Magazines increased their coverage. Radio and television people soon
began to request Malcolm X to defend the Nation of Islam in panel
discussions and debates. Malcolm X’s publicity increased. But, publicity
caused jealousy and by 1961, Malcolm began to hear negative remarks from
members of the Nation of Islam regarding him.
Rumors concerning Elijah’s extreme immorality
surfaced. Elijah and his family considered Malcolm as a man dangerous to
Elijah’s authority and began to plot to get rid of him.
On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was
assassinated. Malcolm commented on it as a case of “chickens coming home
to roost.” He was immediately silenced and isolated for ninety days. The
machinery for eliminating him was set into place. The event was made to
look like Malcolm had rebelled. He started receiving death threats.
Malcolm, though shocked at his expulsion from an
organization that he had worked so hard and long to build and strengthen
and whose leader he nearly worshiped, kept his determination to continue
the struggle for the black man.
In 1964, Malcolm, along with other brothers who broke
with the Nation of Islam, founded Muslim Mosque Inc. He decided that
this organization was to open to all blacks, regardless of faith. On
April 13, 1964, Malcolm left for Hajj, the pilgrimage to Makkah under
the name of Malik El-Shabazz. It was at the Hajj when Malcolm was to
undergo another radical change.
Until now, Malcolm could be considered a black
racist. He attacked whites based on the color of their skin and stated
that their race was the devil race, which could never do any good. Now,
at the greatest religious gathering on the face of this Earth, he
realized that color does not determine character, but deeds do.
He experienced great hospitality and brotherhood in
the Holy Land from people of all colors, races, and nationalities. The
idea that white man is the devil began to fade as he saw the color-blindness
that Islam brought to society. His ideas changed as he saw that the cure
to racism was neither white-supremacy nor black-supremacy, but Islam,
which united people of all origins under the belief in the Oneness of
God and made them cease to measure each other based on the color of the
He himself stated, “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 saw that the solution to the racial problem
in America lay in the mutual cooperation of both sincere whites and
blacks in educating and eliminating racism from their peoples. He called
for blacks to reevaluate themselves, to get rid of the “Negro” image, to
consider themselves not as Americans but as Africans in America, and to
unite in removing the vices rampant in their communities as well as take
control of the economies in their communities so the white man does not
continue to get rich off the poor black man.
He was against passive nonviolence, saying that it
accomplished nothing and was a method of delaying the solution. He did
not advocate violence, but said that active self defense was necessary
for blacks to attain human rights in America.
Malcolm was faced with many enemies. The Nation of
Islam made no secret of its animosity towards him, whom they considered
an apostate. White supremacists who were threatened by his calls for
awakening in the black communities also kept their pressure on him. By
the end of 1964, he realized that his end was close. He considered every
day “another borrowed day.”
In January 1965, harassment was reaching its peak.
Members of the Nation of Islam kept following Malcolm wherever he went,
trying to find an opportunity to kill him. In the early morning of
February 14, his house was firebombed. Though his family escaped bodily
harm, the home was severely damaged.
The next weekend, on February 21, at the age of 39,
El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was gunned down as he began to speak at the
Audobon Ballroom. He was buried in Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale on
February 27, 1965. For millions of people around the world, both black
and white, he was a hero who had fought for the rights of his people and
was martyred in the process.