Why was Malcolm X important to the story

Background current

On February 21, 1965, the political activist Malcolm X was shot dead while making a public appearance in New York. He was one of the most important representatives of the American civil rights movement.

American civil rights activist Malcolm X speaks at a rally in New York on May 14, 1963.

It was several perpetrators who murdered the radical black US human rights activist Malcolm X on February 21, 1965. The 39-year-old had given a speech in New York to supporters of the Afro-American Unity (OAAU) organization he founded the year before when a fictitious argument broke out in the audience. His bodyguards intervened, and several shots were fired at Malcolm X as they moved away from the lectern. The assassin Thomas Hagan was arrested at the scene, two alleged accomplices later caught. All three belonged to the Nation of Islam (NOI), a radical Muslim association in which Malcolm X was a spokesman until 1964.

Childhood and adolescence

Malcolm X was one of the most famous and influential figures in the black emancipation movement in the United States. Born as Malcolm Little in Omaha in 1925, the activist grew up in a politically active family. Father Earl, a Baptist minister, and mother Louise had campaigned for black rights with the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). When Earl Little was killed in an unexplained traffic accident in 1931, the family was convinced that the accident was in fact a racially motivated assault. Malcom's mother suffered a nervous breakdown a few years later and was admitted to a mental hospital.

Radicalization and Rise in the Nation of Islam

After spending time with a foster family near Detroit, Malcolm Little moved to Boston as a teenager, where he fell into criminal circles and was eventually sentenced to ten years in prison in 1946 for offenses such as drug trafficking and burglary. He used the time in prison for intensive self-study, especially in history and philosophy. He also got to know the Nation of Islam there, which he joined in 1948. The Nation of Islam was a religious community that promoted black supremacy. Malcolm Little rejected his original surname as a slave name while in prison according to the guidelines of the Nation of Islam. After his release from prison in 1952, he became a close confidante of NOI leader Elijah Muhammad, who, like all members of the Nation of Islam, bestowed on him the "X" as a symbol of the true African family name that had been taken from many slaves. Malcolm Little became Malcolm X.

Malcolm X rose quickly in the Nation of Islam. He was appointed "Minister" of the Temple of Harlem, New York, one of the most important congregations of the NOI in the United States. In the years that followed, he became the organisation's spokesman and made a significant contribution to making the movement known.

Differentiation from Martin Luther King

Although the Nation of Islam is considered an important part of the black emancipation movement, its approach was very different from that of the civil rights activists around Martin Luther King. The NOI did not strive for integration into the white majority population, but for isolated emancipation and racial separatism. Unlike Martin Luther King, Malcolm X was also not an advocate of nonviolence in principle. In 1964, for example, in his famous speech “The Ballot or the Bullet”, he said that Afro-Americans should fight for their rights with violence if necessary.

The number of NOI members grew to around 50,000 people by the 1960s. Most of them came from socially disadvantaged groups in industrial cities, and some of the supporters were also recruited from prisoners. One of the most prominent members was the boxer Muhammad Ali.

Rift with the NOI

In the early 1960s, Malcolm X's relationship with the leadership of the Nation of Islam deteriorated. Elijah Muhammad disliked the fact that Malcolm's person was increasingly coming to the fore in public. Malcolm X, in turn, distanced himself from his spiritual and political foster father, whom he accused of having extramarital affairs with minors. In 1964, Malcom X was excluded from the NOI.

Shortly thereafter, Malcom X made a pilgrimage to Mecca, on which he converted to orthodox Sunni Islam and finally renounced the religious teachings of Elijah Muhammad. 1964 he founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), with which he pursued a more international orientation . At the same time he tried to get closer to the civil rights movement around Martin Luther King.

The Nation of Islam felt betrayed by Malcolm X, and several leaders publicly threatened him with death. On February 14, 1965, an arson attack was carried out on Malcolm's house, from which he and his family narrowly escaped. Nevertheless, he stuck to his public appearances. Just a week later, Malcolm X was shot dead by members of the Nation of Islam while giving a speech.

Reception and Myth

After the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, the OOAU soon sank into insignificance. The activist's ideas were adopted, for example by the Black Panther Party (for Self-Defense) founded in 1966, which propagated black nationalism. Not least because of the biographical film by director Spike Lee (1992), the character Malcolm X is still present in the US public. His biography, co-authored with author Alex Haley and published posthumously in 1965, sold over six million copies worldwide by 1977 alone.

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