MALCOLM X Born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm X emerged as one of the most eloquent, fiery and controversial leaders of the Black Muslim movement in the 1950's and early 1960's.
Saddled with a string of unfortunate childhood experiences, including the tragic death of his father and his mother's mental instability, the young Malcolm left school after the eighth grade, traveled to New York and subsequently drifted into a life of crime. Following a number of petty offenses, Malcolm turned to pimping, the drug traffic and, finally, burglary, for which he was sentenced to a ten year prison term in 1946.
During his six year period of incarceration (he was pardoned in 1952), Malcolm became acquainted with and subsequently devoted to the teachings and writings of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Black Muslims. Following his release from prison, he became active in the Muslim movement, ultimately becoming Elijah Muhammad's confidant and "right hand man." As such, he vigorously defended the Muslim assumption that worldly evil was the direct result of the existence of the "devil" white race. "The greatest crime the white man ever committed," he was fond of saying, "was to teach black people to hate themselves." As a result of this belief, Malcolm X advocated a militant and uncompromising stand against white racism as well as an "eye for an eye" philosophy of vengeance and retaliation.
His verbal attacks against the "white devils" often assumed extreme proportions. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, for example, Malcolm characterized the tragedy as being a vivid illustration of "chickens coming home to roost." Elijah Muhammad, who had become increasingly resentful over Malcolm's growing personal popularity, used this statement as a pretext to suspend him from the Muslim movement.
Undaunted, Malcolm quickly formed his own black protest movement, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). This organization was still in an embryonic stage of development when, in early 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated in New York City. Described by many as a "vendetta murder" perpetrated by his former Muslim associates (a trio of Muslims were subsequently convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the crime), Malcolm's premature death provided the black masses and a sizable number of young militant black leaders with a significant martyr image for years to come.
Shortly before his death, Malcolm X had concluded that all whites were not necessarily "devils." Asserting that the OAAU was not an anti-white organization, he maintained that "if the white man doesn't want us to be anti-him, let him stop oppressing and exploiting and degrading us." This philosophy, coupled with his insistence that blacks should politically and economically control those areas where they constitute a majority of the population, would subsequently form an important aspect of the Black Power movement during the late 1960's. See also: BLACK MUSLIMS and BLACK POWER.