Born Malcolm Little in New York in 1925, Malcolm X grew up in Lansing, Michigan. The Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group, burned his childhood home. Not long after, his father was murdered, his mother was committed to a mental institution, and he moved to Boston to live with his sister. In 1946, at age 20, he became involved with the Nation of Islam while serving a 10-year prison sentence for burglary. He changed his birth name, Malcolm Little, to Malcolm X as a means of rejecting his "white man's name." After serving six years, Malcolm was paroled in 1952 and became a minister for the religion.
As a minister for the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X spoke often and strongly. He helped increase the Nation of Islam's membership from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963. His views on race were controversial. He believed that whites did not accept civil rights as a moral cause, and that African Americans should defend themselves against white violence by any means necessary.
Malcolm X advocated black nationalism - an ideology that encourages African Americans to live separate from white society. He was critical of the desire of many civil rights leaders for racial integration, arguing that whites would never accept African Americans as equals. He also believed that integration represented a rejection of black culture and an adoption of white values and white culture. "The white man has brainwashed the so-called Negro to the point of believing white supremacy so much so that today some Negroes think that they are not making progress or that they don't have anything unless they have a white man's neighborhood, a seat in the white man's school, or a position in a white man's job."
Malcolm X encouraged African Americans to look inward and embrace their own culture: "[The] lack of knowledge concerning our original culture . . . has made the black man in America have this inferiority complex." By learning about their history and heritage, he believed, African Americans strengthened black communities and institutions independent of the white world.
In April 1964, Malcolm X made a pilgrimage to Mecca; it was during this trip that his views changed. When he returned, he announced that racial brotherhood could exist between the races and that sympathetic whites could play a role in the struggle for racial equality. In the summer of 1964, he split from the Nation of Islam and reaffirmed his commitment to orthodox Islam. Malcolm X helped found the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), a secular civil rights group. The OAAU supported African American colleges, registered black voters, and aimed to increase black participation in the political process.
Plagued by controversy and violence between the Nation of Islam and the OAAU, Malcolm X was assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam on February 21, 1965 at a rally in Harlem.
How does Malcolm X explain the political, economic, and social aspects of Black Nationalism?
What do you think motivated Malcolm X's call for full and open dialogue between black and white people?
What do you think Malcolm meant when he said, "I consider myself Malcolm!" in response to the question "Do you consider yourself militant?"