Malcolm X’s Ideology: From the Puritan/Nation-of-Islam Doctrine to Independence Rhetoric
This paper discusses the ideological dimensions of Malcolm X’s Autobiography with reference to two periods in the author’s political career, the period before and after his conversion to the Nation of Islam and the one after his disaffection with Elijah Muhammed and his entry to post-colonial politics. To this end, a historicist approach is employed to show the link between the general evolution of American history in the 1950s and 1960s and Malcolm X’s shift from Puritan doctrine to independence rhetoric.
This article which I have entitled “Malcolm X’s Ideology: From the Puritan Doctrine/ Nation-of-Islam to Independence Rhetoric” has no pretension to be an exhaustive study of Malcolm X’s political thought. It seeks rather to retrace the evolution of his ideology in broad outline paying attention to its most obvious shifts as reflected in Malcolm X’s Autobiography (1965) and some of his last speeches. My interest will be focused on the enabling historical conditions that have brought out the changes in Malcolm X’s paradigms of thought about the racial problem in the United States. Accordingly, this article falls into three distinct sections. In the first and second sections, I shall paint a picture of the life, times and influences that have fed into Malcolm X’s writings. Such a picture will help us understand to what extent the epistemological shifts of this Black American thinker dovetail with the major shifts in the cultural discourse of the 1950s and the 1960s. In the third section, I shall attempt to substantiate the claim that Malcolm X’s selected works reflect and refract the two dominant types of rhetoric which the title of the paper refers to.
Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925. His father was a visiting Baptist preacher who had supported Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican who militated for the Black man’s right for a homeland in Africa in the 1920s. Malcolm X lived a racially integrated life because at the assassination of his father by the Black legion in 1930, he was separated from his mother and siblings by welfare agents to be put in a white foster family, the Swerlins. The disillusion with this integrated life in a mainstream American family came out when one of his eight grade teachers destroyed his ambition by discouraging him to nourish the idea of becoming a lawyer, and to think instead of becoming a carpenter, simply because he was a Negro. Since then, he had kept moving from black ghetto to black ghetto until his arrest on a burglary charge in 1946. While he was in prison the message of the Nation of Islam came to him as a gospel. For over a decade after his release in 1952, he became an untiring apostle of the religious movement in New York and across the four corners of the country. Then in March 1964 he left the Black Nation, founding first the “Muslim Mosque, Inc”, and then the non-religious “Organisation of the Afro-American Unity”, with the aim to awaken and unify the protest movement for the liberation of the Black American population. Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom, New York on 21 February 1965.