The Legacy of Malcolm X

Bachelor Thesis 2014 26 Pages

American Studies - Culture and Applied Geography


Table of contents


Chapter 1
2.1 Malcolm X and his life
2.2 Malcolm’s life before prison
2.3. Malcolm’s life in prison

Chapter 2
3.1 The power of Malcolm X’s spoken words
3.2 The ‘’Ballot or The Bullet’’ Speech
3.3 ‘’The Message to the Grassroots’’ Speech

Chapter 3
4.1. Malcolm’s popularity in the 1990s
4.2. Malcolm’s popularity in music
4.3 Conclusion




Throughout the years numerous people have influenced the history of various countries. They have done it in different ways. Different countries all over the world have had people who made changes. The history itself has almost always been made by its nations as well as by foreigners who contributed to it or aggressively wanted to conquer the land and its residents. American history, which is not too long when comparing it to other nations, has shown a lot of different representatives who greatly or only to some extend have been changing what is crucial for the state. The issues fought for related to freedom, certain rights or economic rules. They have been presidents, senators, politicians or average people for whom the country and particular rights have been significant. Almost everyone recognizes such names of American presidents as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Bill Clinton.[1]

Those who made the country shift its directions with reference to various fields of life, have been perceived in various ways as they have behaved differently and not always according to some generally accepted rules. Their roles have been different as well. They have acted as leaders, supporters or advisers. The events that generally take place, also influence anything that happens in the country. The people, particular decisions, the law, or the politics are those aspects which have an enormous impact on the country.

As for the American history, Malcolm X was the person who definitely made his country consider what he was fighting for. The United States of America had to take into consideration his opinions, views and demands. This so powerful a country, needed thinking over what one person suggested. The American nation was not united in the issue of black and white for a very long time. However, Luedtke[2] in his book introduces Santayana’s opinion about America and its people and the opinion is rather opposite to what Malcolm X and other black representatives had to face:

‘I speak of the American in the singular, as if there were not millions of them, north and south, east and west, of both sexes, of all ages, and of various races, professions, and religions.… As it happens the symbolic American can be made largely adequate to the facts…yet there is a great uniformity in their environment, customs, temper…They have all been uprooted from their several soils and ancestries…. To be an American is of itself almost moral condition, an education, and a career.’

Freedom was the main thing that Malcolm wanted to have in his country. He once said:

‘Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.’[3]

This diploma paper relates to Malcolm X, his life and some aspects that took place after his death. The first chapter concentrates on a detailed description of Malcolm’s upbringing and shaping his personality. It also relates to the time when he led his illegal life, before prison and then in prison. Additionally, it is connected with the moment when he left prison and took part in his actions concerning the black. The second chapter, however, describes the time when Malcolm was a part of the Civil Rights Movement and wanted to change the reality which was not comfortable for the black. Finally, the third part describes in details various aspects related to the popularity of Malcolm X. The last part consists of conclusions and references. Main sources that have been used are Internet sources.

Chapter 1

2.1 Malcolm X and his life

Living in a free country and having equal rights have been the issues widely discussed throughout the centuries. People have always wished to live in a country which will be supportive and will make the lives easy not difficult. Various nations struggled to be free and to live as other independent places. As for the United States of America, the idea of fighting for equal rights started a long time ago and was very much dependent on the skin color. The history introduced different people fighting for freedom and individualism. Many historians have often presented various facts and opinions related to the black and white. Luedtke emphasizes the importance of individualism and equality in the American history and claims that those two aspects have been the matter of great concern throughout the centuries and discussed by politicians and average people.[4]

One of a very famous Americans interested in general freedom was Martin Luther King, who wanted the same rights for both white and black people. He wished the nation to be united no matter the color of the skin. However, apart from him, Malcolm X was also engaged in black people’s issues. Although both men wanted the same aspect to be present in their lives, Malcolm X differed much in his attitudes related to the black and their role in the American society. His methods to make black Americans free and independent were not always legal and positive.[5]

Both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are important people in the history of the United States of America. Malcolm’s attitudes, views and actions were influenced by his life and various crucial stages of his growing-up and becoming familiar with the world and people living in his area. He wanted changes and believed that people’s actions should be noticeable in order to achieve the stated aims. His life can be divided into three major stages, namely before going to prison, being in prison and finally, when he was set free. Every part of it is full of difficult moments and not easy choices.[6]

Malcolm X is well known for being an African-American Muslim minister and a human rights activist. He has been perceived as one of the most influential African-Americans in history. Malcolm had many supporters who admired his courage and involvement in the rights of the black.[7]

2.2 Malcolm’s life before prison

Malcolm’s life story began in Omaha, Nebraska where he was born in 1925. His family was very poor. His father was a local leader of U.N.I.A (Universal Negro Improvement Association). That organization was the reason for many difficulties the family had to face and had to deal with. In 1929 Malcolm and his family moved house because of the father’s actions. He did not behave in a way expected. He and his family received some warnings from the Black Legion. They moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and then to Lansing, Michigan. Malcolm grew up during very difficult times. It was the period of Ku Klux Klan – “a secret US organization of Protestant white men who are opposed to black people having equal rights with white people. It has often used violence against black people, especially during the civil rights protests of the 1960s”.[8] Malcolm’s father died in 1931 apparently in a street car accident. However, the real reason for his death was not known. There were however, certain assumptions.[9]

Malcolm had 7 siblings. His mother did much to feed her children and keep the family together. However, at some point of her struggling and coping with everyday life problems, she did not manage the pressure and was sent to a mental institution. The children were separated. Malcolm grew up in various families, with different traditions, beliefs and attitudes. Despite all difficulties in his life, he was a very good students in a junior high school. However, being under great pressure as a black child and being humiliated quite often, he decided to leave school when he was 15. One event had the greatest influence on his decision about leaving school so early. That was his teacher saying that he would never become a lawyer because of his color of skin.

She humiliated him in front of his peers and that is why, Malcolm did not want to come back to school.[10]

Malcolm decided to move out and he went to Boston. His half-sister Ella lived there. He got much help from her and found a job. While living in Boston, he became familiar with the town itself and the situations that were taking place at that time. He saw the ghetto and surprisingly did not feel strange or awkward. He was trying to support the black.[11] Therefore, he sympathized with the local black people observing their actions and general behavior. He noticed that some black people wished to integrate with the whites. He was disappointed and that is why he decided to turn away from the middle-class black representatives.[12]

Malcolm was impressed by the culture in ghetto. He admired their style and the way they looked. He himself tried to copy the hairstyle, clothes and the way of life. That style of clothes became popular among African Americans, Chicano and Italian Americans in the 1940s.[13]

While living in Boston, he applied for and performed different jobs. He was a shoeshine boy, busboy as well as a waiter. He commuted a lot at that time, his jobs were in various places. His trying to be a part of the society, did not always ended in a positive way. Unfortunately, he saw much crime in streets and he himself became a part of that dangerous and evil world. Various bad situations were his part of life.[14] He was often involved in various crimes, especially the ones that aimed at burglaring wealthy white families.[15]

In 1943 he moved again. He chose New York as his new city. His life was full of dangerous and illegal issues. He was involved in drug dealing, gambling and robbery. Due to his hair colour, people started calling him “Red”. His illegal actions and evil, antisocial behavior caused more problems. In 1946, Malcolm was arrested and sent to prison until 1952. His sentence was connected with grand larceny, breaking and entering.[16]

2.3. Malcolm’s life in prison

Malcolm was sentenced and got a punishment of 10 years in prison. That time appeared to be a very crucial period in his life. He changed a lot and started to be more aware of certain views and facts. The first thing he aimed at was learning English. In addition, he read a lot. He wanted to learn much and gain good knowledge in order to become more self-confident and aware of the world surrounding him.[17] During staying in prison he met John Bembry. Thanks to him, Malcolm became interested in reading and developing his knowledge. His behavior, attitudes and opinions about the white however, made him receive the prison nickname “Satan”.[18]

Malcolm also concentrated on studying history, philosophy and religion.[19] Due to his interests, Malcolm was introduced to the Black Nationalist teachings of the Nation of Islam (NOI). His brother Reginald was the one who let him know about that religious movement. The organization wanted to make better the spiritual, mental, social and economic aspects related to African Americans’ lives. It aimed at improving their general conditions of living in the USA. There were many people who did not believe in their good intentions. Some critics would even refer to them as black supremacist and anti-Semitic. The people belonging to NOI specialized in having the criminals in their team who were to introduce the values of racial pride, sobriety, hard work and self-respect. Anything Malcolm was doing at that time was connected with his great interest in all the ideas introduced by spiritual leader Elijah Muhammad. The religious movement made Malcolm believe more and be totally involved in its views and actions. While being in prison he was constantly thinking of the world surrounding him and felt that the world and he himself needed changes.[20]

He was strongly convinced that white people were evil and that is why they wanted to destroy the black. Malcolm also believed that the whites were losing their power and therefore the blacks should have done something about it. He thought that the white would not be good people to rule the world or state the rules. He felt rejected due to the whites’ actions against the black people.[21]

In 1948, Malcolm started being seriously involved in subscribing to the ideology presented by NOI[22] leader Elijah Muhammad. From 1948 to 1952 he still continued to explore the knowledge of literature. He did it in order to prepare himself to be a leader. He wanted to learn much so that he could speak to the crowd and be the leader. He was aware of the skills needed and that is why he developed his oratorical abilities. He learnt a lot but inside he was still angry and ready to do anything to defeat his enemies, namely the white men. In 1952 he left the prison.[23]

Before leaving the prison, Malcolm studied a lot. He decided to go to Detroit where he became a member of the Muslims’ temple. He started working there as a shop assistant in a furniture shop. He lead peaceful life full of various thoughts. In 1952 he met Elijah Muhammad who was giving a speech on a Labor Day in Chicago Temple. During the speech Muhammad gave an example of great power and faith referring to Malcolm and his life. The speech he had a

chance to hear was related to the history of black people. Malcolm was deeply moved and strongly believed in every word he had heard.[24]

Malcolm was given his surname – X. It was a symbol of his unknown African name. As an explanation of that change Malcolm said: “The 'X' is meant to symbolize the rejection of 'slave names' and the absence of an inherited African name to take its place. The 'X' is also the brand that many slaves received on their upper arm."[25] He became one of the most favourite members for Muhammad who saw a good leader and follower in Malcolm. Therefore, he became responsible for recruiting the new members of NOI. His hard work and devotion were noticed and appreciated. Muhammad offered him some help and in 1952 made him the assistant of minister NOI in Detroit.[26]

Malcolm was very successful in gaining new members. Between 1952 and 1955 he managed to expand the Temple in Philadelphia. In addition, new Temples appeared in Boston, Springfield, Massachusetts, Hartford, Connecticut and Atlanta, Georgia. Malcolm X had more duties which he needed to face, namely he became the minister of Temple No. 7 in Harlen and No. 11 in Boston. Due to his actions the Nation of Islam grew very quickly. He felt proud of his work and results. He was able to make the people join the NOI and in 1960 it already had 40,000 members.[27] The media helped Malcolm to be well recognized by the audience. the local television broadcast in New York showed Malcolm and his organization. The details of the NOI organization were introduced to the public.[28]

Anything he had been doing was influenced by his inner anger and the wish to punish and destroy the white society. He claimed that the white people wanted the black to be immoral, not clean and ignorant. Muhammad appeared to take into consideration Malcolm’s opinions and views. They often talked together and discussed the issues they were both interested in and cared much about.[29]

Apart from talking to Muhammad, Malcolm also tried to be in touch with Martin Luther King. He would write to him and would try to meet him. They met but did not cooperate. They lived in the same country, they were both bothered by similar problems and had their supporters and opponents.[30]

In 1957 Malcolm often wrote to Martin Luther King and invited him to take part in the mass in his temple. He also sent him various articles related to the actions prompted by NOI. King never accepted Malcolm’s aggressive behavior and illegal actions. He often told Malcolm to change and be a good person. They wanted the same, a free country for everyone with equal rights for everyone but the way they chose, was different.[31]

In 1953, the FBI stated that that Malcolm had an "asocial personality with paranoid trends (pre-psychotic paranoid schizophrenia), and that he had sought treatment for his disorder.”[32]

Due to Malcolm’s abilities to speak well to the audience in public, he was quickly promoted and became Muhammad’s official spokesperson in 1963. However, Muhammad appeared to afraid that Malcolm would become the main and only leader. Taking into consideration his knowledge, support and ability to be listened to that was very possible to happen.[33]

On 22nd November, 1963 President Kennedy was assassinated and Malcolm did not hide his gladness concerning that fact. Due to Muhammad’s actions undertaken towards Malcolm, certain changes took place in Malcolm’s thinking and views. At those moments he strongly believed in everything he had learnt and accepted. However, he realized that Muslims were betrayed by Elijah Muhammad.[34]

That was a difficult time for Malcolm. He felt so disappointed, cheated and frustrated but his faith seemed to be the same, not changed, of the same strength. Other changes however took place. In 1963 Malcolm left the NOI. He became a serious supporter of orthodox Islam which strongly believed that all whites were devils.[35]

During an interview, Malcolm answered a lot of questions related to his life and the actions he was involved in. He said that

“Elijah Muhammad allowed himself to become insanely jealous of my own popularity, which went even beyond his own followers and into the non-Muslim community, while his own prestige and influence was limited largely among his immediate followers. While I was still in the movement and blind to his faults by my own uncompromising faith in him, I always thought the jealousy and envy which I saw -- constant signs of was

stemming mainly and only from his immediate family, and it was quite shocking to me whenever members of his own family would warn me that it was their father (Elijah Muhammad himself) who had become almost insane with jealousy.”[36]


[1] www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Presidents_of_the_United_States (17/04/2014)

[2] Luedtke Luther S. Making America. The Society and Culture of the UNITED STATES. Forum Series. Washington D. C. 1990. str.7

[3] www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/malcolm_x.html 19.04.2014

[4] Luedtke, Luther S. Making America. The Society and Culture of the United States. Forum Series. Washington, D.C. 1990. p. 226-227

[5] www.malcolmx.com/about/quotes_by.html, 12.01.2014

[6] www.malcolmx.com/about/quotes_by.html, 12.01.2014

[7] www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_X, 18.02.2014

[8] Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture. Addison Wesley Longman. 1998. p.731

[9] www.malcolmx.com/about/quotes_by.html, 12.01.2014

[10] www.biography.com/people/malcolm-x-9396195, 12.01.2014

[11] Malcolm X and Alex Haley . The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine Books. 1992. p. 49

[12] www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/359906/Malcolm-X, 12.01.2014

[13] www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoot_suit, 12.01.2014

[14] www.malcolmx.com/about/bio.html, 12.01.2014

[15] www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_X, 20.02.2014

[16] Malcolm X and Alex Haley . The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine Books. 1992. p. 109

[17] Malcolm X and Alex Haley . The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine Books. 1992. p. 173

[18] www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_X, 20.02.2014

[19] Alex Haley, ‘’The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” New York: Grove Press. 1965. p.173

[20] Alex Haley, ‘’The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” New York: Grove Press. 1965. p.175-176

[21] Adam Fairclough. Better Day Coming: Black and Equality, 1890-2000. New York: Penguin Books. 2002. p.304

[22] Nation of Islam – www.noi.org 30.04.2014

[23] Alex Haley, ‘’The Autobiography of Malcolm X.’’ New York: Grove Press. 1965. p.170-176

[24] Alex Haley, ‘’The Autobiography of Malcolm X.’’ New York: Grove Press. 1965. p. 214

[25] www.en.allexperts.com/q/U-S-History-672/2008/5/Malcolm-X-4.htm, 22.02.2014

[26] Alex Haley, ‘’The Autobiography of Malcolm X.’’ New York: Grove Press. 1965. p. 216

[27] www.biography.com/people/malcolm-x-9396195, 21.01.2014

[28] www.en.allexperts.com/q/U-S-History-672/2008/5/Malcolm-X-4.htm, 22.02.2014

[29] www.en.allexperts.com/q/U-S-History-672/2008/5/Malcolm-X-4.htm, 22.02.2014

[30] www.mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_malcolm_x_1925_1965/, 21.02.2014

[31] www.mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_malcolm_x_1925_1965/21.02.2014

[32] www.en.allexperts.com/q/U-S-History-672/2008/5/Malcolm-X-4.htm

[33] Alex Haley, ‘’The Autobiography of Malcolm X.’’ New York: Grove Press. 1965. p. 225

[34] Alex Haley, ‘’The Autobiography of Malcolm X.’’ New York: Grove Press. 1965. p. 332

[35] Adam Fairclough. Better Day Coming: Black Equality. 1890-200. New York: penguin Books. 2002. p. 310

[36] www.malcolm-x.org/docs/int_almus.htm, 20.02.2014


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Title: The Legacy of Malcolm X