Black History

* Malcolm X



  Elke Moritz

IV. Malcolm X (19.5.1925 - 21.2.1965)

1.) Malcolm Little

Gentlemen, I finished the eigth grade in Mason, Mich. My high school was the black ghetto of Roxbury, Mass. My college was in the streets of Harlem, and my masters' was taken in prison.
Malcolm X, Autobiography, p.389

James Earl Little was a Georgia Baptist minister, who lived in Nebraska with his second wife and his children and headed the Omaha branch of Marcus Garvey's UNIA. His wife, M. Louise Little, a very light woman from Grenada, worked as a domestic and seamstress and also raised her many children. Her fourth and Earl's seventh child, Malcolm, was born on May 19, 1925. Malcolm's childhood was characterized by the teachings of his father, who stressed black nationalism and black pride at the UNIA meetings, but also by the violence committed against the black minority. Earl Little, who was able to build up his own house and an own business, often had trouble with the Ku Klux Klan, who burned down his house in 1929. Because his mother was afraid for the safety of her family, the parents often argued. When Malcolm was six years old, his father was murdered by the Black Legion, a group of white racists belonging to the KKK. After Earl's death, Louise found herself alone with her eight children in the middle of the depression of the 1930s. The family was put on public relief, being now totally dependent on the money given by the ruling whites. After his mother joined the Seventh Day Adventists, Malcolm soon had to realize that his church and the schools he went to were integrated, but defined and controlled by white Christians who treated him like an inferior person throughout his childhood and youth. The struggle to survive as African-Americans in the Anglo-Saxon society continued, and finally white Welfare workers separated the family. Louise Little was sent to a mental institution in 1937, and the children were given to several families. Malcolm later went to Mason Junior High School, were he was the only black pupil. He was very gifted and popular, being elected class president of the seventh grade by the pupils, but he was always aware that he "was their favourite nigger, but no more."

After a visit at the home of his half-sister Ella in Roxbury, where he found himself being a member of a mass of black people for the first time in his life, he had difficulties to accept his own situation. He was a teenager without parental support and role-models, living in a detention home run by whites and attending a white school, where no one showed respect for his humanity. He realized that identity was the key problem of blacks - he was not white, but isolated from the black masses. The encounter with his English teacher, marked a turning point in Malcolm's life. The white teacher told Malcolm to become a carpenter instead of a lawyer, because, the teacher said, he had to be "realistic about being a nigger."27 Malcolm was totally disillusioned and dropped out of school after finishing the 8th grade in 1941, and went to Boston to live with his sister Ella Mae Little Collins. There he could identify with the black masses and was soon fully accepted in the black underclass. His first job was as a shoeshine boy at one of Boston's famous ballrooms, not only caring for the shoes of the dancers, but also selling liquor, reefers, and condoms and handing out phone numbers of prostitutes to the men. He also followed the latest fashion of the early forties, wearing Zoot suits and getting his hair "conked." 28

His first girlfriend was a black girl from the Boston middle-class, but he left her soon when he met a white woman, whom he called "Sophia." Some time later, he got a railroad job as a dishwasher. He soon learned that some "Uncle Tomming" helped him to get better tips when he sold things to white customers. When he came to Harlem for the first time, he was mesmerized. Soon he became a waiter at Small's Paradise in Harlem, but was fascinated by the world of the hustlers. He learned how to survive in the ghetto, so he continued selling reefers and became himself a hustler. He was close to many musicians like Billy Holliday and was a friend of Redd Foxx. Malcolm's nickname on the streets was "Detroit Red", because of his reddish hair and his light complexion. His cocaine habit worsened and he also continued smoking reefers and cigarettes. Drugs "were the centre of [his] life, now." 29 When he got into trouble with some hustlers, he went back to Boston, where he organized a burglary ring with an old friend of him called Shorty, Sophia, and some other friends. They were finally caught and convicted. Although he was a first offender, Malcolm was sentenced to ten years in prison. In his eyes, the jury was more interested in his relationship with Sophia then in the robberies. He was sent to prison in 1946 before his twenty-first birthday. Life on the streets had made him an atheist and so his fellow inmates soon started calling him "Satan". But while in prison his brothers introduced him to a quasi-religious, black nationalist organization called "The Lost-found Nation of Islam in the Wilderness of North-America", which later became known in the mass media as the "Black Muslims."

Back   Two Roads   Next
27.) "The Autobiography of Malcolm X", p. 118
28.) way of straightening the hair with the help of lye, potatoes, eggs, and vaseline
29.) ibid, p. 239