Black History

* Malcolm X



  Elke Moritz

IV. Malcolm X (19.5.1925 - 21.2.1965)

2. Minister Malcolm X

White America is doomed!
God's Judgment of White America, Dec.1, 1963

It is beyond comprehension that the American government, -mistress of the Seas, Lord of the air, conqueror of outer space, squire of the land and prowler of the deep bottoms of the oceans - is unable to defend us from assault, rape and murder on the streets of these concrete jungles. What sane man can deny that it is now time that you and I take counsel among ourselves to the end of finding justice for ourselves.
Islamic News (only edition, July 6, 1959,p.2)

The thought to get out of prison and to free himself from the oppression by the white man, made Malcolm study the teachings of the Nation of Islam, which were very close to the ideology behind Marcus Garvey's UNIA. Malcolm started to change: at first, he stopped eating pork, smoking cigarettes, and taking drugs. Then he took part in correspondence courses offered in prison, and soon became the prison library's biggest customer. To free himself from the white man's influence, he dropped the outward signs of his "brainwashing" by wearing his hair normally again, and also devoted himself to the religion of Islam, praying to Allah like millions of Asiatic and African people. He was attracted by the Nation's rejection of white values and the affirmation of black history, culture and African heritage.

When he was paroled from prison in 1952, he met Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the theocraticly organized congregation. Elijah reminded him of his father, whom he had lost so early. The light-complexioned family man made a deep impression on Malcolm by his gentle and conservative style of behaviour. Having once been a Georgia Baptist minister like Malcolm's father, Elijah had migrated to the Northern ghettos in the early 1930s to flee racial violence and to find better employment opportunities and freedom. He soon had to discover, that Christianity was "too white, too outdated, and too otherworldly for coping with ghetto life."30 The Nation of Islam offered people of the working-class, whose position was increasingly insecure, the possibility to get an education and a programme , that they could use to improve their economic conditions. African-Americans should build up their self-esteem and pride through self-help, and should achieve industrial and commercial progress through economic self-determination.

Many people who had experienced similar things to Elijah entered the movement, being not primarily interested in the teachings of Islam, but in the economical and political ideology of the NOI, which in practice was a totally apolitical organization. Malcolm was fascinated by the discipline, the obedience, and the strong sense of community responsibility the members of the Nation showed, and soon became one of Elijah's most devoted followers. For the first time in his life he felt that he was important, and was treated with dignity and respect like he had never been treated before. Delivering lectures to the people of the ghetto was one of Malcolm's major activities. And because he was a man of the people - a man, who had emerged from the bottom of society to one of the most respected members of the black community - the people listened when he told them their history and also his own experiences in a language they all were able to understand:
"My black brothers and sisters - no one will know who we are ... until we know who we are! We never will be able to go anywhere until we know where we are.! The Honorable Elijah Muhammad is giving us a true identity, and a true position - the first time they have ever been known to the American black man!"31
"The white man wants black men to stay immoral, unclean and ignorant. As long as we stay in these conditions we will keep on begging him and he will control us. We never can win freedom and justice and equality until we are doing something for ourselves !"32

The message he spread found a big audience in the ghetto: the NOI accused the Caucasian race for being the common enemy of the non-white people, and therefore demanded a territory to build up a nation, where blacks could govern themselves and control the institutions of the communities, because they were separated from their former exploiters. With the heritage of abuse and degradation always present, African-Americans were urged to further their education, to give dignity and respect to black womanhood, and to create pride in their African heritage. Although the ideology of the NOI advocated self-defense,its members refused to bear arms to avoid being the aggressor: "Seek peace, and never be the aggressor - but if anyone attacks you, we do not teach you to turn the other cheek." 33

Because of his abilities as a public speaker, Malcolm was able to recruit many new followers by going "fishing" on the streets, attracting Christians, unemployed people, ex-convicts and drug addicts. He also founded the newspaper of the NOI called "Muhammad Speaks" and became the minister of Temple Number Seven in Harlem in 1954. He became known as Minister Malcolm X, having replaced the surname, which was given to his ancestors by their slave master with an "X", as many members of the organization did at that time.

In Harlem he continued his work and especially tried to get into contact with young people to keep them from becoming criminals by entering the NOI or at least following his message. He felt a deep commitment for the freedom of his people and rejected every type of oppression, which African-Americans had experienced in slavery, colonization, and segregation. His opposition to Christianity was defined by the practices of so-called Christians, but not by theological writings. He often quoted the Bible, which helped him to attract Christians to the Nation.

Two incidents made him known in the States: In 1959 a TV production called "The Hate that Hate produced" was aired, picturing the Nation of Islam as "Black Supremacists" that the white middle-class was so shocked, that it turned to leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., whom most whites had thought to be radical before. Only a few month later a member of the "Black Muslims", like the NOI was now known in the white media, was the victim of police brutality in Harlem. A large, furious crowd gathered outside the police station, but Malcolm was able to prevent a riot and dispersed the crowd. Many white people feared Malcolm, because he totally believed in Elijah Muhammad and his ideology, enjoyed talking to his own people and teaching them the truth about themselves, and had great debating skills. Whites often accused him of being a "racist in reverse", but he always gave eloquent answers:
"It's not a case of being anti-white or anti-Christian. We're anti-evil, anti-oppression, anti-lynching. You can't be anti-those things unless you're also anti- the oppressor and the lyncher. You can't be anti-slavery and pro-slavemaster; you can't be anti-crime and pro-criminal. In fact, Mr. Muhammad teaches that if the present generation of whites would study their own race in the light of their true history, they would be antiwhite themselves. ... What I want to know is how the white man, with the blood of black people dripping off his fingers, can have the audacity to be asking black people do they hate him. That takes a lot of nerve."34

Malcolm also emerged as a political leader of the masses, knowing the depths of the problem: the exploitation of the black masses and the hypocrisy of the white society. Malcolm soon became the most important figure in the NOI, which brought him the envy of many other people of the Nation. He also discovered ideological differences between him and Elijah, because wanted the organization to become more active:
"Those Muslims talk tough, but they never do anything, unless somebody bothers Muslims."35
"The Messenger has seen God. He was with Allah and was given divine patience with the devil. He is willing to wait for Allah to deal with this devil. Well, sir, the rest of us Black Muslims have not seen God. We don't have this gift of divine patience with the devil. The younger Black Muslims want to see some action." 36

When Malcolm got to know that Elijah had broken his own rules by committing adultery, he was shocked, because he had totally trusted the man, whom he had always called "the Honorable Elijah Muhammad." An often misinterpreted remark concerning the murder of John F. Kennedy was the official reason, why Malcolm was "silenced" by the organization, which in reality was the only way to remove somebody, who had become too powerful, from the organization.

Back   Two Roads   Next
30.) in "Martin & Malcolm & America",p.91
31.) "The Autobiography of Malcolm X", p. 356
32.) "The Autobiography of Malcolm X", p. 312
33.) "The Autobiography of Malcolm X", p. 313
34.) Malcolm X, Playboy interview by Alex Haley, 1963, p.56
35.) "The Autobiography of Malcolm X", p. 397
36.) quoted in "To kill a black man", p.105. "devil" is here used for the white man