Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Cordarryl from Chicago, IL. Cordarryl Wonders, “who is malcom x” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Cordarryl!
During the 1950s and 1960s, African Americans struggled to achieve civil rights equal to those of white Americans. This turbulent time in American history is known as the civil rights movement.
Are there names that come to mind when you think of the civil rights movement in the United States? Rosa Parks? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? In addition to those famous names, there's another name that might also come to mind: Malcolm X.
For those people familiar with Malcolm X and his story, the mere mention of his name likely generates a variety of thoughts and feelings. This is a reflection of who he was: controversial, revolutionary, and influential.
Malcolm X is not the name he was born with. Instead, he was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 19, 1925. The other names he was known by during his lifetime were representative of the personal transformations he made during his lifetime.
Malcolm's father, Earl Little, was a preacher and a civil rights activist. As a result, young Malcolm grew up with frequent encounters with racism, including harassment and threats from white supremacist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan.
After moving from Nebraska to Michigan, where his father died under suspicious circumstances, Malcolm excelled in junior high school, where he was the only black student. He was discouraged from pursuing further education, though, and eventually dropped out when he was 15 years old.
After moving to Boston, young Malcolm got caught up in a life of petty crime and selling drugs. In 1946, he was arrested and sentenced to a decade in jail for larceny. His time in prison would turn out to be transformative.
He read voraciously and joined the Nation of Islam, a group of black Muslims who believed in black nationalism (the idea that black Americans should establish their own state separate from white Americans). When he was released from prison, he took the name Malcolm X. He believed the name "Little" could be traced back to the days of slavery, and he thought "X" represented the unknown name of whoever his true African ancestors were.
Given his passion, charisma, and inspirational speaking ability, Malcolm X quickly became a leader within the Nation of Islam. With his help, the group grew from a mere 400 members to over 40,000 members by 1960. Malcolm X encouraged the formation of an independent black nation "by any means necessary," including violence. His willingness to embrace violence as an acceptable means to an end put him at odds with other civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1964, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam after repeated disputes with its leader, Elijah Muhammad. He traveled to the Middle East and North Africa. He also completed the Hajj, the traditional Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. During this trip, he converted to traditional Islam and changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
His trip was another transformative time in his life, as he returned to the United States a different man, both politically and spiritually. He had learned that anger and violence weren't the answer. He was hopeful that race problems could be solved peacefully.
His new outlook on the Civil Rights Movement could have been a turning point, but sadly his life was cut short. On February 21, 1965, he was assassinated in Manhattan by three members of the Nation of Islam.
Many people were unaware of Malcolm's recent, dramatic transformation. In the wake of his death, many people still considered him to be a supporter of violent revolution who effectively made race relations worse.
However, later in 1965, his autobiography, The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley, was published. It told Malcolm's story in all its gritty detail and established his future reputation as a great spiritual and civil rights leader. His words and ideas continue to inspire people today, long after his untimely death.