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Malcolm X

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

Who is Malcolm X?

Malcolm X Speaking at the University of Pennsylvania in 1963: (Image Source: Jan. 25, 1963, University Archives and Records Center)

Malcolm X was an American Muslim minister who became popular during the civil rights movement in the 1960s for his “By all means necessary” approach to gaining freedom and justice for African-Americans. After facing many hardships and spending years in prison, Malcolm X turned his life around upon converting to Islam and began advocating for black unity and the use of self-defense to achieve justice for African Americans once he regained his freedom. He founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity to further fight for his ideas that racism was the greatest enemy of African Americans.



Early Life

Malcolm X posing with a camera in 1964: (Image Source: Abayomi Azikiwe, 1964 Pan-African News Wire)

Malcolm X was born in 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, an area with intense discrimination and violence against Black people during that time. He was no stranger to hardship, with his father being murdered in 1931 and his mother being institutionalized in 1939. After living with a white adoptive family and facing adversity at school due to his race, Malcolm moved in with his sister in Boston. There, he saw differing living conditions between middle-class and lower-class black people and worked as an intermediary for drugs, alcohol, and prostitution from age 16. Upon moving to New York later on, Malcolm started selling and doing drugs, betting, and was eventually arrested when he moved back to Boston. Malcolm’s life transformed in prison, starting with his conversion to Islam under the Nation of Islam, which he left a few years after joining. After being released on parole and meeting the Nation of Islam’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, he started his advocacy for black unity and militancy, for which he became famous.


Exploring Identity


Since Malcolm X didn’t outwardly identify as or come out as bisexual in his lifetime, the little known about the exploration of his identity as a bisexual man is in his work servicing men and from third-person accounts. From age 20, Malcolm worked servicing rich white men for pay, which he is said to have bragged about and enjoyed to an extent. According to a past schoolmate, Malcolm used to experiment with other boys when he was young and boasted about these experiences, and also often spent nights with a “gay transvestite named Willie Mae.”


Role in the Civil Rights Movement

Malcolm X speaking in NYC in November 1964: (Image Source: Abayomi Azikiwe, 1964 Pan-African News Wire)

As an important influence during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Malcolm’s approaches to achieving justice for African-Americans differed from the more common pacifist approaches proposed by others like Martin Luther King Jr. However, he fought for a common goal of ending racism and fighting for justice for African-Americans. He further fought to make a difference by creating the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which called for a connection between African American and African heritage and promoted the self-determination of African-Americans. His organization also focused greatly on education to counteract the still-present effects of slavery.


Death and Legacy

Malcolm X with Martin Luther King Jr. (Image Source: Marion S. Trikosko, United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division)

On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was lecturing at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom about his organization after weeks of attempts to end his life by whom he suspected were members of the Nation of Islam. While on stage, he was shot by three men whose identities have been controversial since the assassination. Although he was taken to the hospital, the dozen or so bullets caused his heart to fail several times until he was eventually declared dead. His legacy and admiration for him have grown since his assassination because of his passion for fighting oppression and willingness to fight for the freedom of African-Americans through any means necessary. Since his assassination and the release of his autobiography, he gained more respect than he had during his time alive, and his ideas are still relevant to this day.


 

References


Burnett, L. (2019, August 1). Organization of AFRO-AMERICAN unity (OAAU) 1965 . https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/organization-afro-american-unity-oaau-1965/.


Malcolm X Assassinated. (2009, November 24). https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/malcolm-x-assassinated.


Ott, T. (2021, January 13). The assassination of Malcolm X. https://www.biography.com/news/malcolm-x-assassination.


Szymanski, M. (2015, March 1). Malcolm X's BISEXUALITY. https://bi.org/en/articles/malcolm-xs-bisexuality.


Worland, J. (2015, February 20). Malcolm X assassination ANNIVERSARY: His legacy after 50 years. https://time.com/3715164/50-years-malcolm-x/.


X., M., Haley, A., Shabazz, A., Handler, M. S., & Davis, O. (2015). The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Ballantine Books.



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