Malcolm X


The Nation of Islam - Origins

Founded in Detroit in 1930 by Wallace Fard and carried a message of black redemption

Elijah Muhammad's previous name was Elijah Poole - he declared himself Allah's prophet


offered blacks redemption and order outside of Christianity- as the religion of the ''slavers''

gave them a sense of belonging which white society would not give

gave blacks a structure, a goal and a divine message which was uplifting yet difficult to prove

integrated influences of Christianity, Islam, science fiction, black nationalism, Pan-Africanism and Freemasonry

''Yacub's History'' - ''uneasy marriage of oppositional jeremiad and apocalypticism'' - Terrill

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The Nation of Islam - core beliefs

The white race was seen as a degenerate mutation of the original earthly inhabitants

White people had been given 6,000 years of domination by God to test the strength and capacity of the Black Nation. Judgement day would be when the whites and their religion were destroyed

Under Elijah Muhammad, they advocated racial separatism, self-determination and the creation of either an independent black republic in the USA or a return to Africa

Discarded black surnames as a reminder of their slave pasts and preferred 'X'

strict habits of thrift, cleanliness and economic self-help

Muslims elected to avoid any social, religious or political contact with whites

Believed that integration of America would lead to Civil War

Wanted a separate black nation state within America - unrealistic and would have lead to a 'partition of India'-style bloodshed

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Malcolm X- early life

Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925

When he was 6, his father was beaten and thrown to death under a tram car by a member of the white supremacist group Black Legion

the same group had earlier burned the Little family home

his father had been too outspoken an advocate of Marcus Garvey and a baptist minister with a "Back to Africa" message

His mother was committed to a psychiatric hospital

at school, Malcolm was dissuaded from becoming a lawyer because of his race

Moxed to Roxbury, Massachussetts in 1941 - to the black ghetto of Boston

became a petty crimminal

spent 7 years in prison after being arrested for burglary in 1945

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Malcolm X joins the NOI- early career

Malcolm adopted the Nation of Islam in prison after a letter from his brother

started reading voraciously in prison

after his release in 1952, Malcolm went to Detroit to meet Elijah Muhammad

Malcolm quickly became the movement's most effective preacher and built a following in New York

Began to attract attention not because of the NOI preaching, but his criticism of white racism and the nonviolent ethos of the CR Movement

''MLK isn't preaching love, he's preaching love the white man"

After MLK won the Peace Prize "I don't want the white man giving me medals"

"The goal of MLK is to give the Negroes a chance to sit in a segregated restaurant beside the same white man who brutalised them for years..."

the anti-white NOI validated his fragmented sense of humanity and ethnic identity

"I never dreamed anything like that atmosphere among black people who had learned to be proud they were black, who had learned to love other black people instead of being jealous and suspicious"

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Malcolm breaks from the NOI

by 1964, Malcolm was the 2nd most requested guest speaker on college campuses

Tensions arose between Malcolm and Elijah because Elijah refused to allow Black Muslims to participate in CR protests

Insularity, exclusivity and mysticism of the NOI no longer satisfied Malcolm X

Elijah suspended him for 90 days after commenting on the asassination of JFK in 1963

Malcolm left the Nation in March 1964

SNCC and CORE rejected Malcolm's overtures of a working alliance

toured Middle Eastern and African countries in 1964

his pilgrimage to Mecca can be seen as a turning point- he returned to the US as a Sunni Muslim

organised the Organisation of Afro-American Unity in June 1964 - had distinct overtones of Garvey's Universal ***** Improvement Association

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Malcolm X quotes

1964 "the time has come for the American ***** to fight back in self-defence"

on the OAAU "we will work with anyone, wirth any group, no matter what their colour is"

Harlem - December 1964

"there can be no worker solidarity until there is first some black solidarity"


On Elijah Muhammad "I realised how very dangerous it is for people to hold any human being in such esteem"

prophetic "I do not expect to live long enough to read this book in its finished form"

"MLK is a chump not a champ"

"I've never heard of a nonviolent revolution"

Early anti-semitism "The Jew gains control, then he sends the black man doing all the wading in"

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Organisation of African-American Unity

Asserted the Afro-American's right to self-defence

Wanted a cultural revival in Harlem

petitioned the UN Human Rights Commission to prosecute the US government on the grounds that deteriorating black conditions were a threat to world peace

Never had more than 900 members

Not an activist movement - embodied Malcolm's views

urged blacks to start rifle clubs

OAAU meetings were educational forums which encouraged audience participation

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Malcolm's changing views with the OAAU

attacked the black bourgeoisie for its commitment to private enterprise

Malcolm no longer preached divine deliverance, but the need for blacks to deliver themselves

began to appeal to whites to become involved in the 1964 OAAU rally in Cairo

started making reference to socialism in his last speeches - OAAU meeting in Harlem in December 1964

however never advocated Marxism

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Malcolm's Audience

dispossessed and almost entirely black

voiced the feeling of a younger generation either hostile or indifferent to the philosophy of MLK

Voiced the failure of the CR Movement to effect meaningful change in the lives of the ghetto proletariat

after his death, the disillusioned mood of northern blacks increased and was represented in race riots in Harlem, Watts, LA and Newark - 200 deaths of mostly blacks, 10,000 injured and 60,000 arrested

Marable argues that Malcolm's appeal was in his simultaneous embodiment of the preacher and the hustler

Terrill ''the goal is not an audience that is prudent because it can discern, but rather it is an audience that is righteous because it knows''

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"The Autobiography of Malcolm X"

Belongs to the genre of spiritual conversion autobiography

set in parables: an incident is described, and then the appropriate moral drawn

Animal imagery "I met chicks who were as fine as May wine, and cats who were hip to all happenings" - exaggerated his years as a hustler in Boston and New York

talks of a psychological, cultural and philosophical migration back to Africa

Alex Haley - co-author of autobiography- had his own agenda - held NOI in contempt but was fascinated my Malcolm's personal life

Haley's purpose was a cautionary tale about the tragedies produced by racial segregation

Autobiography too silent about the OAAU

Malcolm was dead during the editing process

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Critics of Malcolm X

MLK "...Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice. Fiery, demagogic oratory in the black ghettos, urging Negroes to arm themselves and prepare to engage in violence, has he has done, can reap nothing but grief"

Bayard Rustin "he doesn't have any real answers to the immediate problems which Negroes want an answer to"

Bayard Rustin "There were no obtainable, immediate results for the northern ghettoised black, whose housing is getting worse... he needed Malcolm, who brought him an internal victory"

******* magazine describes him as a ''lanky one-time dining steward"

Even those who rejected his policies recognised his sincerity

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Malcolm's development

consistently dedicated to the spiritual regeneration of Afro-Americans

remarkable capacity for intellectual growth

went from parochial and simplistic Black Muslim to sophisticated and informed

appeared transformed after his trip to Mecca - announced his opposition of all forms of bigotry

shocked at the way the issue of skin colour seems so trivial outside America

moved from black separatism to multicultural universalism

Master of reinvention and self-packaging

Conversion to Sunni Islam was the spiritual platform from which he constructed a politics of Third World Revolution and was a political bridge to the Middle East

softening of attitude towards whites ''it isn't the American white man who is racist, but it's the American political, economic and social atmosphere that automatically nourishes a racist psychology in the white man''

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Malcolm's Early Beliefs: 1963 ******* Interview

Separation is more natural than integration

black people must learn to become their own producers, manufacturers and traders

Christianity has only ever enslaved the black man

Elijah Muhammad represents the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy

judgement day will the the end of the white man

Distrust of white liberals as bait to make blacks think theyre making progress

whites are born devils by nature and are inferior to black people

scathing towards the black middle class for imitating the white man

belief that integration would lead to a Civil War

anti-Semitism - belief that the Jew takes from the *****

emphasis on self defence but no first attacks ''you can waste somebody if he attacks you''

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Malcolm's death

February 1965- Harlem

Absence of a substantial police presence at the event

Linwood X Cathcart was there with an NOI badge

Turnout of only 30 due to fears of violence due to ongoing feud with NOI

audience were not checked for weapons because people of Harlem were not used to being searched or giving up their guns

two accomplices at the back created a diversion

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Malcolm's posthumous legacy

admired as a man of uncompromising action and raised to secular sainthood

the product of the modern ghetto

autobiography released 9 months after his asassination - extroadinarily successful

Renaissance of his popularity in the 1990s was largely down to hip hop

Spike Lee released 3-hour long biopic in 1992

84% of black Americans descrbed him as a 'hero for black Americans today'

Malcolm X stamp released in January 1999

It took white America 30 years to change its views on Malcolm X

embodied the spirit, vitality and political mood of an entire generation of young blacks

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The Programme of the OAAU - Basic Aims and Objecti

"conquer oppression, relieve suffering and convert meaningless struggle into meaningful action"

aimed to ''rejoin our brothers and sisters on the African Continent"

right to self-determination

rediscovery of African culture and history- and control of their own educational institutions

planned to join forces with all people of African in a 'grand alliance'

restoration of communication with Africa

asserts that they are still slaves- but economic slaves- and asserts need for an open black skills market

commitment to cultural, linguistic, philosophical and psychological studies

asserts the right of African Americans to defend themselves

wants to extract the government's obligations to them as citizens and taxpayers - ''by any means neccessary''

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Programme of the OAAU - National concerns

''not opposed to multiethnic institutions''

consider the world ''integration'' a misleading, false term. Integration was promoted by those who wished to continue a 'nicer' form of ethnic discrimination

believe the term '*****' to be erroneously used and degrading - 'a badge of slavery'- and Afro-Americans have to reevaluate their own use of this term

do not encourage any belief in 'empancipation' but rather self-determination

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Programme of the OAAU - Worldwide Concerns

black Americans have been too slow in seeking help/building connections with Africa

human rights are the rights of all mankind

Civil Rights bill is a ''misleading, misinterpreted document''

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Malcolm X Talks to Young People Interview - 1965

learned from his experiences in Africa to include white people in his visions ''he showed me I was alienating people who were true revolutionaries... so I had to do alot of thinking and reappraising of my definition of Black nationalism"

''young people are more incensed over (racism and discrimination)- they feel more filled with an urge to eliminate it''

''it is impossible for capitalism to the nations of the world free themselves, then capitalism has less victims...''

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Last Interview - Al-Muslimoon Feb 1965

Elijah Muhammad planned to have him killed because Malcolm could expose his ''extreme immorality'' of seducing his secretaries

Malcolm did not believe the NOI was ''true Islam''

OAAU not Islam-affiliated ''designed to unite all Black Americans regardless of their religious affiliation''

Had a wife- Betty Shabazz- and 4 daughters

focusing on converting black Americans to Sunni Islam has no racist connotations

criticises the discrimination against women in Muslim countries "the Muslim religious leaders of today must for women in particular''

critical of Zionism ''even more dangerous than communism because it is more acceptable''

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Autobiography - quotes

''the Klansmen shouted threats at (my mother) that we had better get out of town because the ''good Christian white people'' were not going to stand for my father's ''spreading trouble''...with the ''back to Africa'' preachings of Marcus Garvey'' - Omaha, Nebraska

the Black Legion - local hate group in Lansing, Michigan- hated Malcolm's father for being an ''uppity ******'' for wanting to own a store and living outside the Lansing ***** district

''I had never forgotten how, when my class, me and all those whites, had studied seventh-grade United States history back in Mason, the history of the ***** had been covered in one paragraph"

''the true nature of man is to be strong, and a woman's true nature is to be weak, and while a man must at all times respect his woman, at the same time he needs to understand that he must control her if he expects to get her respect''

''you haven't got a revolution that doesn't involve bloodshed. And you're afraid to bleed''

''the only revolution in which the goal is loving your enemy is the ***** revolution''

''land is the basis of all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice and equality''

''the black man in America has to lift up his own sense of values''

"I truly believe that if ever a state social agency destroyed a family, it destroyed ours"

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Idea of ''self-defence'' - controversy

Idea of mass black gun ownership was highly threatening to white America

Malcolm X seemed hugely militant in comparison to MLK

Malcolm's X's advocations of violence in self-defence were taken out of context and turned into soundbites

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Malcolm's early white identification

went to an all-white school and was the only black kid in his class

was class president

aspired to become a lawyer- a typically ''white'' occupation

''conked'' (straightened) his hair

drew away from white aspirations after his teacher told him being  a lawyer wasn't suitable for ''a ******''

found a community which recognised and reaffirmed black subjectivity in Harlem

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Autobiography II

suggests that if he and his circle committed crimes, they were an act of necessity and not defiance

depicted himself as a victim of fate and not having much control over his own destiny

had a white girlfriend, Sophia, at the time of being arrested

''everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient''

Dyson ''it is as much a testament to Haley's ingenuity in shaping the manuscript as it is a record of Malcolm's own attempt to tell his story''

Arnold Rampersand ''Malcolm's Malcolm is in itself a fabrication; the 'truth' about him is impossible to know''

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Malcolm in Prison

Elijah Muhammad helps ''reforn'' Malcolm in prison through frequent personal letters

Malcolm becomes a learned man in prison and understands race and white supremacy- his education is depicted as a happy accident of his life behind bars

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The relationship between MX and Elijah Muhammad

attributes all his early success to Elijah M

after leaving the NOI, publiclly condemned the NOI and Elijah Muhammad on ''white-owned'' mieda- fuelling the perception that Malcolm was a traitor

EM was the messenger who spoke in the name of Allah (who he had met in Detroit in the person of Mr Fard) - MX was the prophet's mouthpiece and interpreter, who extracted ''from Muhammad's diffuse and often confusing rhetoric, themes he deemed salient to contemporary urban Blacks''

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Malcolm v Martin

Robert Terrill ''Malcolm is cast forever as the threatening nightmare at the edges of MLK's dream''

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Was Malcolm a failure?

  • never lead his followers to large-scale collective political action
  • talk criticised as presiding over action
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Malcolm the Orator

autobiography was written by Haley from extensive interviews

Goldman ''Malcolm did his cerebrating on his feet, in the heat of battle''

Terrill ''they supply a refurbished and deconolised mental attitude''

Malcolm ''Untruths have to be untold''

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Malcolm the Racist?

Bruce Perry ''by transforming black fear into white fear, he irrevocably altered America's political landscape''

1959 - Mike Wallace documentary ''The Hate that Hate Produced''

  • indictment of white society as evil was balanced by images of neat and orderly blacks attending meetings
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the Spike Lee film

tracks faithfully to the trajectory of Malcolm's aurtobiography

criticism was heaped on the film from NOI members such as Farrakhan and Stokely Carmichael as well

did not show Malcolm meeting with black African leaders

reflects on the growing rift and mudslinging between Malcolm and the NOI - upset critics because it displays fractions in black unity that they would rather erase

displays social problems well - e.g Malcolm burning his scalp whilst 'conking' his hair

susbstantial time spent on dance and music

75% of those who went to see MX in the cinema were older than 25

pipe bomb found under a seat in a Dallas movie theatre in December 1992

Horne on the film ''does not generate yet another empty myth but instead inspires a search for a full and complete history''

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effect of the Cold War

Gerald Horne

How could the US dare to posture as the paragon of human rights locked in Cold War competition for 'hearts and minds' - when blacks were treated as third class citizens?

the original communist black Left - such as DuBois - were replaced with different kinds of nationalism

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Gerald Horne on nationalism

Malcolm turned away from narrow nationalism to embrace a more progressive nationslism

was killed by more narrow nationalists

''narrow nationalists'' continue to hold sway in 1993

continuing narrative of reconciliation between Malcolm X and Farrakhan of the NOI just before his death

story of reconciliation is part of a myrh which promotes contemporary black unity

Farrakhan is absent from the Spike Lee film 

MX making distinctions in his speeches between NOI followers - who are not concerned about politics- and black nationalists, who are

84% of young blacks felt he was a ''hero for black Americans today'' - early 1990s

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Horne - NOI after MX

''black scare'' was blamed for the Watt rebellion in August 1965

Watt 1965 featured random anti-white violence (unusual)

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Terrill and the ideological shift

changed from targeting isolated bigots who were standing in the way of inevitable progress to characterising the entire dominant culture as institutionally racist

''the prophetic voice, dominant for centuries, was dethroned''

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Terrill on prophecy

second type of African-American jeremiad apart from MLK etc. 

  • posit a messianic destiny for blacks apart from the national mission
  • oppositional jeremiads must reveal a new vision to their hearers
  • DuBois' address ''the Conservation of Races'' is an early example of oppositional jeremiad
  • Garvey ''black should feel pride as a consequent of their racial membership''
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''Black Man's History'' - speech - Terrill

delivered in Dec 1962 at the NOI mosque no.7

was a recruitment tool

MX intended the speech to ''undo the type of brainwashing that we have had to undergo for four hundred years at the hands of the white man''

cleanses biblical texts so that their historical veracity can be displayed

MX ''the Jews weren;t the people that Moses led out of Egypt, and the Jews know this'' - reveals Christian mythology as a malicious falsehood that obscures a potentially emancipatory truth

''black men have always been the wisest beings in the universe''

''by the time they got the white man, they had someone who by natute hated everything that was darker than he was''

narrative starkly divided between good and evil

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effect of NOI ideology

intense acitivty within narrow bounds

altered diet, friendship, dress, reading habits, spending patterns, marriage, lesiure activities

constand activity and having to sell copies of Muhammad Speaks made many black muslims more visible in their communities

limited human action because redemption was completely up to Allah

does not invite members to engage in social action

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Terill on separatism

MX ''Moses never taught integration, Moses taught separation''

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Terrill on ''the Ballot or the Bullet''

speech between split with NOI and pilgrimage to Mecca

Cory Methodist Church on the 3rd April 1964

''pushes against decorous boundaries that limit African American behaviour and self-evaluation''

MX ''Im not a Democrat, I'n not a Republican, and I don't even consider myself an American''

''I don't see any American Dream, I see an American nightmare''

purpose to sharpen perception ''your vote, your dumb vote, your ignorant vote''

''it'll be liberty, or it will be death''

''I;m nonviolent with those who are nonviolent with me''

prudence - violent actions are not advocated, but included as fully justified possibilities

Terrill ''rights do not follow from citizenship, so there is no obligation to continue to act in accordance with the expectations of any particular national government''

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The Ballot or the Bullet II

entertains the possibility of guerilla warfare

MX proposes black nationalism that is not a group or movement unto itself but a habit of thought and a way of being which governs individual action

''we will work with anybody, anywhere, at any time, who is genuinely interested in tackling the problem head-on''

'I hope you understand. Don't go out shooting people''

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NOI complicity - Terrill

  • uncritically accepts the underlying assumptions of foundationist or essentialist classification
  • merely mirrors the foundational myths of the dominant culture
  • trapped into a dichotomous and supplemental relationship with the dom culture
  • can only offer limited emancipation
  • e.g Garvey met with KKK leaders in 1922 to seek financial support for the Back to Africa movement with the UNIA
  • in 1996, Farrakhan invited white supremacist Lyndon LaRouche to address a black nationalist gathering in St Louis

Prudence circumvents complicity

  • need to determine what is most true in a particular situation
  • ''oppositional prudence''
  • difference to King - ended his life as a disappointed, yet ultimately faithful, jeremiah, still pursuing and prophesying the final fulfillment of America's democratic promise''
  • MX trained audiences to become cultural critics
  • maintained multiple points of view
  • resisted co-optation as it rejected the fundamental assumption of the dom culture
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