Malcolm X: Ballot or Bullet

“You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”

Beginnings

Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, started a troubled and difficult life in 1925 Omaha. His family was the subject of significant racial harassment by the KKK and other hate groups, and his father Earl’s death was ruled an accident by the police (even though he was likely murdered by white supremacists), which voided the life insurance policy his father had taken out. Soon after, Malcolm’s mother was committed to a mental institution, leaving his brothers and sisters separated by way of foster homes. He dropped out of school at the age of 15.

 

The Gift of Speech

After his arrest in 1946 for larceny, Malcolm took to reading books from the prison library for the remainder of his six-year sentence. Additionally, he joined the Nation of Islam, a group who championed black nationalism. Malcolm turned out to be a gifted speaker, working after his release from prison at religious institutions of the Nation of Islam under its leader, Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm advocated freedom from racial oppression by, “any means necessary,” and had by the 60s become a leading voice in the fight for racial equality.

 

Philosophy

Malcolm X was seen as an antithesis to Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of achieving civil rights in America. Whereas MLK Jr. advocated peace through unity and nonviolent protest, Malcolm encouraged others to destroy their oppressors through violent means in order to achieve societal separation. Malcolm was not interested in making peace with those who did not want equality or wanted to bring harm to minorities. He was a driving force in bringing Islam to African Americans in record numbers.

 

Death and Legacy

Though by the time of his assassination on February 21st, 1965, at the hands of members of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X was on the path of transformation. His spiritual journey during the Hajj had shifted his worldview closer to that of MLK Jr. His trip to Mecca was especially formative because, as he remarked, seeing Muslims, “of all colors,” led him to believe that Islam could overcome racial barriers. Malcolm regularly spoke to college students and participated in various debates and discussions after his return to America in 1964.

Despite critics of the press hailing his life as that of a militant troublemaker, Malcolm X was, at the end of his life, a blossoming proponent of peaceful reconciliation, and was quoted as saying, “anger can blind human vision.” Had he not been assassinated at 39, as King was, Malcolm could have continued to pave the way for civil rights in America.