Today marks the day Malcolm X (rahimahullah – may Allah have mercy on him) was assassinated on February 21, 1965 in New York.
by Reem Rahman
Know the true meaning of Malcolm X, and you cannot help but be moved. You cannot help but stand up taller and aim to live with greater courage, committed to the upliftment of oneself and of all people. The life and death, struggle and change he underwent from 1925 to 1965 still stands as a powerful source of learning and inspiration. The burden now falls upon those of us who know to ensure that new generations aren’t deprived of also truly knowing Malcolm, and living better because of it.
The challenge, however, is in conveying just what is meant by his legacy. The most popular sources on his life are good places to start, including Malcolm X’s autobiography as told to Alex Haley, which was hailed as one of the ten most important nonfiction books of the 20th century, and Spike Lee’s hugely popular 1992 film starring Denzel Washington. Both have undoubtedly served to introduce Malcolm X to generations of people across the world, but neither is free of critique nor fully captures the complexity and impact of his life, much of which continues to be misunderstood, oversimplified, or just plain commercialized. How is it, for example, that he’s still thought of as “controversial” – and yet he received one of the highest forms of honor to any American citizen, commemoration on the United States postal stamp? How is it that in 1964, as one of the most widely quoted men of his time, Malcolm so powerfully spoke about Mecca and thereby Islam as “the fountain of truth, love, peace, and brotherhood,” and yet Islam is one of the most stereotyped and misunderstood religions in the West today?
The following resources and selected quotes have been gathered as a brief, introductory primer for those unfamiliar with Malcolm X (see “Introductory Resources”). For those who are already familiar, the resources are a way to reengage with his life and the continued scholarship on his legacy with greater depth (see “Additional Recommendations” and “Reference”). Among the suggested readings is Malcolm X’s autobiography, which is strongly recommended as a must-read for all youth today, especially Muslims.
Ossie Davis’s words capture the intent of this primer, ringing as true today as they did the day he delivered his eulogy to Brother El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X): “I say this to you, as I say to myself: If Malcolm and his message – so strong, so bright, and so pure – was too good for those of us who have already reached manhood, there is a generation who is not yet spoiled, not yet degutted, not yet de-bold, not yet emasculated, who when they come to the light of this truth will rise up and redeem him and us and all of the rest of the world. That is the meaning of Malcolm X.”
May we be that generation.
This is meant as a primer on Malcolm X and is by no means comprehensive. We look forward to seeing your own recommendations in the comments!
Introductory Resources (for an extremely basic introduction)
- (April 1964) “Letter from Hajj“ The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Chapter 17 -Mecca.
- (1964?) Malcolm X’s Press Interview “On leaving the ‘Nation of Islam’ and not fearing death”: 3:10 min.
- (1966) Response to magazine editor’s question: Why did you Eulogize Malcolm X? by Ossie Davis
- (May 1925 – Feb 1965) Brief Chronology – Official Malcolm X Site
- (1965) Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley (This book was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 10 most important nonfiction books of the 20th century)
- (1964) “I am prepared to die” speech by Nelson Mandela, (see concluding remarks echoing Malcolm’s famous “By Any Means Necessary” quote)
- (1963) Letter From Malcolm X to Martin Luther King Jr – Calling for Unity
- Malcolm X (film) Directed by Spike Lee, 1992 – Official Trailer | Clip 1 | Clip 2 | Entire Film on Youtube
- (1963) “On slavery’s destruction of history, media distortion, and school integration” – Malcolm X Interview, “City Desk”, Chicago [9:42 min]
- (May 21, 1964) Interview after Hajj [53 sec.]
- (June 8, 1964) “I’m probably a dead man already” [1:28 min]
- (1964?) “Prayer (dua) for the crowd and on KuKlux Klan as cowards” – Malcolm X [1:15 min]
- (1964) Oxford Union Speech – Malcolm X; excerpt [7:36 min]
- Speech by Ossie Davis at the Apollo Theater , February 27, 1965
- Research Site: http://www.brothermalcolm.net/
- Dyson, Eric M. Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. (Oxford University Press 1995)
- Lumpkins, C., What would Malcolm X say about Obama? , February 28, 2008
- Malcolm X – Religious Transformation – Overview, “(adapted from the pamphlet Malcolm X : Why I Embraced Islam by Yusuf Siddiqui)
- (April 12,1964) “Ballot or Bullet” Speech by Malcolm X, (see first 10 minutes on Black Nationalism) [53:37]
- The Missing Malcolm X: the Lost Chapters from Haley’s Autobiography. Interview of Dr. Marble Manning. February 2009.
- Malcolm X Project at Columbia University: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/ccbh/mxp/ Research site by Louis DeCaro, author of On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X and Malcolm and the Cross: The Nation of Islam, Malcolm X and Christianity
- Research Guide: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/psul/researchguides/areacultstudies/Malcolm_X.html
- Aidi, Hishaam. 2002. Jihadis in the Hood: Race, Urban Islam and the War on Terror. Middle East Report 224.
- Boyd,T and Shropshire,K. (eds.) “View the World From American Eyes: Ball, Islam and Dissent in Post-Race America,” in Basketball Jones: America Above the Rim, Chapter 14, p.198-214, New York University Press (2000)
- Clasby, Nancy. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: A Mythic Paradigm, Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 5 No. 1, September. Publications, Inc. (1974)
- Burrow, Rufus, Jr. Malcolm X was a Racist : The Great Myth , Western Journal of Black Studies, vol.20, no.2, (Summer, 1996), p.104-113
The following are just a few excerpts intended to introduce some of the themes and rich scholarship involved in understanding and demystifying the legacy of Malcolm X.
Malcolm as “Controversial”?
“What this means is not quite clear, but in effect everyone admits that a controversial intellectual is one whose thought does not leave people indifferent: some praise it, others criticize it, but in any case it causes them to react and think.” - Tariq Ramadan, “What I Believe”
Self-Identity, Black Consciousness, and Challenging the Legacy of Slavery
“One black leader, perhaps more than any other in modern times, was responsible for developing a black consciousness that could reject the white interpretation of history and the white heroes, in search of its own past and glory – Malcolm X.” - M. Worth Film Review[ii]
“The important thing [in putting the life of Malcolm X] in perspective is an emphasis on the legacy of slavery and the creative ways that African Americans revitalized their connection to Islam as a source of political protest, whether through the Moorish Science Temple and Nation of Islam (NOI) or mainstream Islam.” – Dr. Junaid Rana
Dr. Martin Luther King & Civil Rights Movement
“Cone makes clear that Malcolm X’s unbridled anger toward white racism provided a strong counterpoint to King’s integrationist philosophy, making King’s views, once deemed radical, seem acceptably moderate by comparison.” - Martin & Malcolm Review[iii]
Global Identity & Human Rights
“Malcolm X placed a territorial dimension at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement and in so doing re-conceptualized the theoretical and practical linkages between the African American movement and other ‘Third World’ movements” – J. Tyner[iv]
Malcolm’s Famous “By Any Means Necessary” Quote echoed in the words of Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela speech on being “Prepared to Die,” upon release from decades of imprisonment and emerging as an icon of freedom and justice:
“In conclusion I wish to quote my own words during my trial in 1964. They are true today as they were then: ‘I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.’[v]
The Appeal and Meaning of Malcolm X to new generations – by iconic actor Ossie Davis
“Malcolm came from the lowest depths. And therefore, in measuring the man we have to measure the place from whence he came. All of us sitting here tonight, men and women, black and white, can stand a little taller because a man like Malcolm X walked on our earth, lived in our midst, smiled his smile on the face of Harlem…
“I say this to you, as I say to myself: If Malcolm and his message so strong, so bright, and so pure, was too good for those of us who have already reached manhood, there is a generation who is not yet spoiled, not yet degutted, not yet de-bold, not yet emasculated, who when they come to the light of this truth will rise up and redeem him and us and all of the rest of the world. That is the meaning of Malcolm X.” - Ossie Davis, delivering the eulogy for Malcolm X at the Faith Temple Church of God, February 27, 1965.
The Appeal and Meaning of Malcolm X to new generations – by iconic leader Nelson Mandela
“As brother Malcolm said, we declare our right on this earth to be a man. To be a human being. To be given the rights of a human being. To be respected as a human being. In this society. On this earth. In this day. Which we intended to bring into existence, by any means necessary. – Nelson Mandela, speaking in 1992 Film “Malcolm X” directed by Spike Lee
[ii] Review: [untitled] Bernard Weiner. Reviewed work(s): Malcolm X by Marvin Worth; Arnold Perl Film Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Winter, 1972-1973), pp. 43-45
[iv] James A. Tyner. Territoriality, Social Justice and Gendered Revolutions in the Speeches of Malcolm X Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Sep., 2004), pp. 330-343
[v]Nelson Mandela’s Address to Rally in Cape Town on His Release From Prison (February 11, 1990).
Longer Concluding Excerpt from Speech: “Our struggle has reached a decisive moment. We call on our people to seize this moment so that the process towards democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait. Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive. The sight of freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts.
“It is only through disciplined mass action that our victory can be assured. We call on our white compatriots to join us in the shaping of a new South Africa. The freedom movement is a political home for you too. We call on the international community to continue the campaign to isolate the apartheid regime. To lift sanctions now would be to run the risk of aborting the process towards the complete eradication of apartheid.
“Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way. Universal suffrage on a common voters’ role in a united democratic and non-racial South Africa is the only way to peace and racial harmony.
“In conclusion I wish to quote my own words during my trial in 1964. They are true today as they were then: ‘I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.’”