February 21 marks the fifty-seventh anniversary of El-Haj Malik Shabazz’s martyrdom.
Popularly known as Malcolm X, he was arguably the most important leader of the African Americans’ struggle for justice and fairness in the US.
Yet unlike Martin Luther King Jr Day is observed on January 15 in the US, there is no commemoration of Malcolm X’s martyrdom.
El-Haj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X), will be remembered by a small but dedicated group of people that want to uphold truth and justice and keep his memory alive.
It is almost certain that without Malcolm X’s revolutionary stance, Martin Luther King would not have made the kind of headway he did in the civil rights movement.
In fact, the manner in which oppressors operate, it was to undercut Malcolm X’s appeal that the American establishment granted some rights to the African American community after Martin Luther King’s assassination.
A young Baptist preacher, King was undoubtedly a gifted orator but not as revolutionary as Malcolm X.
Cut down in a hail of bullets on February 21, 1965 in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom, as Malcolm stood to speak.
He had not reached his 40th birthday yet even at such a young age, he had become one of the best-known African American leaders and perhaps the most outstanding and gifted speakers in the US.
Born Malcolm Little, he adopted the “X” after his name to draw attention to the fact that the white slave master had wiped out his ancestry and history after free African men were brought on slave ships from Africa.
Like African Americans of his generation, Malcolm X and his family faced death threats from white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and its breakaway faction, the Black Legion.
Malcolm was one of eight children born to Earl Little and Louise Norton. His father, Earl Little, was an outspoken Baptist minister and avid supporter of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey.
Not surprisingly, his open criticism of white supremacist groups aroused the wrath of the white supremacists that were running rampant in America at the time.
Forced to relocate twice because of death threats, his father was murdered in 1931 when his body was found lying across the trolley tracks, almost certainly the victim of Black Legion terror although the police ruled it as “suicide” to prevent the family from collecting insurance that his father had taken out because of the incessant death threats.
Malcolm was only four when he became an orphan.
The family’s home in Omaha, Nebraska was attacked and smashed by Klansmen forcing them to move to East Lansing, Michigan.
But racism pursued them there as well and their travails did not end. The KKK firebombed their home. When the white fire brigade and police finally arrived, they just stood by as the house burned to the ground.
Their mother Louise suffered mental breakdown some years later and was committed to a mental institution in 1937, while the children were given into the care of various foster homes and orphanages.
Malcolm X had his first encounter with racism before he was even born.
In his own words, “When my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later, ‘a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home,’” Malcolm later remembered.
“Brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out.”
The harassment continued until their father was murdered.
Such tragedies were common for African Americans of that generation.
They had no civil or political rights and while slavery was theoretically abolished, in practice it still existed.
Life for an average African American was grim.
Racism was rampant and there was nowhere they could turn to.
Petty crimes and burglaries became their favorite activities. Malcolm X and his long-time friend, Malcolm “Shorty” Jarvis, finally moved to Boston selling drugs and indulging in other crimes.
They were caught and in 1946 were convicted on burglary charges.
Malcolm was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but after serving for seven years, he was granted parole.
Both in and out of prison Malcolm busied himself with studies.
He was an avid reader and a fast learner. During his prison days, he would engage in debates with white prisoners where he honed his debating skills.
While visiting him in prison, Malcolm’s brother Reginald introduced him to the Nation of Islam (NOI), an organization led by Elijah Muhammad who had declared himself a “prophet.”
Reginald had become a member of the NOI.
Elijah Muhammad’s attacks on the white man as the “devil” who worked actively to keep African Americans from empowering themselves to achieve their economic, political and social rights resonated with Malcolm.
He had experienced this firsthand from early childhood. He did not need much convincing and once out of prison, he became an active and one of the most outstanding members of the NOI.
His eloquence and activism, not to mention his sincere devotion to Elijah Muhammad, attracted the latter’s attention, who appointed Malcolm as minister and national spokesman for the group.
He also opened a number of mosques for the Nation of Islam.
His most outstanding contribution was his ability to communicate the message of the NOI that soon swelled the organization’s numbers from 500 in 1952 to more than 40,000 in 1963.
Such phenomenal growth was the direct result of Malcolm’s charisma, eloquence, and drive.
He also attracted much media attention that easily eclipsed his mentor, Elijah Muhammad.
While jealousy of Malcolm’s fame and media’s attention led to internal intrigues within the NOI to sideline him, by then it was too late.
It was, however, Malcolm’s discovery of Elijah’s illicit affairs with several women within the Nation of Islam that shocked him.
This was at the height of the civil rights movement in 1963.
To make matters worse, these relations had resulted in the birth of illegitimate children.
While Elijah Muhammad preached celibacy until marriage, he himself was having affairs.
Malcolm was not only disappointed by the conduct of his mentor but deeply hurt.
The blow was doubly hard because he was responsible for bringing so many members into the organization that he considered to be built on outright lies and fraud.
When the deceptions and lies became unbearable for a man of Malcolm’s convictions, he made a break with the Nation of Islam in March 1964 and established his own religious organization that he named, the Muslim Mosque, Inc.
It was also in this year that Malcolm went for Hajj.
While in Makkah, Malcolm’s eyes and mind were finally opened to the true teachings of Islam where he discovered that Islam was totally colorblind.
There was no white and black distinction; he found the whitest of white men standing shoulder to shoulder with blacks. Skin color simply did not matter.
The letters that he wrote from Makkah were an eye-opener for those that received them.
He had finally discovered true Islam: the universal din ordained by Allah (swt) for all humankind regardless of race, color, or background.
Malcolm’s discovery of true Islam had a transformational impact on his thinking.
He returned to the US a totally changed person, no longer preaching hatred against the white man.
His message was now addressed to people of all races. He said, “…in Makkah I had met blonde-haired, blued-eyed men I could call my brothers.”
This was a revolutionary message and a heresy as far as Elijah Muhammad was concerned.
After Hajj, he traveled around the world meeting leaders in Africa and the Muslim world. He made important connections with them.
Malcolm X was beginning to internationalize the problems of African Americans. This was seen as a grave threat by the US.
FBI informants had already infiltrated the Nation of Islam long before Malcolm X broke away from it.
Malcolm’s break from the organization was the opening the FBI was looking for to not only undermine the NOI but also eliminate the charismatic Malcolm X.
The US establishment viewed him as a threat.
In America, any person regardless of color or race who exposes the true nature of the system is marked for elimination.
Malcolm was beginning to have a profound impact on the thinking of people with his mesmerizing eloquence.
He could arouse people one moment and pacify them the next.
This was a frightening prospect for the US establishment and the FBI worked through the NOI to eliminate Malcolm.
While Malcolm knew he was a marked man — there had been several attempts on his life and he had bodyguards for protection — they were no match for FBI intrigue.
A week before his assassination on February 21, 1965, his home in East Elmhurst, New York was firebombed but the family escaped physical injury.
Not so a week later (February 21) at the Audubon Ballroom when three gunmen rushed and shot him 15 times.
The life of one of the most outstanding Islamic leaders of America was put out. He had not turned 40 yet.
He knew the struggle for freedom demanded a price.
He said, “If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.”
Two days before his assassination, he made the following statement, “It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.”
While the assassins were members of the Nation of Islam, the real hand behind it was that of the FBI.
Malcolm X’s success and oratory had marked him for elimination.
The US establishment could not allow a man of his talent or charisma to live.
He was attracting far too many followers and had he been allowed to live, there would be revolution in America.
His life was tragically cut short but he had made a profound impact on the thinking of the African American people.
Indeed, it was largely due to his efforts that Martin Luther King was able to achieve the success, albeit limited, that he did.
May Allah (swt) bless Malcolm’s soul for all that he did and paid with his life at such a young age.