Malcolm X was one of the most prolific civil rights movement leaders of the 20th century. Besides his mobilizing spirit, he made enormous contributions to the movement through his great oratory skills. Malcolm X was controversial for advocating a strong stance in the fight for civil rights and equality in a segregated America. However, his antics were hated and loved in equal measure. Thus, Malcolm X is hailed as one of the most revolutionary figures in American history (Marable, 2011). Moreover, he embodied religion, intellect and black supremacist ideals which set the stage for a vibrant civil rights movement during his lifetime and even after his death. This essay highlights Malcolm X’s achievements, and how the society remembers him as a result.
Malcolm X was born on May 19th, 1925, and ushered into a world riddled with inequality and suffering. Malcolm X witnessed their home being torched by white supremacists due to his father’s Black Nationalist beliefs. He also lost his father at a tender age of six to an accident which the family linked to foul play. Subsequently, Malcolm X grew as a defiant individual who was unapologetic to the authorities (Wainstock, 2008). For instance, he dropped out of high school despite being highly gifted. This was after a teacher criticized his intentions to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. It was his arrest and subsequent jailing that awakened his desire to become a leader and a civil rights activist. Malcolm converted to Islam in prison and took up further studies making him a key cog in the Nation of Islam (NOI) movement. Malcolm chose an X for his surname as a means of renouncing the “English slave names” (Marable, 2011). This is seen as a bold move in a society that was based on slavery. Further, this act symbolized his distaste for slavery. Malcolm’s defiant nature saw him conflicting with the NOI due to its bureaucracy and red tape. His anger towards NOI was based on the fact that the Islamic outfit refused to participate in the civil rights movement. His “chicken coming home to roost” statement following Kennedy’s assassination put him back in the limelight for the wrong reasons. It also led to his suspension from NOI (Wainstock, 2008). Subsequently, Malcolm formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). Malcolm’s defiant nature thus triggered social consciousness in particular among the oppressed black population, starting an unprecedented movement that formed his civil rights legacy.
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Through the OAAU, Malcolm aimed to transform the civil rights movement into an international agenda and a clarion call against imperialists around the world. Due to his extensive travels, Malcolm interacted with various civil rights leaders in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. However, his controversial nature saw him fall out with other American rights leaders such as Martin King Luther, who pursued a non-violent means of engaging with the white supremacists (Wainstock, 2008). Malcolm’s radical nature helped him to redefine racism. Subsequently, according to Malcolm X, racism was defined based on its psychological and social costs. Likewise, its role in undermining the black race formed a core component of the definition. In Malcolm’s eyes, the civil rights movement was focused not only on pursuing liberation but also on ensuring political and socio-economic freedom of the African-Americans. Despite, this Malcolm was seen as being pragmatic in that he acknowledged that not all white people were racists or evil (Marable, 2011). A different view of racism was born out of Malcolm’s efforts. Apart from challenging the white community to look into practices and policies that furthered racial discrimination, Malcolm highlighted how destructive racism was, both to its promulgators and victims.
Malcolm X’s take on the civil rights movement took an open approach during his last years. In this case, he sufficed as a pro-humanity leader. Likewise, he sought to reawaken the linkages between African-Americans and Africans. In this sense, he sought to ensure that liberty was attained not only to the black communities in America but also those abroad in Africa. Malcolm was assassinated on February 21, 1965, before he could bring international charges to the United States (U.S) for its oppression of the African Americans (Wainstock, 2008). This broad-based approach shaped the civil rights movement after and his death and is the reason for its ultimate success. In conclusion, as a civil rights movement figurehead, Malcolm X helped nurture a movement that brought forth more radical activists that have continued his path. The society attributes achievements in the fight for equality and liberation for all to Malcolm X’s past efforts.
Marable, M. (2011). Malcolm X: A life of reinvention . New York: Viking.
Wainstock, D. D. (2008). Malcolm X, African American Revolutionary . McFarland.