|Malcolm X (U.S. News & World Report Magazine Collection - Public Domain (Marion S. Trikosko))|
Malcolm X's early life is tragic but not uncommon, many black children no doubt had to go through similar experiences. Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925 his father was killed in 1931. His mother later had to be placed in a mental institution, her eight children were split up and sent to different foster homes and orphanages. He was intelligent and worked hard as a student. But when he learned he could not become a lawyer he went to Boston and later Harlem where he became a criminal.
Eventually he and his friend got caught, and he was given a sentence of ten years. While in prison his brother Reginald told him about the Nation of Islam. The leader of the Nation was Elijah Muhammad who taught that white society forced blacks into squalor. The idea resonated with Malcolm who had spent his childhood under the threat of organized racists.This idea would motivate a common criminal transformed himself into one of the most powerful advocates for black rights. While in prison Malcolm X had studied hard to learn as much as possible. He was paroled after 6 years, and once out he became a minister and national spokesperson.
Malcolm X was a gifted speaker, and benefitted from a eager audience. Traveling from city to city. Using all the methods available to him he brought thousands of people into the nation. The national media became interested in him and he appeared on television. In 1963 he learned that Elijah Muhammad was having several affairs in violation of his own teachings. That same year he traveled to Mecca and and his views on religion and race relations quickly changed, he left the nation and became a Sunni, creating his own religious group Muslim Mosque, Inc. Less than a year afterwards he was assassinated by three members of the nation of Islam.
Malcolm X is controversial, he said that equality should be attained "by any means necessary". Many think Malcolm X only preached violence and hate, others think of him as doing what was necessary when others wouldn't he is one of the best civil rights leaders. Neither view is correct and when trying to understand him it is important to look at the whole person. But regardless of someone's personal take on his efforts, Malcolm X had many heroic qualities. He did not allow his situation to be an obstacle, he worked for human rights, and overcame his own prejudices to better serve his cause. He was a complicated person in a complicated time. While he may not have always advocated peace, he helped to empower people to stand up or their rights, and helped to make American society better.