Possibly one of the most polarizing and most misunderstood characters of his age, Malcolm X represents everything from self-discipline to iron fortitude. Perhaps a one-man riot, he was often mischaracterized as a devil of his time; especially when it came to religion. A man coming from all walks of life, a long time drug dealer, bank robber, turned devout Islamic, gives Malcolm X a unique perspective on each avenue of life he chooses to critique; he’s lived it. It takes one badass individual to break down walls previously no one ever thought of climbing, and as you could imagine, he left a trail of fire and perplexity, like most before him; he wasn’t truly appreciated until it was too late.
Robbed of a life of longevity, Malcolm X certainly packed a punch in 39 years roaming planet earth. Alongside Martin Luther King, Malcolm X led a generational phenomenon of personal courage and resilience; of course he had to burn more than a few bridges to get to his ultimate goal of equality. Perhaps he was the most misunderstood because Malcolm himself took awhile to figure out just what exactly he stood for, bouncing from the ghetto streets of Harlem, a stint in prison, a few religions and more than a few protests, Malcolm X had one thing down; he knew how to make some noise!
Perhaps society just wasn’t ready for such a demonstrative character as Malcolm X. His message, one of action and determination, commanded respect to all who would lend an ear. From powerful words to even more powerful actions, here are 15 of Malcom X’s most memorable moments.
15. Welfare Doesn’t Help Poor African Americans
Coming from the gritty street of Harlem, something like this certainly went against the grain of culture at the time. When most saw welfare as a helping hand, Malcolm X publicly denounced Welfare, stating it was the worst thing to happen to African Americans in history. Certainly one man’s opinion, he argued that the hand of oppression grew larger and more in control with the systemic structure of welfare. Malcolm, largely known for his opposition to segregation and equality, he didn’t hold back anything when attacking the system, especially a system run by “rich white men, only concerned with maintaining power over the black man”. Malcolm X, while his own opinions were just that, he did appeal to the masses, thus his opinion was always cast out to the crowds.
14. “The chickens are coming home to roost!”
In Malcolm X’s autobiography, constructed by wordsmith Alex Haley, Malcolm would reflect on this incredibly controversial and ill-timed remark about the assassination of president John F. Kennedy. While Malcolm still stands by the remark, he exclaims he used poor judgment in saying such a harsh thing at a time of grave emotion in the American people. He would suggest that while the comment was still accurate in his mind, he was using it as motive to insinuate what the white man had always done, oppressed the African American and used his platforms to perpetuate the same systemic failure that slavery did. Already on the ‘hot seat’, this commentary didn’t earn Malcolm any more fans in his court.
13. He Refuted His Own Last Name
Not known for holding back, well, much of anything. During an interview composed of four white men grilling Malcolm on his views and beliefs. He fires back in a rather composed manner, that a slave master’s last name was cast on his slaves, therefore the name “Little” wasn’t his own and he doesn’t know what his actual last name is. He says, “the real names of our people were destroyed and taken from them when they were taken to America as slaves”. One thing that was universally misunderstood about Malcolm X was that he was conventionally an angry and demonstrative personality, but while he was angry and demonstrative he usually came across very proper. Calm, cool, and collected, armed with a fleet of knowledge, he mildly retorts almost every controversial topic in society and does so with a demeanor that commands respect.
12. He Spent 6.5 Years In Jail
At the ripe age of 20 years young, after hustling for years in the street of Harlem, Malcolm would be arrested on the count of burglary. Forced to serve a sentence of 10 years in a federal prison, eventually paroling out after 6 and a half years, Malcolm X would leave prison an entirely knew man. Devoting himself to the religion of Islam while behind bars, he would earn the nickname ‘Satan’, for his affectionate demeanor towards others; or lack thereof. He spent the vast majority of his days crammed inside books, entering jail a troubled African American man destined to become another statistic, Malcolm X would flip the script and walk out of prison not only earlier than his original sentence, he would leave as an incredibly well read, well spoken African American male. Upon his reemergence from prison, he would lead an African American movement rivalled only by the greatest of leaders this world has ever seen.
11. Denounced The Messenger Elijah Mohammed
In quite possibly the most controversial television broadcast that Malcolm X ever executed, upon learning of wrongdoings of the honorable Elijah Mohammed, he denounced his teaching to the world. In a hell-raising departure from the Islamic teachings of Elijah Mohammed, to another form of Islam, Malcolm as well as many others believe that this departure from the Religion earned him more enemies than any other move he made. Often attacking structures based on emotion, daring to critique what was so readily notarized by common society, it was the same convictions and beliefs that earned Malcolm all his friends, as well as his enemies. In his book, Malcolm believe that his parting form Elijah Mohammed, forced the hand of Muslims to retaliate, he believed that plans had been set in motion to kill him, having actually spoiled a few attempts on his life, Malcolm X knew that he walked a fine line between life and death.
10. “ Nobody can give you freedom… If you’re a man you take it!”
If there was any quote from Malcolm’s life that could underline his every move, it would be this one. Malcolm X was an unbelievable hero for African Americans, he practically jumped out of a Hollywood movie and told the masses how he saw it, and what he would do about it. Malcolm’s message was one of action, he struggled for years on the streets watching the trepidation and cyclical nature of the oppressed African Americans, and he set out to stop this systemic domination of one particular race of people.
Again a widely misunderstood fellow, one might hear “take it” and immediately think steal, or something else with a negative connotation. Malcolm was no fool, and he knew that freedom, equality, and justice weren’t supposed to be things he had to fight for, they were supposed to be given to all Americans.
9. His Friendship With Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali)
In one of the greatest fights in professional boxing history, and one of the greatest upsets, came from the hands of the incredible Muhammad Ali. Pictured here is the great Cassius Clay, and right behind him might be a familiar face. Malcolm X, who is seen here with Cassius Clay was quoted prior to the fight of predicting the great upset.
These two had a remarkable bond and friendship, both in favor of the Islamic religion, both African American males in a time when it was controversial to be such. Both had demonstrative demeanors and were unafraid to speak what was on their minds, they clashed together at a contentious moment in time. Not too long after this picture would Malcolm X leave the religion of Islam that Cassius Clay followed, and their friendship reportedly was strained, however they still remained friends.
8. “Without education you’re not going anywhere in this world”.
Malcom studied for years in prison, reading anything he could get his hands on. What scared the masses the most about Malcolm X was that he in fact was educated in almost every challenge he approached aside from religion, and when an educated and unrestrained figure comes knocking on society’s door with facts and experience to back up his arguments, he’s certainly going to ruffle some feathers.
Malcolm X prided himself on his brilliance because he had been from the gutters of Harlem, he couldn’t read, the only language he knew was that of the streets. He solicited women, robbed banks, knew here he stood, head held high with a brain jam-packed with ideals on how to reform the very society that crippled so many.
7. When His Home Was Burned To The Ground
This certainly was a singular incident, Malcolm was quite fixed that he had a limited amount of time before someone would try to take his life. Fortunately, this occurrence didn’t hurt anyone in Malcolm’s family, although it would prove to set him aside in terms of his busy schedule. He set aside several appointments and talks he had scheduled, he gathered his things and did what Malcolm X does best, and ‘kept on keepin’ on’. However just a week later, at the age of 40 years old, during a conference in which he had a large gathering, as he began to speak, several men wielding guns would open fire upon Malcolm killing him on the spot. Even the most iconic members pioneering their way through history cant evade the speed of public ignorance.
6. Meeting With MLK
Martin Luther King, known for his belief in peaceful protest, and Malcolm X known for quite the opposite, it’s not hard to comprehend how so many seemed so threatened by Malcolm X, while feeling quite ‘safe’ in MLK’s revolution. These two men, accomplishing reform where they saw fit, seeking a better life for their children and their children’s children. Martin Luther King, who was able to coordinate the ‘March on Washington’, where 20,000 people marched on the Lincoln Memorial in one of the greatest moments in history, seemed at the time, and still to be quite ‘diplomatic’ in the plight of the African American. However, at the slightest mention of Malcolm X, you are much more likely to run into negative connotations and stigmas tied to his name. But for what reason? Because he was loud and animated?
5. The Pilgrimage To Mecca
In a spiritual and lifelong journey to his homeland, Malcolm made his way through Saudi Arabia, and throughout Africa. He would reflect in his autobiography about the life changing experiences and epiphanies he would come to find while along this journey. It would be along this journey he would finally come to see the inherent good in human beings, he would make the suggestion that it is western civilizations that promote the racist and unequal playing field in which we all live. He believed that the religion of Islam would eradicate the racism epidemic in America entirely.
Malcolm would also acknowledge that while on his spiritual journey, he met some white men with whom, for the first time in his life, he felt he was finally seen as Malcolm, and not another African American. It would be this coming to spirits that would fuel his re-emergence back in the states to help change his narrative about the white man.
4. He Sued The Penal System
After Malcolm was released from prison, he would continue to visit inmates both in federal prison, and in an institution similar to where he spent the remainder of his sentence, Norfolk Prison Colony, where they had a great big library. What many people don’t know about Malcolm is that he learned and came to know the religion of Islam through his brother, whom while Malcolm was in prison would come to visit him and recite and read him things from the Qur’an. It was this devotion from his brother, who kept reading to him when, at first Malcolm would hear none of it, and it was this dedication that ultimately fuelled his motivation to do the same with other inmates as his brother had done for him. Gaining permission to do this was another story, but he eventually succeeded.
3. Formed The Organization Of Afro-American Unity (OAAU)
Following his departure from the Nation of Islam, this organization founded by Malcolm X and John Henrik Clarke, was a worldly organization that would help unify 22 million African Americans. Malcolm insisted that no monetary donations would be accepted by any organizations, and that the success of the Afro-Americans in the western world was directly correlated to the success in Africa. He models quite a bit of his reformed knowledge on his new-found respect for all individuals, white or otherwise. Having said that, the organization did refute membership to any white individuals, he stated that they could support the group, but it was part of the creation of the group that it must be only colored people who were actual members.
Shortly after Malcolm’s assassination, the group dwindled in size and momentum. Malcolm’s half-sister, Ella, would take over, but the group had lost a charismatic leader, and it left a void too large for any one man or woman to fill.
2. Detroit Red
Upon his arrival to the street of Harlem, New York, he developed quite the nickname for himself. He would tell people that he was from Michigan, and while most people hadn’t heard of Lansing Michigan, he would announce he was from Detroit, and it stuck rather well. Known for his diverse tactics in the streets, and his violence, the Nickname ‘Detroit Red’ just seemed to fit, and with commanding knowledge of ‘street smarts’ he demanded respect. He would conquer the criminal underworld of Harlem, however he would find himself caught up in a string of burglaries that would end up in a ten-year prison sentence for the infamous ‘Detroit Red’.
During this time Malcolm X was quoted as saying “During this time I was only afraid of three things, jail, a job, and the army!”. This persona of Malcolm X would end along with the rest of Malcolm, as he was reborn inside the prison walls.
1. The Nation Of Islam
At the time, this was incredibly controversial. Most of the western world had no clue what Islam was, and most took it with a grain of salt. Like most things Malcolm did, this movement was perhaps the most misunderstood. Many who heard about the Nation of Islam (not to be confused with the religion of Islam) and heard Malcolm’s name tied at the forefront, instantly developed their own thoughts and concerns with the religion.
There was an estimated 400 people involved with the Nation of Islam when Malcolm was released from jail, after Malcolm started holding rallies, educating countless on the religious ideals he now represented, and the freedom it had brought him, numbers of the Nation of Islam were reportedly at 45,000 members. This statistic alone should let you know what kind of character that Malcolm had, and his ability to lead a group of people towards a common goal.