Malcolm X remains as one of the most influential and complex figures of the modern era. His lasting legacy as a symbol of Black pride, intellect and bravado has sustained over the decades since his death. This Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the great leader’s assassination, which silenced a voice that could have continued to be part of powerful change.
Born Malcolm Little in Nebraska on May 19, 1925, the future Black nationalist was introduced to such ideals by way of his preacher father. Earl Little embraced the Pan-Africanist teachings of Marcus Garvey and reportedly stood up to the Ku Klux Klan and racism in the town. However, a suspicious rail accident killed the senior Little, leading to the destruction of the family.
A series of spiraling events led Malcolm X’s mother to a mental breakdown, and he and his siblings were sent to foster homes. Little eventually landed in Harlem, working a series of odd jobs and engaging in crime. His travels landed him in Boston, where he was sentenced to eight to 10 years for breaking and entering, among other crimes. In 1948, Little met a fellow prisoner who introduced him to reading and self-education. Later, one of Little’s siblings sent him correspondence regarding the Nation of Islam and echoed its sentiments of nationalism and self-reliance for Black people.
Little changed his name to Malcolm X, explaining in his autobiography that the “X” symbolized the removal of his “slave name” bestowed upon him by the owners of his enslaved ancestors. In 1952, Malcolm X was asked by NOI leader the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, to become its national spokesperson. So effective was Malcolm X in this role that his words shook white America to its core.
After a quote about John F. Kennedy’s assassination and revelations about Muhammad’s personal life, Malcolm X announced a break from the group in 1964. He embraced Sunni Islam and changed his name to Ej-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Shabazz still supported nationalism but through a more humanist viewpoint. After forming his own organization, Shabazz and his supporters began to grow in New York and across the nation.
The split from the NOI allegedly led to an order to assassinate Shabazz. On February 21, 1965 at Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom, Shabazz was speaking to his Organization of Afro-American Unity group. Three armed men rushed a stage area where he was speaking, shooting him a total of 21 times.
Three men who were members of the Nation of Islam were arrested for his murder. Malcolm X was survived by his wife Betty Shabazz and their six daughters, Qubilah, Attallah, llyasah, Gamilah, Malikah and Malaak Shabazz,