Welcome to the “Black History Month” edition of the Evolving Man Project’s ‘Evolved Man of the Week’ profile. Each week in February, we will highlight a historical black male figure who embodies what it meant to be an evolved man, famous and non-famous alike. The world needs to know their stories and deeds. This week’s honor goes to activist, orator, revolutionary, religious leader, and black power icon Malcolm X.
Malcolm X rose to prominence from petty street hustler to Nation of Islam minister to Black Power Icon. Malcolm speaks about police brutality, an issue that still haunts the black community today:
“And this force, that is so visible in the Harlem community, creates the spirit of resentment in every Negro. They think they are living in a police state and they become hostile towards the policeman. They think the policeman is there to be against them rather than to protect them, and these thoughts, these frustrations, these apprehensions automatically are sufficient to make these Negros begin to form means and ways to protect themselves, in case the police themselves get too far out of line. “
Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz) was born in Omaha, NE, in 1925. Malcolm X spent his early years in Omaha his family would eventually relocate to Lansing, MI. Their move was to escape from white supremacists and racism. His father was killed by a white supremacist when Malcolm was only six. A few years later, his mother would be committed to a mental institution. Malcolm and his siblings were broken up and put into various foster homes. A young Malcolm excelled in school, but a racist teacher put an end to his love for education as a youth, stating that “Niggers don’t become lawyers.” Malcolm spent his late teen years infrequently staying with his older sister Ella in a Boston or hustling in the streets of New York City. It’s where he would earn himself the nickname of “Detroit Red.”
Spending his years has a petty criminal, Malcolm landed himself in prison. During his time in prison, Malcolm went through many changes from rekindling his love of reading and, most notably, converting to Islam and joined the National of Islam. This was due to the encouragement of his brother and other siblings who have established members of the NOI. Upon his release, Malcolm X found himself as one of the most prominent, radical, eloquent, and fiery black speakers of his era. He quickly became the face of the Nation of Islam. Controversy and infamy followed Malcolm X wherever he spoke.
“There hasn’t been. Revolution is like a forest fire. It burns everything in its path. The people who are involved in a revolution don’t become a part of the system—they destroy the system, they change the system. The genuine word for a revolution is Umwälzung which means a complete overturning and a complete change and the Negro Revolution is no revolution because it condemns the system and then asks the system that it has condemned to accept them into their system. That’s not a revolution—a revolution changes the system, it destroys the system and replaces it with a better one. It’s like a forest fire like I said—it burns everything in its path and the only way to stop a forest fire from burning down your house is to ignite a fire that you control and use it against the fire that is burning out of control. What the white man in America has done, he realizes that there is a Black Revolution all over the world—a non-white revolution all over the world—and he sees it sweeping down upon America and in order to hold it back he ignited an artificial fire which he has named the Negro Revolt and he is using the Negro Revolt against the real Black Revolution that is going on all over this earth.“
Malcolm X publicly split from the NOI after internal conflict and disillusionment with the religious organization in early 1964. He converted to Sunni Islam and, with the assistance of his sister Ella took the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, fulfilling one of the five pillars of faith under Islam. This hajj experience, along with his extensive travels across the African and European continents, helped forge a new philosophy and change in Malcolm’s thinking. He embraced the international struggle against colonialism and racism. He connected the global freedom struggle to the Civil Rights movement in the United States. With a newly expanded philosophy coupled with his undying passion for Black Nationalism, Malcolm X created two organizations: the Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Malcolm X was ready to work with various groups and people across the religious and political spectrum, including many Civil Rights leaders he often criticized during his Nation of Islam days. Malcolm X’s break from the NOI and his radical “By Any Means Necessary” philosophy led him to become a target of harassment and death threats from the NOI, assisted by the FBI. He was assassinated on February 21, 1965.
“There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain— and we will smile. Many will say turn away— away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man— and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate— a fanatic, a racist— who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him … And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves.”
His legacy still stands to this day, and he is one of the most influential African-Americans in history. He was responsible for expanding Islam throughout the black community. He ushered in the Power Black movement and inspired such groups as the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords. Numerous books and essays have been written about his life, speeches, and his influence on global political movements. Notable publications include The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. He has been portrayed in many films and documentaries, including Spike Lee’s classic 1992 film Malcolm X starring Denzel Washington. He has been honored posthumously, including having a City College in Chicago named after him, and the U.S. Postal stamp honored him in 1999 with a stamp bearing his likeness. His passion, intellect, and rage continues to inspire countless people worldwide, seeking truth and justice. Today, we honor Malcolm X as our Evolved Man of the Week.