Malcolm X and Black Nationalism

“The common enemy is the white man” (1) http://www.malcolm-x.org/quotes.htm
“Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered ‘white’–but the ‘white’ attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.” (2) http://www.malcolm-x.org/docs/let_mecca.htm

The iconic character of Malcolm X also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz , has been the subject of intense criticism and reverence amongst white and Afro American communities, from the early 1950s until his assassination in February 1965.The quotes above illustrate a significant transition in the beliefs and preaching of Malcolm X, beginning with The Nation of Islam (NOI) led by Elijah Muhammad (leader of a radical vein of Islamist thought in the 1950-60s) to an integrationist belief, emphasising the need for black people to become more politically active. The aim of this blog is to chart the reasons for Malcolm X’s transition of ideological values, whilst giving insight into Black Nationalism with a comparative approach to a key earlier figure: Marcus Garvey. We have looked to provide a sound basis of contextual insight in around the transition process, by using a variety of sources.

After looking at the expulsion of Malcolm X from the NOI in December 1963, we discovered the iconic ‘Ballot or Bullet’ speech (link to speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRNciryImqg.) (3) The speech encompasses the ideology of Malcolm X, Black Nationalism, and a need for a united and politically engaged Afro American community. The speech follows up the failure of Congress to enact the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, thus fittingly, discussing political oppression, economic exploitation, and social segregation experienced by the black community. Malcolm X describes this as a betrayal of the black race, and emphasises the importance of a potential Afro American swing vote. Additionally, the source demonstrates how Malcolm X looked to political resolutions, whilst still maintaining that violence can be used as a last resort if necessary. As Malcolm X reflects, the current nature of American politics, ‘it is left up to them (white Americans) to determine who’s going to sit in the White House and who’s going to be in the dog house’ . (4)

After having spent twelve years as a prominent minister in NOI under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X was banished from the NOI, after making some controversial comments about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A period of turmoil and conflict followed his leaving of the NOI, which was signified by numerous death threats on Malcolm X, as well as his newly founded Muslim Mosque Inc.

Don Hogan Charles 1964 September issue - Ebony Magazine
Don Hogan Charles 1964 September issue – Ebony Magazine

 

The source we chose was originally published by photographer Don Hogan Charles, in Ebony Magazine, a magazine by Afro Americans for Afro Americans. The date in which the photo was published, is rather significant as it portrays the alert state he was in, due to many death-threats, and firebomb attempts. The carbine rifle in the photograph represents his commitment and readiness to protect his family and beliefs. According to passages in his autobiography, this was a period of tremendous strain and was partly contributing to his pilgrimage to Mecca in April 1964. After leaving the NOI, he embarked on a trip to Mecca to complete the famous religious pilgrimage known as the Hajj; it was on this journey that his separatist preaching of the ‘White man’ drastically altered.

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Malcolm X At JFK Caption: African-American Muslim minister and civil rights activist Malcolm X (1925 – 1965) arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, after a tour of the Middle East, 21st May 1964. (Photo by Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images) Date created: 21 May 1964

 

This photo of Malcolm X was taken upon his return from his Hajj, clearly portraying a reinvigorated, redefined, and smiling figure who seems assured in his beliefs of a change from extremism to integrationist ideology. “We were truly all the same (brothers)–because their belief in one God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their behaviour, and the white from their attitude.” (5) His pilgrimage served as a critical reawakening for Malcolm X, as he experienced the possibility of men of all colours to coexist harmonically through faith.

Comparatively, we chose to look at the works of Marcus Garvey, an earlier Black Nationalist prominent in the 1920s, specifically looking at his speech ‘If You Believe the Negro Has a Soul’ delivered in 1921, as he was one of the founding fathers . In this speech Garvey emphasises the inevitability of racial antagonism and ‘the hopelessness’ of interracial coexistence. Additionally, Garvey cites his intentions of uniting over 400 million ‘Negroes’ into one solid body, memorably stating ‘Africa for Africans’. (6) Furthermore, Garvey correctly identified that disunity amongst Afro Americans was the key problem in the struggle for equality. However, Afro Americans were no closer to a state of unity during the time of Malcolm X’s prominence. Garvey’s teachings had an undeniably profound impact on Malcolm X as his father was an outspoken ‘Garveyite’.
To conclude finally we use Nelson Mandela’s reflections on the works of Malcolm X ,‘ As brother Malcolm said, we declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be given the rights of a human being, to be respected as a human being in this so duty, on this earth, in this day which we intended to bring into existence ”by any means necessary”.’(7)

– Black Nationalists

Footnotes:

1)Malcolm X – Quotations.” Malcolm X – Quotations. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2014.

2)”Malcolm X – Documents Letter from Mecca.” Malcolm X – Documents Letter from Mecca. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

3)Malcolm X. “‘Ballot or Bullet'” Michigan, Detroit. 12 Apr. 1964. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.

4) Ibid

5)Malcolm X. “Letter from Mecca.” Apr. 1964. Malcolm X. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://www.malcolm-x.org/docs/let_mecca.htm&gt;.

6)Tony Martin. Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Dover, MA, U.S.A.: Majority, 1986, p. 60.

7)Lily Rothman. “Watch: Nelson Mandela’s Sole Movie Performance.” Time 5 Dec. 2013: n. pag. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://entertainment.time.com/2013/12/05/watch-nelson-mandelas-sole-movie-performance/&gt;.

Bibliography:
Martin, Tony. Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Dover, MA, U.S.A.: Majority, 1986. Print.

Rothman, Lily. “Watch: Nelson Mandela’s Sole Movie Performance.” Time 5 Dec. 2013: n. pag. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://entertainment.time.com/2013/12/05/watch-nelson-mandelas-sole-movie-performance/&gt;.

X, Malcolm. “‘Ballot or Bullet'” Michigan, Detroit. 12 Apr. 1964. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://www.cis.aueb.gr/Besides%20Security/TALKS/TALKS-10-X%20(The%20Ballot%20or%20the%20Bullet).pdf>.

X, Malcolm. “Letter from Mecca.” Letter. Apr. 1964. Malcolm X. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://www.malcolm-x.org/docs/let_mecca.htm&gt;.