Today – May 19, 2015 – marks what might have been brother Malcolm’s 90th birthday. That possibility ended when assassins comprised of misled Black folk and U.S. government intelligence/law enforcement agencies, killed brother Malcolm on February 21, 1965.
Malcolm X was a complex man who embodied various personas and political beliefs throughout his 39 years. As Manu Ampim notes, we can discuss Malcolm in four distinct periods of his life that correspond with different names he used: The “Malcolm Little” Phase (1925-1941), “Detroit Red” (1941-1952), “Malcolm X” (1952- 1963), and “Malcolm X/El Hajj Malik El Shabazz” (1963-1965).
We might say he truly embodied transformation and authenticity, and a thirst for knowledge at each stage of his life. Just examine the extensive reading he did while in prison.
Once in the Nation of Islam, Malcolm began an intense 13-year journey of atonement, self-development, challenging oppression, and consciousness raising.
This journey had deeper roots in Malcolm’s childhood; His parents were not only members of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, his father was a Garveyvite preacher, his mother wrote for the UNIA newspaper, and both recruited for the organization.
It’s important to note that Malcolm did not isolate himself simply within the ideological confines of his organization. Although loyal to Nation of Islam doctrine (prior to his departure in 1964), he also read widely and voraciously, incorporating studies in history, psychology, political science, etymology, and sociology.
In addition, he maintained close friendships with a circle of renown Harlem-based intellectuals, activists and writers (including Dr. Ben Yosef-Jochanon, John Oliver Killens, John Henrik Clarke, and a young Maya Angelou) among others, who added to his understanding of Black politics, the Civil Rights Movement, literature, history and culture. Indeed, Malcolm’s success was not a solo mission, but a team effort.
In addition to these factors, brother Malcolm in the post – NOI period, began expanding his understanding of Black Nationalism, refining his Pan-African thought, and developing an appreciation for aspects of socialism and anti-imperialism.
He also sought to become more involved in grassroots organizing and activism, leading him to seek working alliances with prominent nonviolent civil rights groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, among others.
During his final year of life, he met with African heads of state (to develop Pan-African political alliances and gain support for getting the U.S. indicted for its human rights abuses of Black people), and he started two organizations. The Muslim Mosque Incorporated and the Organization of African-American Unity.
He had plans to internationalize the Black Liberation Movement, by linking up with newly independent African nations, framing the struggle as one of human rather than civil rights and petitioning the United Nations World Court against a racist and oppressive U.S government.
In July of 1964 Malcolm attended a summit of the Organization of African Unity and presented a memorandum that outlined his message of Pan-African solidarity and his intention to take the U.S. to “court” at the United Nations.
We should not underestimate the impact Malcolm had upon African students during his two 1964 visits to the Motherland. John Lewis, then the young leader of SNCC, visited Africa in the same year. He immediately noted Malcolm’s undeniable influence:
The young Africans we met were voraciously curious about all that was happening in the United States. And more than anything else, they wanted to know all about Malcolm X. He became the measuring rod in every one of our encounters. As soon as we were introduced… the first thing he [sic] would ask was, ‘What’s your organization’s relationship with Malcolm’s?
He had the same impact on African heads of state as well. Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah was so impressed with Malcolm that he asked him to move to Ghana and work in his administration. Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria and Nasser of Egypt also offered Malcolm official administrative posts. Furthermore, various member nations of the Organization of African Unity (now known as the African Union) began to reference Malcolm’s insights at United Nations’ meetings, much to the dismay of the U.S. state department.
For all of these reasons and more, it is difficult and perhaps unfair to pigeon-hole Malcolm or limit his ideas to a NOI or post-NOI timeline (as many people attempt to do). As a result, it is no exaggeration to say that Malcolm X remains one of the most respected but misunderstood and misrepresented figures of the 20th century.
Nevertheless, Malcolm X is universally regarded as a charismatic Nation of Islam spokesman/organizer, brilliant Black Liberation theorist, and Pan-African/Black Nationalist revolutionary and anti-imperialist.
We can describe his tremendous sociopolitical influence by acknowledging how he helped to inspire/inform the Black Power and Black Arts Movements and inspired the demand for Black Studies in his death.
His tremendous influence also explains serious government attempts to silence him and his message and activities. And w
His example and legacy are so strong that attempts to misrepresent, absorb, or attack him have largely failed by white and Black pundits alike.
Even today, his call for Black people to ” Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up” remains strong and vibrant. Indeed, Brother Malcolm addressed issues that still find relevance to Black people today, like police brutality and the importance of knowing our history and having an African-centered historical perspective.
My objectives here are 1. to help readers understand his importance, 2. identify his key ideas, and 3. inspire people to spread and implement those ideas. As I see it, these represent the most effective and relevant ways for us to honor him. This is highly important, for while Malcolm theorized, he was no idle philosopher; He used anecdotes, theories, and analogies always to have Black people “Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up.”
Therefore no one can genuinely proclaim themselves his students or followers if they fail to do the same. Please review further material on Malcolm X below:
- The True Significance of Malcolm X
- Malcolm X as Represented by Poets
- My “Interview” With Malcolm X Part I
- My “Interview” With Malcolm X Part II
- How Do We Honor Malcolm X
- The Malcolm X Network (Speeches online)
- Malcolm X annotated bibliography
- “Malcolm X: Make it Plain” (Documentary)
- “By Whatever Means Necessary” (Documentary)
- Untitled documentary on Malcolm X (Documentary)
- “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (E-book)
- Timeline of Malcolm’s life
- “Brother Minister: The Assassination of Malcolm X” (Documentary)
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.”
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.