A difficult life early on, El-Shabazz was orphaned at a young age and faced many trials growing up in the post-colonial discrimination era of the United States' history. However, his intellectual growth marks a rise to fame and support amongst the masses in the latter part of his life. He is known today as one of the most influential revolutionaries of recent memory.
El-Shabazz moved around a lot in his life due to his father's preaching of the Marcus Garvey ideology and due to the threats that resulted thereafter. From Nebraska to Wisconsin, El-Shabazz and his family relocated to Michigan. While living in Lansing, Michigan, El-Shabazz was orphaned after his father was allegedly murdered and his mother institutionalized in a mental health institution a few years after his death. With no guardians to look over the children, El-Shabazz and his siblings were split up into foster homes.
El-Shabazz was sent to a reform school after his mishaps in public school, it was with his expulsion from the public schools that El-Shabazz was also moved to a detention home in Mason, Michigan, but actually left Mason before high school due to the discriminatory limitations he experienced as a pupil of color in his middle school. In his autobiography, which was published after his death, El-Shabazz recalls his negative experiences in middle school when his high hopes were given a dose of reality according to his White teachers, particularly their remarks for him to establish "realistic" goals "for a nigger". Despite his need to be accepted, El-Shabazz learned that he could not assimilate nor integrate; he wouldn't be accepted regardless of what happened due to his skin color.
After the 8th grade, El-Shabazz leaves his schooling in Mason and moves with his half-sister in Boston, Ella. He moved around the United States with different family members and began to see the world differently due to his exposure of new attitudes and culture. It is through these experiences that his entire self-image began to drastically change.
For El-Shabazz, the bad came before the good. El-Shabazz left school and turned to the street. His reputation preceded him as he developed the name "Detroit Red" for Lansing was a city no one knew in Michigan and he needed something to catch on quick as he moved quite frequently, doing odd jobs and participating and leading criminal activity. It was many years later that during a robbery, El-Shabazz was caught and imprisoned, where he served seven years.
It was in prison that El-Shabazz became 'Malcolm X'. In prison, El-Shabazz read many books, among them, the dictionary, to increase his knowledge. He not only grew intellectually, but spiritually. He became a Nation of Islam, or NOI, member and became engrossed in their beliefs. El-Shabazz soon became not only a dedicated follower but a passionate advocate for NOI.
After leaving prison, El-Shabazz became a popular minister and influential leader among the African-American masses. He was extremely well received. He was invited to places like Harvard and Oxford, and was soon recognized as one of the leading forces of the NOI movement. El-Shabazz was charming and almost mockingly cocky in his interviews and speeches–he laughed and jeered at the white man, but also at the black man, asking his audience, "Who taught you to hate yourself?". A controversial figure early on in his career, El-Shabazz's opinions on White America, oppression, black power, and violence were controversial and engaged and intrigued America. Never had there been such strong opinions propagated amongst the masses as successfully as his did. His opinions were a stark contrast to that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who has been popularized as the peacekeeper, despite the sometimes-violent views that Dr. King also held.
Due to his fame and popularity, El-Shabazz began to see jealousy and allegations being brought out against him from the very group he helped grow and rise to power, NOI, as he alludes to in his book. It was at this stressful time that El-Shabazz decided to make the annual pilgrimage of Hajj and this changed his entire life. El-Shabazz discovered that NOI had been on the wrong track the entire time, noting how it is indeed possible to work with people of other races and colors, including the so-hated white man as preached by NOI. He realized that his views were not only erroneous but were close-minded and narrow, writing, "Despite my firm convictions, I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it". He become disgusted and disillusioned with the NOI and immediately pulled out. His views not only clashed with NOI, but NOI's leader, Elijah Muhammad, who was developing quite a track record of allegations against him, and El-Shabazz knew there was something wrong with NOI.
He had come back to America with a new view on the Black movement–one that was at the brink of changing history with new approaches of inclusion and diversity and this, along with his intentions to take actions against the oppression of the United States to the United Nations and NOI, put a target on his back. El-Shabazz shared his opinions of NOI publicly. He avidly spoke out against the United States, NOI, Israel, and many other oppressive regimes.
It was a very short while after his hajj trip, when El-Shabazz was in the middle of giving his first public speech, that he was murdered in front of hundreds of people, including his wife and children. It was afterwards at his funeral that the words of Ossie Davis resonate until today, decades later, "And we will know him then for what he was and is—a prince—our own black shining prince!—who didn't hesitate to die, because he loved us so." El-Shabazz sacrificed everything for the cause of justice and is known as a martyr to many.
There is still a conspiracy around the root cause of his death.
- X, Malcolm, and Alex Haley, P.7
- Ibid, P.5
- Ibid, P.13
- Ibid, P.25
- Ibid, P.25
- Ibid, P.30
- Ibid, P.30
- Ibid, P.43
- Ibid, P.45
- Ibid, P.52
- Ibid, P.55
- Ibid, P.175
- Ibid, P.177
- Ibid, P.198
- Ibid, P.182
- Ibid, P.206
- Ibid, P.229
- Ibid, P.330
- Ibid, P.356
- Ibid, P.368
- Ibid, P.390
- Ibid, P.391
- Ibid, P.340
- Ibid, P.403
- Ibid, P.499-500
- Ibid, P.521
- X, Malcolm, and Alex Haley, In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, New York: One World/Ballantine Books, 1992.
- X, Malcolm, and Alex Haley, In the Autobiography of Malcolm X