Monday, March 28, 2011

Malcom X

Malcolm X, whose real name was Malcolm Little, was born on 19 May 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was the son of Louise and Earl Little, who was an African American and a member of an association which fought for the rights of black people by advocating segregation rather than integration. Black people were encouraged to go back to Africa. Because of his membership and his active participation, Earl Little got into trouble with the Ku Klux Klan and Black Legion (that encouraged white supremacy), which forced him and his family to move several times. Despite these problems, the pride of being black was instilled in Malcolm. Eventually, Earl Little was hit by a streetcar and died. It is still unclear if it was a murder or an accident. Malcolm’s mother was in such a state of shock that she was sent to a mental hospital.

From then on, Malcolm became addicted to cocaine and committed small crimes, which lead him to prison. There he came into contact with religion and converted to the Black Muslim faith. When he was released out of prison, Malcolm became a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI), an African-American religious movement and seeking to improve the conditions of Black people of America. At that moment Malcolm Little changed his name to Malcolm X where X replaced his real unknown African name. He was a very active member of the movement and later became minister of the mosque in New York’s Harlem area. He also encouraged separatism instead of integration of Black people in the American society.

In 1964 he left the movement because he disagreed with the NOI leader’s outrageous behaviour. Shortly after Malcolm founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. At that point he encouraged world brotherhood rather than separatism and blamed racism after having met white supporters of the black cause. In 1965 Malcolm was shot dead by three members of NOI. Thousands of people gathered at his funeral and television channels broadcast the ceremony live.

Malcolm X has become an icon of American culture for several reasons. First of all, he is remembered to have contributed to the recognition of the black people and culture in the United States. Moreover, he is one of the main reasons for the spread of Islam in this country, as he was the second most influential leader of the Nation of Islam before he left it.

Malcolm X was also a very controversial person. When he was still a member of the Nation of Islam, his message was not representative of all African-Americans as he was delivering a radical extremist message. Throughout his life, Malcolm X went from a radical racism to a mild reconsideration of his black nationalism. Therefore, his iconicity is more easily accepted since everyone could make of Malcolm one’s personal hero and take from his speeches the part that fits with one’s ideology.

The legacy of Malcolm X is very important as well. On the one hand, The Time named his autobiography “one of the ten most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century”. On the other hand, Spike Lee produced and directed the movie “Malcolm X” (1992), which made Malcolm popular in the nineties and provoked a new wave of interest in him.

Sylvie Cujas & Caroline Stoquart

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