Monday, February 21, 2011

February 21, 1965 – Malcolm X Wounded

During his speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, Malcolm X was interrupted by a scuffle in the audience of more than 400. He and his bodyguards hurried to calm the crowd, but Malcolm suddenly tripped. Gunshots broke out, but in his prone position Malcolm was only wounded along his side. After receiving several stitches, he was deemed fit and returned to his work campaigning for African American rights.

Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925, X would have a rough life. His father was born in Reynolds, GA, and Malcolm spoke of three of his uncles dying at the hands of white men, one being lynched. KKK threats prompted Malcolm's family, which became active in the Universal Negro Improvement Association, to move to Milwaukee. Following the death of his father and his mother becoming committed, Malcolm would drop out of school and go through a series of foster homes before moving to Boston and settling in New York. He turned to a life of crime upon determining there was not a place in society as a career-minded black man. After several years of robbery, pimping, and drug-dealing, Malcolm was arrested for larceny and sentenced to eight to ten years in Charlestown State Prison.

In prison, Malcolm would become affiliated with the Nation of Islam and began a written correspondence with leader Elijah Muhammad. After converting to Islam, he served his term and was paroled in 1952. Upon his release, Malcolm changed his surname to “X” to shed “the white slavemaster name of 'Little' which some blue-eyed devil named Little had imposed upon my paternal forebears,” he wrote. X became a leader among the Nation of Islam, a powerful speaker at 6'3”, and promoted separatism from the white race. He dismissed the nonviolence of the civil rights movement and referred to its pacifist leaders as “stooges” and “chumps.”

After a misguided comment about the assassination of JFK, Malcolm left the country and toured the world. He made a pilgrimage to Mecca (turning to Sunni Islam after his Hajj), toured Africa, and visited France and England. During this time, Malcolm began to change his philosophy. He continued to support black nationalism, though his definitions of “black” began to expand, including northern Africans and even approving of “white students helping black people.” In a controversial move, he broke with the Nation of Islam and began his own organizations, the religious Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the secular Pan-Africanist Organization of Afro-American Unity.

It was at this time that the attempted assassination took place. After his recovery, Malcolm spoke out against the attack as the work of misguided hatred, outlined in his autobiography published soon afterward. He released documents of stolen funds and improper conduct that brought the Nation of Islam under legal proceedings. Meanwhile, Malcolm's influence increased, and he took a place beside Martin Luther King, Jr., calling for African American rights. Upon the assassination of MLK three years later, Malcolm X led the accusations of conspiracy by the FBI. Rev. Jesse Jackson separated from X, who became increasingly anti-capitalist. The division of the leadership would signal a faltering in the latter days of the civil rights movement.

Although he had given up his belief in violence, Malcolm renewed his ideals in separatism. He saw the United States government as irrevocably corrupt and the only solution to be leaving. Using his organizations, Malcolm led a call to move to Canada. Canadian officials disagreed on how to handle the unwanted situation, and immigration bureaucracy tied up the movement until it began to die. Frustrated, Malcolm and a handful of followers would move to Cuba, where he would be welcomed by old friend Fidel Castro. He would continue to preach, but his persuasive voice would not survive the international transition. X's later days would be spent largely working on his body of writings, which would be recognized but rarely considered influential.

In reality, Malcolm X was killed as he was shot in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun by one man and then 16 times by two others who charged the stage. His funeral was attended by over 1,000 people, and more than 14,000 mourners came to his body's viewing. Responses to his lifetime of leadership were varied from accusations of conspiratorial assassination to honor of a man seeking equality to observations that violence begets violence.

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