Malcolm X rejected Martin Luther King, Jr.'s commitment to non-violence. He believed African Americans had to separate themselves from white society to gain civil rights.
Malcolm X Overview
NARRATOR: In the early 1960's, Malcolm X became one of the most powerful and controversial voices of the black community in the United States. A devout follower of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, he preached Black Nationalism and separatism as the way for blacks to gain independence and self-respect.
Professor MANNING MARABLE (Columbia University): Malcolm’s goal was to validate African American identity and culture, and to give African Americans a sense of pride self-respect and dignity.
Narrator: Even the “X” in his name was meant to symbolize the stolen identity of slaves brought from Africa. As a minister of the Nation of Islam, he was militant in his demand that Blacks take charge of their own destiny.
MALCOLM X (in speech): Get off welfare! Get out of that compensation line! Be a man! Earn what you need for your own family. Then your family will respect you. You are accepting the responsibilities of manhood.
NARRATOR: He even chided those blacks who chose to blend into white society on all levels.
MALCOLM X (in Harlem speech): Throughout America, you have a “house negro” and a “field negro.” That negro big shot. The upper-class negro. The middle-class negro. In every city. That black bourgeoisie. They aren’t oppressed like you and I are. Before the Emancipation Proclamation, they lived in the white man’s house.
POLICEMAN (On street): “All you demonstrators are under arrest.”
NARRATOR: Unlike Martin Luther King, Jr. Malcolm X held out little hope that blacks could ever achieve equality through legislation, like the 1964 Civil Rights and Voting Rights Bills. And he rejected King’s faith in non-violence, instead urging blacks to be militant and to aggressively seize the rights he said they were entitled to as American citizens.
MALCOLM X (from clip): To bring about the complete independence of people of African descent and bring about the freedom of these people by any means necessary.
NARRATOR: But in 1962, Malcolm X’s faith in the Nation of Islam was shaken when he learned that his mentor and spiritual leader Elijah Muhammad had committed adultery and had fathered children with three of his secretaries. Malcolm X eventually broke away from the Nation of Islam, and tensions between the two men increased. At the same time, he began to look for common ground with the mainstream civil rights movement.
MARABLE: As Malcolm matured and evolved, as he left the Nation of Islam, he came to realize that civil rights laws did matter. He deliberately reached out to Dr. King to seek to build a broad coalition of all negroes fighting for freedom.
NARRATOR: Malcolm X began getting death threats, reportedly from the Nation of Islam. On February 21st, 1965 while he was making a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, several men rushed the stage and shot him to death. Three members of the Nation of Islam were convicted of the murder of thirty-nine year old Malcolm X.
MARABLE: The assassination of Malcolm X was unique in history in that, instead of retarding the black freedom struggle, it led to a kind of renaissance. Many young activists who were inspired by Malcolm took shreds of different parts of Malcolm’s philosophy and applied them in radically different ways. Whether Malcolm would have agreed or disagreed about individual strategies is beyond knowing because Malcolm had been assassinated. And yet, he became the fountainhead for what became known as black power.
Synopsis: Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska. A prominent black nationalist leader, he served as a spokesman for the Nation of Islam during the 1950s and 1960s. Due largely to his efforts, the Nation of Islam grew from a mere 400 members in 1952, to 40,000 members by 1960. Malcolm X was an expressive, passionate and naturally gifted and inspirational speaker. He urged blacks to cast off the shackles of racism "by any means necessary," including violence. The fiery civil rights leader broke with the group shortly before his assassination on February 21, 1965. He was killed at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City, where he had been preparing to deliver a speech.