There have been personalities in each epoch who have challenged the status quo of social and political norms and changed the workflow of history as a result. It takes bravery and perseverance to fight the majority and it often requires significant sacrifice. Malcolm X definitely belongs to the type of people who contributed to building a new better America at the price of self-denial and pressure from racist society.
Born in 1925 into a family of a Black Nationalist follower, he naturally absorbed the ideas of his father, although developed his own ideology. Against the background of dramatic events his childhood was far from being happy: his father was chased for his political ideas and the family had to change locations frequently. However, these measures of security did not help, Earl Little was apparently killed in Michigan, while Malcolm’s mother found herself to be mentally ill. Taking these events into account, it is possible to assume that they made a considerable impact on the boy and shaped his personality. On the one hand, Malcolm had to survive on his own from childhood, which made him mature quickly and strengthened his will. On the other hand, the misfortune planted a feeling of injustice in the boy’s soul, which determined his future position as a black activist leader.
It is remarkable that despite all hardships, Malcolm demonstrated exceptional talents and capabilities as a student. He was one of the best ones in class, even though he had to try harder than others because of his race. It was a blow for him to hear from his favorite teacher that he believed that it was not realistic for a black person to become a lawyer. This was one of many cases that contributed to Malcolm’s idea that white people were not to be trusted. So, when later he was accused of hatred to the whites, it had some ground in his previous personal story.
When he appeared to be in jail in 1946, this was a milestone that determined his future fate. He met activists of Nation of Islam, a radical political and religious organization that stood for the rights of African Americans worldwide. Since that time Malcolm called Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the movement, his teacher and inspirer. The ideology of Nation of Islam was quite controversial in many senses; it was a unique melt of ideas that could hardly be called compatible by other people. On the one hand, the movement cherished the idea of renewing the racial pride of all people that shared African origin. On the other hand, some of the actions and thoughts expressed by the activists were quite radical including anti-Semitism and supremacy of the black race over the rest ones. Anyway, in the first years of his political life Malcolm was seriously influenced by this movement, which after his release from jail in 1952 urged him to change his name into Malcolm X.
As he claimed not once in many of his interviews, refusing from his last name was symbolic. He explained that African slaves inherited their master’s names, so their real family names were lost. Using slave names, he said, were humiliating for a person’s dignity, so refusal from them signified intention to break free from the old history and start a new one. Malcolm X was a talented speaker and motivator; his charisma helped him attract many people to the organization. Cassius Clay, better known as Muhammad Ali, a famous boxer, was one of those whom Malcolm attracted to Islam Nation. The role of Malcolm X was significant not only locally, he was more than just a religious nationalist leader, but he contributed to the civil society maturing, while introducing new approaches to protesting. “Malcolm X devoted a large part of his message toward making African Americans aware of the confusion and inaction, which resulted from the internalization of the racist ruling class' view of the world. He did this not only at the level of individual identity but more importantly, at the level of conceiving a new direction for the Civil Rights movement”. (Sales 43)
However, after his pilgrimage to Mecca, Muslim sacred place, his outlook underwent significant transformation. Malcolm felt rapture cause by the feeling of unity among thousands of people of all nationalities who gathered to worship their God. This was the turning point for him, which made him refuse from the ideas of radical nationalism and the idea of the black race superiority over the rest of people. Researchers define three ideological periods in the political career of Malcolm X: “The first period, from 1952 through most of 1962, was characterized by the theology of the Nation of Islam... Sometime in 1962, Malcolm X initiated the transition to the second period, secular Black Nationalism…With his trip to the Middle East and Africa in late April and early May 1964, Malcolm X ushered in the final period in the development of his thinking, the period of Pan-African internationalism (Sales 61).
Today the heritage of Malcolm X and his phenomenon is still widely discussed and debated. One of the key aspects of his popularity was the fact that he was an extraordinary speaker who appealed to the feelings of his audience. Many experts points out that, while Martin Luther King spoke primarily to the white society in the beginning of his career Malcom X was practically unknown there. His listeners were African Americans who shared the same background as he did, so they understood each other perfectly. The idea of King was to appeal to the progressive liberal part of the white society and make them want to change the system they created. The mission of Malcolm X was to raise the dignity of the black people, so he appealed directly to them in his speeches. His personality as a speaker was unique: “Malcolm spoke in a conversational style, addressing the blacks personally, as if he were a teacher uncovering the truth for his pupils."Master Teacher" is what Peter Bailey, a disciple, appropriately called him. Malcolm knew that the blacks were not ready to accept his perspective on America. Thus he anticipated their objections and then shrewdly undermined them” (Cone 94). The speeches of Malcom X are different in their message and tone depending on the period in which they were delivered. It is no wonder that unlike King his target audience was primarily the black population, taking into account sharp criticism of the morals of the white society. Many people consider his early speeches as mockery and hatred addressed to the white people, for this reason it would be hard for Malcolm X to be taken as all nation leader. He objected to such blames by saying: "Much of what I say might sound bitter, but it's the truth," he told Harlem blacks. "Much of what I say might sound like it's stirring up trouble, but it's the truth. Much of what I say might sound like it's the hate, but it's the truth.... The best thing to put the white man to fright is the truth. He can't take the truth." (Cone 95)
Like for many bold activists, the life of Malcolm X ended in a tragedy: he was shot before one of his public speeches in 1965. His legacy to the black liberation is significant and is still remembered half a century after his death.