in ,

Who was Malcolm X? A legacy of self-determination and courage

If there’s one word to describe Malcolm X’s life, it would be “courageous”.

In fact, his life was turned into a movie with the same title. Played by Denzel Washington and directed by Spike Lee, it earned $48 million making it the second highest-grossing movie of Lee’s three-decade career.

But who was Malcolm X? What made his life worthy of the Hollywood limelight?

Table of Contents

The early years of Malcolm X

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Nebraska. He’s the fourth of seven children of an outspoken Baptist preacher.

Their family were staunch supporters of Marcus Garvey, the leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

Because his parents were activists, they inculcated black pride in their children. However, they also became targets of death threats from the white supremacist group, Black Legion.


Later on, his father died in what was officially ruled being run over by a tram. But rumors were widely circulated that the Black Legion was responsible for his father’s death.

In 1939, Malcolm and his siblings were split between a number of foster homes and orphanages after his mother was admitted to an institution for a nervous breakdown.

As a student, he was an excellent one. But he dropped out after a white teacher commented that his intention of becoming a lawyer was “no realistic goal for a nigger”.

In his early twenties, he became embroiled in a life of crime. His crimes include drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, and prostitution.

Malcolm Little was then imprisoned in 1946 and began serving an eight-to-ten-year sentence at Charlestown State Prison for burglary, carrying an illegal firearm, and larceny.

Why did Malcolm X change his name?

malcolm x quotes

While in prison, his siblings wrote to him about a Black Islamic organization called the Nation of Islam. The movement preached black self-reliance and the return of the African diaspora to Africa.

After the visit from one of his brothers, he became receptive to NOI and promised never to engage in destructive behavior again.

While still in prison, he maintained direct correspondence to the leader of NOI. He also began signing his name “Malcolm X” in his letters – the X signifying his original, lost tribal name that he could never know..

“For me, my ‘X’ replaced the white slavemaster name of ‘Little’ which some blue-eyed devil named Little had imposed upon my paternal forebears.”

Malcolm X’s life as an activist of Nations of Islam

Shortly after joining Nations of Islam, Malcolm proved to be a valuable asset to the organization. He was an articulate orator and passionate for the cause he believed in.

An excerpt from his speech in 1963 “Message to the Grassroots” said:

“What you and I need to do is learn to forget our differences. When we come together, we don’t come together as Baptists or Methodists.

You don’t catch hell ’cause you’re a Baptist, and you don’t catch hell ’cause you’re a Methodist. You don’t catch hell ’cause you’re a Methodist or Baptist.

You don’t catch hell because you’re a Democrat or a Republican. You don’t catch hell because you’re a Mason or an Elk.

And you sure don’t catch hell ’cause you’re an American; ’cause if you was an American, you wouldn’t catch no hell.

You catch hell ’cause you’re a black man. You catch hell, all of us catch hell, for the same reason.

So we are all black people, so-called Negroes, second-class citizens, ex-slaves.

You are nothing but a ex-slave. You don’t like to be told that.

But what else are you? You are ex-slaves.

You didn’t come here on the “Mayflower.” You came here on a slave ship — in chains, like a horse, or a cow, or a chicken.

And you were brought here by the people who came here on the “Mayflower.” You were brought here by the so-called Pilgrims, or Founding Fathers.

They were the ones who brought you here.

We have a common enemy. We have this in common:

We have a common oppressor, a common exploiter, and a common discriminator.

But once we all realize that we have this common enemy, then we unite on the basis of what we have in common.

And what we have foremost in common is that enemy — the white man.

He’s an enemy to all of us. I know some of you all think that some of them aren’t enemies.

Time will tell.”

He was the reason why the group, from only 500 members, became a nationally recognized political force with 30,000 followers.

His eloquence attracted a lot of black people and one of them was the famous Muhammad Ali. Soon enough, he became second in power within the organization.


Malcolm X quotes

Malcolm’s brilliance was recognized even by his sharpest critics.

Actively fighting for freedom and equal rights while he was still alive, his passion is evident in his words about the plight of his race. Here are Malcolm X quotes that will change your views too:

You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.

There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.

Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.

A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.


We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.

We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.

The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.

Truth is on the side of the oppressed.

malcolm x quotes

You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.


So early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.

The ability to read awoke inside of me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.

A wise man can play the part of a clown, but a clown can’t play the part of a wise man.

All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient.

I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.

Children have a lesson adults should learn, to not be ashamed of failing, but to get up and try again.


You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action.

Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.

malcolm x quote

We are nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us.

***NEW MASTERCLASS! How to break through toxic relationships and find true love, with the world-renowned shaman Rudá Iandê. Sick and tired of messy relationships? Join us for this masterclass, playing only for a limited time.

Stumbling is not falling.


There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.

Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.

I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation.

Without education, you’re not going anywhere in this world.

You don’t have to be a man to fight for freedom. All you have to do is to be an intelligent human being.

Power never takes a step back except in the face of more power.

In all our deeds, the proper value and respect for time determine success or failure.

malcolm x quote

I believe in a religion that believes in freedom. Any time I have to accept a religion that won’t let me fight a battle for my people, I say to hell with that religion.

Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.

Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or who says it.

Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.

I believe in the brotherhood of man, all men, but I don’t believe in brotherhood with anybody who doesn’t want brotherhood with me. I believe in treating people right, but I’m not going to waste my time trying to treat somebody right who doesn’t know how to return the treatment.

Nonviolence is fine as long as it works.

Only a fool would let his enemy teach his children.

I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he’s wrong, than the one who comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil.

If you turn the other cheek, you can be enslaved for 1,000 years.

Anytime you see someone more successful than you are, they are doing something you aren’t.

malcolm x quotes

Malcolm X’s split from Nations of Islam

While in the NOI, he observed the leader’s numerous illicit affairs, which is against Islamic teachings. He also witnessed NOI ministers living luxurious lives at the organization’s expense.

After he gave an ill-advised speech about Kennedy having been the architect of his own downfall, NOI gave him a 90-day public speech ban.

Although he respected the decision, it proved to be the final straw in his relationship with the Nation of Islam.

Malcolm renounced NOI and formed his own movement, the Muslim Mosque Inc. His relationship with NOI turned sour and he became the focus of repeated attacks by members of his former organization.

Malcolm X’s Muslim name

Malcolm was urged by his Muslim friends to make a Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. It turns out this decision impacted his political outlook profoundly.

After his pilgrimage, he took a new name “El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz”. He became a proponent of a more inclusive, non-violent philosophy.

He then founded the Organisation of Afro-American Unity – an organization which included all people of African descent in the Western hemisphere.

Its purpose was to fight for the human rights of African Americans and promote cooperation among his people.

Malcolm X’s death

malcolm x death

Malcolm was murdered shortly after he began his speech to the assembled OAAU. A man with a sawn-off shotgun shot Malcolm in the chest and two other assassins discharged their own weapons at Malcolm.

His death was considered a high-profile case. Although the assassins received life sentences, it did not stop conspiracy theories from being circulated.

Here’s a couple of the most famous theories about Malcolm X’s death:

1. The Bureau of Secret Service theory

This theory involved a man named Gene Roberts, who was a Bureau of Secret Service agent. Interestingly, he was also a bodyguard of Malcolm’s at the time of his shooting.

It was claimed that government agencies became uncomfortable with Malcolm’s rise. Roberts’ superiors instructed him to engineer the assassination due to the potential racial tensions that were being fomented by Malcolm’s message.

2. The mob theory

This theory involved the mob. Malcolm’s philosophy of black empowerment resulted in lesser crimes and a reduction in drug use in black neighborhoods.

Therefore, Malcolm was a victim of a mob hit to protect the business of organized crime.

Malcolm and his ideals…

Malcolm didn’t hesitate to die for his ideals and love for his fellow black people.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said:

“While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem. He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems that we face as a race.”

Indeed, he became the prince and champion of his race.

***Do you want to be a stronger person? Do you want to stare down your challenges and overcome any obstacles? If so, check out our eBook: The Art of Resilience: A Practical Guide to Mental Toughness.

Subscribe to Ideapod's weekly newsletter

Ideas and perspectives for a new generation of authentic individuals.

We won't send you spam. You can easily unsubscribe at any time.

Be the first to comment on this article at Ideapod Discussions

Written by Jude Paler

I am a poet with a positive outlook in life and a writer with a purpose in mind. I write to express my thoughts so that others will be inspired.

Why you shouldn’t fall for the tragedy of “people pleasing”

Eduard Einstein: The tragic life of Albert Einstein’s forgotten son