Muslim minister and human rights leader El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, widely known as Malcolm X, stands as one of the most-influential figures in Black History. Forty-eight years ago today, Malcolm X was gunned down by three assailants, and it has been speculated that the killing was inspired by words from his former Nation of Islam (NOI) compatriot and current leader Louis Farrakhan.
After a turbulent childhood and engaging in crimes as an adult, the man born Malcolm Little discovered the religion of Islam while in prison. Rising fast as a member of the NOI under the tutelage of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X would become the face of Black Nationalism and preached with a fiery but intelligent style.
Malcolm X’s position in the NOI was especially instrumental to the growth of the organization. He not only helped verbalize the strong ideals the NOI upheld, but Malcolm X also boosted membership by record numbers. Black men and women flocked to the NOI largely because of his charismatic speaking style and his penchant for openly criticizing White racism.
From 1952 to 1964, Malcolm X was a part of the NOI, but in 1963, he had begun to rethink his involvement. The national spokesperson became increasingly disenchanted with the Nation after he witnessed spiritual leader Muhammad engaging in extramarital affairs and other dealings he disagreed with.
After saying the infamous “chickens coming home to roost” comment regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, NOI officials silenced their star speaker, which led to a further strained relationship.
Breaking away from the NOI, Malcolm X publicly denounced the group and expressed a desire to work with other groups. Although he still considered himself a Muslim, he began working with leaders of other faiths, including a brief meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Later, he delivered his “The Ballot Or The Bullet” speech, urging African Americans to use their vote.
Listen to “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech here:
In the spring of 1964, however, Malcolm X would discover orthodox Islam after encouragement from Sunni Muslims.
The move to a more traditional version of Islam changed Malcolm X from Black Nationalist to human rights advocate.
With an expanded worldview, Malcolm X led and spoke regularly at his recently opened Muslim Mosque Inc. and worked closely with the Organization of Afro-American Unity.