Remembering Malcolm X

Remembering Malcolm X

Carter Coleman

In my experiences at Priory, February has often been a busy and chaotic time. Whether it was getting ready for the start of spring sports or preparing for second-term exams, I tended to not have much time to stop and think. However, as a senior, this past month has been more relaxed, allowing me to reflect on what February brings, specifically with the celebration of Black History Month. A person that I have come in contact with is Malcolm X, an especially prominent figure in American history. Coincidentally, Malcolm X’s unfortunate assassination also came in Feb. 21, 1965. With all these factors, I thought it would be beneficial to revisit this important and perhaps misrepresented figure in history.

I think that when most people think of Malcolm X, they conjure up a picture of a charismatic man who showed extreme pride for his race and rejected integration. However, this is only the personality that Malcolm X possessed during his greatest popularity. To understand this multifaceted individual, a full dive into his life must be taken, with a central focus on who he was at the end of his life, a character quite opposite to this prevalent persona of X. 

Malcolm Little was born in Nebraska on May 19, 1925, being thrown into a world that seemed like a nightmare. Due to the bold actions of his father, Earl, which included advocating for the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association), an organization created by activist Marcus Garvey, Malcolm’s family was often ruthlessly harassed by those such as the Black Legion, a white supremacist group based in the midwest. In fact, of his father’s six brothers, only one would die of natural causes. The rest of them, including Earl, would die by violence at the hands of white men.

These events, along with the burden of providing for seven children, caused unreasonable stress for Malcolm’s mother, Louise. When Malcolm was 13, Louise was taken to Kalamazoo State Hospital, a mental health institution. From here, the siblings were split up, being sent to various foster homes. In this part of Malcolm’s life, he was again reminded of the disadvantages he held in society because of his skin color. X recalls how, during his stay at a detention home, the white authorities saw him as a “pet” and “that even though we might be with them, we weren’t considered of them.” Furthermore, while attending a high school in Lansing, Mich., Malcolm was told that his plans of becoming a lawyer were “no realistic goal for a [black man].” Being at the top of his class in earned grades, his teacher’s irrational denial of his ambitions reaffirmed Malcolm’s thought that the nation in which he lived gave no real opportunity to the black person. 

From here, Malcolm went to live with his half-sister, Ella, in Boston. He was there for several years before he moved to Harlem in New York. It was in Harlem that Malcolm became more involved with illegal activities, leading to his arrest in Boston in 1945 after getting caught with a stolen watch. At the age of 20, Malcolm was sentenced to ten years, unaware that while in prison he would become affiliated with the Nation of Islam, leading him to become the man most people know him as today. 

However, it is not this man that is the true representation of what Malcolm X became. Sure, at the end of his life, Malcolm X still strongly supported black nationalism, but his viewpoint on the possibility of race unity had changed from his early days of preaching for the Nation of Islam, days where he spoke of an impossibility of communion between the black and the white. It was in Malcolm’s journey to Mecca, where he was able to experience true Islam, that this significant change in his beliefs occurred.

In a letter to his newly formed mosque in Harlem, Malcolm wrote about his experiences in Mecca. Malcolm discusses the communal sentiments, writing, “There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonde to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood…” Mecca had changed X, as he no longer thought this integration to be impossible, based on the community that he observed. When you remember Malcolm X, remember this universal message that his letter displays; that all members of the human race, while recognizing and embracing differences, can and should come together in unity, understanding that all are engaging in the same ritual, that of living life.