Happy Birthday, Malcolm X!
Pan-Africanist, Muslim Leader, and Human Rights Advocate
19 May 1925 - 21 February 1965
The BlackQuaker Project is happy to celebrate the birthday of el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X.
While incarcerated as a young man, Malcolm was introduced by his siblings to the religious and political movement known as the Nation of Islam. Influenced by the stories of its then leader, Elijah Muhammed, he became a practicing Muslim with the encouragement of his siblings. Frustrated that he could not properly convey his thoughts to Elijah Muhammed in their correspondences, Malcolm rigorously improved his literacy and penmanship. Through learning the entire dictionary he became able to read books and developed into an insatiable reader. He emerged from prison a man of prodigious self education and soon became the Nation’s foremost speaker and educator. Acting as its public face, Malcolm spent over a decade preaching for the Nation. Tens of thousands of young African American women and men were attracted to the Nation of Islam through its social welfare programs, encouragement of Black self-reliance, and teachings on African self-respect and heritage. For many African Americans in a white supremacist society, including Malcolm, the Nation transformed self-hatred into self-empowerment and, in turn, Malcolm had the same impact on many he preached to.
Friend Hal Weaver, who was fond of taking visiting African guests to meet with Malcolm at the Nation of Islam’s popular restaurant in Harlem, reflects on Malcolm X as an invaluable resource to--and motivator of-- the Black community of New York:
“Malcolm X was extremely important to many of us young African Americans arriving in New York City from our Euro-centric colleges in the late 1950s and early 1960s. NYC was a haven for Afro-descendants seeking their links to their continent of origin. African freedom fighters, on one hand, and diplomatic dignitaries, on the other, were serving the causes of their people at the United Nations. New, Africa-linked organizations like the American Committee on Africa and the American Society of African Culture allowed Americans of African descent with a cultural bent (in theater, literature, art, and music) or a political thrust focusing on African political independence to flourish in a supportive context. Malcolm X pulled it all together by providing an Afro-centric education to us all.
“Malcolm inserted Africa into our identity by coining the term ‘Afro-American’ as a replacement for ‘Negro.’ He was generally misunderstood and distorted by the Establishment media (except M.S. Handler, eminent New York Times journalist). Like Paul Robeson earlier, Malcolm instilled pride in our heritage as Africans in America. It is important also to note his sincere actions toward collaboration with Martin Luther King Jr. in efforts at full human liberation for people of African ancestry throughout the world--not merely civil rights--before Malcom’s untimely assassination in February 1965.”
After his departure from the Nation of Islam on 8 March 1964, Malcolm undertook a Hajj to Mecca in April of that year. Worshipping and socializing with Muslims of various races showed him that blue-eyed folks were not necessarily the enemies of Afro-Descendants as Elijah had taught him. Later that year he would journey twice to Africa, traveling to Egypt, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sudan, Senegal, Liberia, Algeria, and Morocco. He spoke at the Nigerian Muslim Student Association at the University of Ibadan, where he received the honorary title of “Omawale,” “the son, who has come home.” Influential African presidents, such as Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania), and Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), met with Malcolm X and helped shape the Pan-Africanist thrust of his final work.
Upon his return to the USA, Malcolm X formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) to foster collaboration and solidarity among Africans and People of African Descent around the world. During his 28 June 1964 speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, Malcolm spoke of the need for African Americans to study the successes of the African liberation movements for constitutional independence:
“They were suffering all forms of colonization, oppression, exploitation, degradation, humiliation, discrimination, and every other kind of -ation. And in a short time, they have gained more independence, more recognition, more respect as human beings than you and I have. And you and I live in a country which is supposed to be the citadel of education, freedom, justice, democracy, and all of those other pretty-sounding words. So it was our intention to try and find out what it was our African brothers were doing to get results, so that you and I could study what they had done and perhaps gain from that study or benefit from their experiences.”
Like others before and after him--W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and Martin Luther King Jr.-- Malcolm X’s attempts to internationalize the struggle against domestic and global White Supremacy and USA Imperialism made him a target of the USA government. Malcolm X campaigned for African countries at the United Nations to charge the USA with human rights violations against African Americans. His assassination so soon after his return from Africa was probably no coincidence.
Malcolm X’s life seemed to be in tune with the Quaker Testimonies of Truth, Equality, Peace, Community, and Justice, those principles guiding The BlackQuaker Project.
How might we apply Malcolm’s teachings and writings to our current struggle for human liberation?
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments and questions. Also, please visit our website to learn more about our ministry, The BlackQuaker Project, and sign up for our mailing list to follow our ongoing work, including the expanding Quakers of Color International Archive (QCIA).