بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْم
Malcolm X: The Prince of Islam
The autobiography of Malcolm X had always been on my bucket-list of books to read. Of course, since he was such an influential figure, I already knew all about his life amazing life and its tragic end. As I was reading the first chapter of the book, titled “Nightmare”, I am amazed at the fortitude of brother Malcolm, coming as he did from such a difficult and horrific childhood. In his autobiography, he tells of his domineering father, who was a Baptist minister and follower of Marcus Garvey, “savagely” beating his children but not Malcolm. His “whippings” came from his mother. Nevertheless, his father was able to provide a meager existence for his wife and 8 children. But they lived in a racially divided country, and survival was never easy. It got worse after Malcolm’s father was murdered by the ironically-named “Black Legion”. This was actually a white hate-group, which didn’t like how the senior Little (the family name was Little) was spreading Garvey’s message of going back to Africa. After his father’s murder, life of course seemed to get harder. His mother worked to provide for her children, but would get fired as soon as the employers found out she was black (her complexion made it difficult to tell). Brother Malcolm relates how the “state Welfare people”, who were of course white, seemed to treat his family as “things” rather than as “people”.
As he grew up, experiencing firsthand the oppression of his people and embracing a life of crime, he eventually joined the so-called “Nation of Islam” (it’s not really an Islamic organization), and the rest is history. After a falling-out with Elijah Muhammad and the NOI, brother Malcolm had a truly miraculous transformation: his famous pilgrimage to Mecca and conversion to (true) Islam. He knew that his new message of the brotherhood of humanity, regardless of color, was heresy to the NOI, and he knew that they wanted him dead. Regardless, he carried on. He probably could have saved himself by publicly apologizing to Elijah Muhammad and reaffirming his loyalty, but instead, he chose to face the threats on his life, eventually embracing martyrdom.
Here are some interesting quotes from the first chapter of the autobiography, which speak volumes about the humble beginnings of this great man, and how his transformation from criminal to racist to humanitarian shows how the message of Islam can bring peace and brotherhood to humanity…”by any means necessary”:
“The Klansmen shouted threats and warnings at her [Malcolm’s mother] that we had better get out of town because ‘the good Christian white people’ were not going to stand for my father’s ‘spreading trouble’ among the ‘good’ Negroes of Omaha with the ‘back to Africa’ preachings of Marcus Garvey.”
“It has always been my belief that I, too, will die by violence. I have done all that I can to be prepared.”
“…nearly everywhere my father went, Black Legionnaires were reviling him as an ‘uppity nigger’ for wanting to own a store, for living outside the Lansing Negro district, for spreading unrest and dissension among ‘the good niggers’.”
“I remember we were outside in the night in our underwear, crying and yelling our heads off. The white police and firemen came and stood around watching as the house burned down to the ground.”
“…my memories are of the friction between my father and mother. They seemed to be nearly always at odds. Sometimes my father would beat her.”
“My father was also belligerent toward all of the children, except me. The older ones he would beat almost savagely if they broke any of his rules–and he had so many rules it was hard to know them all. Nearly all my whippings came from my mother.”
“Even at that young age, I just couldn’t believe in the Christian concept of Jesus as someone divine.”
“Back when I was growing up, the ‘successful’ Lansing Negroes were such as waiters and bootblacks. To be a janitor at some downtown store was to be highly respected.”
“The day was to come when our family was so poor that we would eat the hole out of a donut; but at that time we were much better off than most town Negroes.”
“The white kids didn’t make any great things about us, either [for going to the same school]. They called us ‘nigger’ amd ‘darkie’ and ‘Rastus’ so much that we thought those were our natural names. But they didn’t think of it as an insult; it was just the way they thought about us.”
“My father’s skull , on one side, was crushed in, I was told later. Negroes in Lansing have always whispered that he was attacked, and then laid across some tracks for a streetcar to run over him. His body was cut almost in half.”
Source: The Autobiography of Malcolm X As Told to Alex Haley (New York: Ballantine Books, 2015).