1960s - 13 Unexpected Things Most People Don't Know About Malcolm X
Malcolm X was a civil rights activist, Muslim minister, and one of the most consequential people in American history. He was also a controversial figure, adored by thousands and feared by thousands more; in essence, there is no shortage of reasons Malcolm X is important.
Malcolm X was born to a homemaker and a Baptist minister in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925. His birth name was Malcolm Little, and he was one of eight siblings. His childhood experiences greatly impacted his future political and religious positions, and they engendered many of the most hardcore facts about Malcolm X. For example, Malcolm’s father, Earl Little, was a staunch supporter of Marcus Garvey, leader of the Black Nationalists. The Nation of Islam movement, where Malcolm would eventually serve as a prominent leader, sprung from Black Nationalist philosophies. From his spiritual awakenings in prison and Mecca to his experiences as a sex worker, Malcolm X too often gets cast aside as a "negative" example of violent civil rights activism, when, in fact, his life was a great deal more complex than that.
He Suggested That JFK Brought His Assassination On Himself
Malcom X’s response to a question about John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination didn’t sit well with the American public. Even Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, distanced himself from Malcolm for his statement. Malcolm X suggested JFK brought his assassination on himself, and he was not at all sad about his murder.
“[President Kennedy] never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon,” Malcolm said. “Being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they always made me glad.”
In a later interview, Malcolm said that his statements were taken out of context.
He Was Nicknamed ‘Satan’ In Prison By 1946, Malcolm X was serving a 10-year sentence for larceny and breaking and entering in the Charlestown State Prison in Boston, MA. During his first year in prison, Malcolm’s cellblock mates gave him the nickname “Satan” because of his anti-religious rants and the way he would pace up and down his cell cursing God and the Bible.
"I would pace for hours like a caged leopard, viciously cursing aloud to myself. And my favorite targets were the Bible and God. But there was a legal limit to how much time one could be kept in solitary. Eventually, the men in the cellblock had a name for me: 'Satan.' Because of my antireligious attitude," he wrote in his autobiography.
He Converted Thousands To The Nation Of Islam
Soon after leaving prison in 1952, Malcolm X moved in with his brother, who lived in Detroit. There, he began attending a local Nation of Islam mosque and quickly became a favorite of Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad promoted him to a ministerial position and sent him to Boston and Philadelphia to seek out new converts and establish new mosques. Malcolm X then spent 10 years in Harlem where he became head of the local mosque. During his time there, he became a prominent figure in the movement. He launched a Nation of Islam newspaper and spoke at universities across the country. In his time as a figurehead for the Nation of Islam, membership grew rapidly. In 1955, there were about 6,000 members. By the early ‘60s, that number had risen to about 70,000 converts due to his influence.
His Father May Have Been Killed By A KKK Splinter Group
Although official police records ruled that Earl Little was killed after being struck by a streetcar in 1931, the African-American community believed that he was murdered by a KKK splinter group called the Black Legion. Because of Earl Little’s outspoken support for the controversial civil rights figure Marcus Garvey, the Little family was subjected to numerous attacks by racist groups. When Malcolm was four, he recalled the KKK smashing all the windows of the family home in Omaha. Because of this, the family moved around a lot. In 1929, they ended up in Lansing, Michigan. Shortly thereafter, the Black Legion burned their home to the ground. They then moved to East Lansing and built a new home. Two years later, Earl’s body was found on the streetcar tracks. However, due to the frequency of attacks by the Black Legion, many believe that members of the hate group beat Earl and placed him on the tracks to be run over.
He May Have Been Bisexual
In Bruce Perry’s biography, Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America, the scholar documents that Malcolm X had numerous homosexual relations over a 10-year period when he was a sex worker. Malcolm had a troubled youth; he moved around a lot as a child, and, in his teenage years, he got involved in petty crime and worked as a male prostitute. There's evidence to suggest that Malcolm sustained a sexual relationship with a gay transvestite named Willie Mae. The book also claims that Malcolm boasted about making money by “servicing queers.” While living in Boston, Malcolm worked as a butler for a rich white businessman named William Paul Lennon. He was supposedly paid to have a sexual relationship with this man. While some may suggest that he was just “gay for pay,” Perry asserts that Malcolm did not have to go into this line of work, as he was already making enough money from selling drugs and theft. Perry suggested that Malcolm had an ambivalent attitude towards women.
“His male-to-male encounters, which rendered it unnecessary for him to compete for women, afforded him an opportunity for sexual release without the attendant risk of dependence on women,” he wrote.
He Thought Martin Luther King’s Speech Was A Joke
Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were two different sides of the same coin. Both wanted equal rights and empowerment for black Americans, but they went about achieving those goals in wholly different ways.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech is perhaps the most famous and treasured speech in American history. However, X didn’t see it that way. He called King’s 1963 March on Washington, a “Farce on Washington.”
“Who ever heard of angry revolutionists all harmonizing ‘We Shall Overcome’... while tripping and swaying along arm-in-arm with the very people they were supposed to be angrily revolting against?” Malcolm wrote in his autobiography.
His Mother Was Sent To An Insane Asylum
Malcolm’s childhood was severely troubled. Apart from all the tragedy that occurred in his early years, Malcolm had a strained relationship with his mother, Louise Little. Louise treated Malcolm differently than her other children, who were darker-skinned than Malcolm. Louise’s father was a white man, who she had said raped her mother. Perhaps Malcom’s light skin tone reminded her of the hatred she had for her white father.
After the death of Malcolm’s father, Louise tried to hold the family together the best she could. She became pregnant with her eighth child after Earl’s death, which Malcolm considered a betrayal to his father’s legacy. But shortly after giving birth, Louise suffered a mental breakdown from which she was unable to recover. She was committed to a mental institution and remained there for 24 years. Malcolm was ashamed of his mother’s mental illness and rarely visited her, though he did assist in securing her release from the institution.
He Changed His Position On Segregation After A Pilgrimage To Mecca
Malcolm grew up with the ideas of Marcus Garvey, one of the founders of Black Nationalism. This movement believed in black separatism. The Nation of Islam, which Malcolm would later help lead, was based off those same principles. So, for a long time, Malcolm opposed integration and the work of Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm and the movement took on a stern anti-white ideology. However, in 1964, Malcolm had a change of heart after a trip to Mecca. He then began to “reappraise the white man.” He started to believe that racism, not whites, was the true enemy.
He Secretly Met With KKK Leaders
In 1960, Elijah Muhammad sent Malcolm X to have a top-secret meeting with KKK leaders in Atlanta. The agenda was to negotiate the safety of a local mosque and a parcel of land in exchange for the Nation of Islam’s support of segregation. Just about the only thing that the KKK and Nation could agree on was segregation and their shared blatant anti-Semitism. Malcolm only publicly discussed the very private meeting in an interview the week before his assassination:
"In December of 1960, I was in the home of Jeremiah, the minister in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m ashamed to say it, but I’m going to tell you the truth. I sat at the table myself with the heads of the Ku Klux Klan. I sat there myself, with the heads of the Ku Klux Klan, who at that time were trying to negotiate with Elijah Muhammad so that they could make available to him a large area of land in Georgia or I think it was South Carolina. They had some very responsible persons in the government who were involved in it and who were willing to go along with it. They wanted to make this land available to him so that his program of separation would sound more feasible to Negroes and therefore lessen the pressure that the integrationists were putting upon the white man. I sat there. I negotiated it. I listened to their offer. And I was the one who went back to Chicago and told Elijah Muhammad what they had offered."
He Had A Big Falling Out With Muhammad Ali
During Malcom X's time in the Nation of Islam, he became close friends with famed boxer Muhammad Ali. X, in fact, drew Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, into the movement. But, Ali kept his affiliation with the Nation of Islam silent for some time because of the group’s controversial anti-white stance. Ali didn’t publicly acknowledge his membership with the group until he beat Sonny Liston. But by the time Ali gained worldwide fame, X was on the outs with the Nation, and Ali turned his back on him. Ali was a big supporter of Elijah Muhammad and was personally offended by X's incendiary remarks against the Nation’s leader.
X and Ali would later meet again in Ghana, where Ali criticized X for his remarks on Elijah Muhammad.
“Brother Malcolm, you shouldn’t have crossed the Honorable Elijah Muhammad,” Ali said, and then walked away from X.
Ali later admitted that one of his greatest regrets was not fixing his relationship with X.
His Name Wasn't Malcolm X In His Final Years
Malcolm X changed his name twice in his lifetime. He was born Malcolm Little. In 1946, Malcolm was sentenced to 10 years on charges of larceny. While in prison, he was visited by some of his siblings who had joined the Nation of Islam. Following their example, he converted, joined, and started a correspondence with the group’s leader, Elijah Muhammad. He was released from prison in 1952 and shortly thereafter his dropped his surname, which he considered a “slave name,” and adopted the surname “X.” The “X” was meant to symbolize the unknown surnames of his African forefathers.
In 1963, he had a falling out with the Nation of Islam. In 1964, he converted to traditional Islam and changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
He Broke With The Nation Of Islam And Was Killed For It
By the early ‘60s, Malcolm had become disillusioned with the Nation of Islam. He especially began to grow distant when he discovered that his mentor, Elijah Muhammad, had fathered several illegitimate children. This went against the very teachings that Muhammad was supposed to uphold. By 1964, Malcolm announced his split from the movement.
After leaving and converting to traditional Islam, Malcolm began openly criticizing Elijah Muhammad in his speeches. This brought on a lot of retaliation from the movement. On February 14, 1965, someone threw Molotov cocktails through his New York City home. A week later, members of the Nation of Islam assassinated him at the Audubon Ballroom. Three members of the Nation of Islam were charged and found guilty of the murder. Thomas Hagan, who was released from prison in 2010, was the only member to have admitted to the killing. Although Nation of Islam members carried out the murder, there is evidence that the FBI and the NYPD knew about the murder plot and did nothing to stop it.
He Had A Massive FBI File
While in prison in 1950, Malcolm X wrote a letter to President Truman announcing himself as a communist opposed to the Korean War. After that moment, the FBI watched his every move. In one document, FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, even said to “do something about Malcolm X.” There are a total of about 4,000 pages of surveillance reports the FBI put together on Malcolm X. You can request to look at them through the Freedom of Information Act website.