Malcolm X is known today as one of the most controversial, iconic, inspirational, and important figures in the struggle for civil rights. He is renown far and wide, famous to some, infamous to others. However, it cannot be refuted that his impact on the civil rights movement, for better or worse, was great. Malcolm was many things; yes, he was flawed and imperfect, but he was also a beacon, an ever-burning pyre guiding many through the turbulent tides of the time. Malcolm was a symbol of hope, a preacher of brotherhood, a charismatic leader, a man to lead the people. It was because of his charisma, his conviction, as The New York Times put it, his “bitter eloquence,” that he was able to move people’s hearts, to move the movement. Not only did he sweep the nation, but his influence and outreach were also felt the world over. Until his dying breath, Malcolm fought for a cause, and a people, he believed in.
On May 19, 1925, in a small house, long since destroyed, in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm Little was born. Malcolm grew up in a childhood marred by racial violence. Malcolm’s own mother was born the result of rape by a white man and Klansman frequently attacked the Little household. When Malcolm was just six, his father, Earl Little, was killed by a posse of Klansman. Malcolm grew to become a common street thug, selling marijuana and occasionally acting as a pimp. It was no surprise that in 1946, at the age of twenty-one, he found himself incarcerated. It was in prison that Malcolm Little took his first steps to becoming the famed Malcolm X. He was truly reformed, not by the state, but through his true conviction and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. A middle school dropout, Malcolm pushed himself to the limits, learning much more in his years in prison than he ever could at any college. It was also in prison Malcolm also discovered the Nation of Islam, a group who he would later become the most prominent member.
Following his release. Malcolm moved to Detroit and formally began his ministry with the religious group, NOI. Malcolm’s prowess with the pen surged. Adopting the name X, symbolizing the lost name of his ancestors from Africa, Malcolm had become fairly popular, gaining prominence in the Civil Rights Movement. Malcolm was highly controversial, especially for his conviction that all white men were “devils.” This didn’t nearly hinder his growth though, for Malcolm’s eloquence was unparalleled in the era. He had a mastery of words, knowing the profound effect they had on the heart, and the mind, and the soul. This mastery of the English language, which he gained from his “homemade” prison education, brought to the black masses “eloquent articulation of their gut feelings” He knew their pain, he knew their strife, he knew their hardships, and he knew the burden they carried because he carried it to, he had lived it, and he had seen it every day. Malcolm’s cries rallied thousands to his banner, and they marched on in the fight for their rights, not just as Americans, but as human beings.
Malcolm’s importance in the struggle for civil rights remained constant unto his untimely death, assassinated at a speech at the Audubon Ballroom at the age of 39. It is in this martyrdom that Malcolm’s legacy still shines, evolving, interpreted by and still inspiring many. Even in death, his message lives on in those he touched with it. His speaking gripped the minds of all who heard him. Man or woman, white or black, Malcolm’s words made you feel something, they made you take a stand. And that is exactly what Malcolm did: He took a stand. He did not waver in the face of danger, hatred, aggression, racism, or oppression. Steadfast, unmoving, and unwavering, like a ship's mast, Malcolm took a stand, and he stood tall.