Black HIStory: El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (b. May 19, 1925 – d. February 21, 1965)

In honor of the 45th anniversary of his assassination, today’s feature is going to be on former Black Supremest and Human Rights activist Malcolm X. (Also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz)

Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska to Earl and Louise Little. The middle of 9 children, his father “was an outspoken Baptist lay speaker; he supported Pan-African activist Marcus Garvey and was a local leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Malcolm never forgot the values of black pride and self-reliance that his father and other UNIA leaders preached.”

Louise Little, whose maiden name was Née Louisa Norton, had been born in Grenada. “Because her father was Scottish, she was so light-skinned that she could have passed for white. Malcolm inherited his light complexion from his mother and maternal grandfather.”

By the time Malcolm was 14, his father had been murdered and his mother had been committed to a mental hospital some time after her husband’s death. Despite those circumstances, Malcolm was one of the best students in his junior high school, but he dropped out after a white eighth-grade teacher told him that his aspirations of being a lawyer were “no realistic goal for a nigger.”

He soon fell into a life of crime. After a brief stops in Boston and Michigan, he moved to Harlem where he became involved  drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, and steering prostitutes. But that came to screeching halt on January 12th, 1946 when he was arrested in Boston and charged with larceny and breaking and entering, and sentenced to eight to ten years in Massachusetts State Prison.

While in prison Malcolm was encouraged to educate himself by another self-educated inmate named John Elton Bembry and was eventually steered towards the Nation of Islam by his younger brother Philbert. Upon being paroled on August 7, 1952, Malcolm Little emerged a well-educated member of the Nation of Islam. He quickly dropped the last name Little and adopted the surname “X”.

Almost instantly he became the public face of the Nation of Islam. His commanding stage presence, quick wit, and erudition, combined with the authenticity of his experience as a street hustler, made Malcolm a remarkable orator and a dynamic leader.

“Malcolm X’s speeches had a powerful effect on his audiences, generally African-Americans who lived in the Northern and Western cities who were tired of being told to wait for freedom, justice, equality, and respect. Many blacks felt that he articulated their complaints better than the civil rights movement did.

“The FBI opened a file on Malcolm X in March 1953 after hearing from an informant that Malcolm X described himself as a Communist. Soon the FBI turned its attention from concerns about possible Communist Party association to Malcolm X’s rapid ascent in the Nation of Islam.”

He is considered one of the most influential leaders in the Nation Islam and is “largely credited with increasing membership in the Nation of Islam from 500 in 1952 to 25,000 in 1963. He inspired the boxer Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) to join the Nation of Islam. Ali later left the Nation of Islam and became a Sunni Muslim, as did Malcolm X.”

He relationship eventually soured with the Nation when he commented on the assassination of President Kennedy, a subject on which all ministers were instructed to remain silent. Malcolm said of the incident:

“chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they’ve always made me glad.”

He also added that the murders of Patrice Lumumba, Congo leader, of Medgar Evers, civil rights leader, and of the Negro girls bombed earlier this year in a Birmingham church were instances of other ‘chickens coming home to roost’.

This not only enraged the public but the Nation of Islam as well, especially Elijah Muhammad. The Nation prohibited Malcolm from public speaking for 90 days.

“On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X publicly announced his break from the Nation of Islam. He said that he was still a Muslim, but he felt the Nation of Islam had “gone as far as it can” because of its rigid religious teachings.”

“He came to believe that they were true, and Muhammad confirmed the rumors in 1963. Muhammad tried to justify his actions by referring to precedents by Biblical prophets.”

“One reason for the separation was growing tension between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad because of Malcolm X’s dismay about rumors of Muhammad’s extramarital affairs with young secretaries. Such actions were against the teachings of the Nation.”

“Malcolm X said he was going to organize a black nationalist organization that would try to “heighten the political consciousness” of African-Americans. He also expressed his desire to work with other civil rights leaders and said that Elijah Muhammad had prevented him from doing so in the past.”

Several Sunni Muslims encouraged Malcolm X to learn about Islam. Soon he converted to Sunni Islam, and decided to make his pilgrimage to Mecca, where he adopted the surname El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. After his return from the Hajj his overall message became less about segregation  and black supremacy and leaned more towards racial harmony and equality.

But the turbulent separation between him and the Nation would come back to haunt him. The Nation of Islam and its leaders began making threats against Shabazz both in private and in public. “On March 23, 1964, Elijah Muhammad told Boston minister Louis X (later known as Louis Farrakhan) that hypocrites like Malcolm should have ‘their heads cut off.'”

“Some threats were made anonymously. “During the month of June 1964, FBI surveillance recorded two such threats. On June 8, a man called Malcolm X’s home and told Betty Shabazz to ‘tell him he’s as good as dead.’ On June 12, an FBI informant reported getting an anonymous telephone call from somebody who said ‘Malcolm X is going to be bumped off.'”

Malcolm was now on constant guard. He feared for the safety of himself and his family. He was a marked man, sought dead by his former “Muslim” brothers and the FBI/CIA.

His detractor got their wish on February 21st, 1965. Malcolm was giving speech at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom when a man suddenly shouted:

“Nigger! Get your hand outta my pocket!”

When Malcolm’s bodyguards moved to squelch the disturbance a man rushed forward and shot Shabazz in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun. Two other men charged the stage and fired handguns, hitting him 16 times. He was pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m.

Much like the warriors during his time, Malcolm gave his life for the well-being of his people; for the well-being of the human race. Sure they may murdered his physical being but his voice and legacy lives on in every militant soul that feels obligated to make their presence and opinions felt.




Niggers are lovers, are lovers, are lovers
Niggers loved to hear Malcolm rap
But they didn’t love Malcolm
Niggers love everything but themselves…
Umar Bin Hassan of The Last Poets ( “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution” )


Here is Malcolm participating in a debate at the Oxford Union on December 3, 1964, about 2 1/2 months before his death: