Black Nationalist Movement: Malcolm X

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Throughout the history of the United States, the standing and equality of minorities, particularly those of African descent, has been debated and fought over, with many working for the goal of equality from myriad angles. African Americans were brought to the new world in chains, considered only 3/5th a person in the Constitution, and the US fought a tragic civil war to triumphantly end slavery. After the civil war, inequality persisted through “Black Codes” meant to restrict African American economic and political power. Black scholars and leaders such as WEB Dubois, Booker T. Washington, and Marcus Garvey all fought for equality with beliefs on a spectrum of how inclusive American society could or should be. Through the study of these scholar’s writings, we can gain a better understanding of the foundation that the Black Nationalist Movement, which would inspire Civil Rights leader Malcolm X. Malcolm X has gone down in history as one of the most pivotal representatives of the Black Nationalist movement and as an influential activist during the 1960s. Contemporary activist, Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach was mostly known for being peaceful, while Malcolm X clearly stated that “any means necessary” including violence, to combat brutality, provide self- defense, and ensure equal access for people of color. Malcolm X was one of the most influential members of the Civil Rights Movement who was partially responsible for the creation of the Black Panther Party that was established in hopes of encouraging the self-defense and protection of the black population. Despite X’s tragic assassination in 1965, his legacy continues to inspire many individuals across the globe to triumph in the face of adversity, including the modern Black Lives Matter movement.

During the 1900s, W. E. B. DuBois worked tirelessly as a sociologist, a historian, and a civil rights activist. DuBois was a key member in the development of Black Nationalism. He provided new ideas and methods which allowed the movement to gain much public support. He believed that “all people of African descent had common interests and should work together in the struggle for their freedom.” DuBois worked as the editor of the magazine The Crisis, which he used to promote the works of black artists. By showcasing these works he hoped to also showcase the charm and artistry that the black culture had to offer, he called this the “Beauty in Black.” Along with showcasing the works of black artists in his magazine, he was also found speaking publicly at many events to rally more supporters for the Civil Movement. It was during the first Pan-African Conference, he declared the “Problem of the twentieth century” was synonymous with “the problem of the color-line”. The color-line was a term that he had coined to describe the relationship between the lack of privileges shown to the colored population solely on the grounds of their differing skin-tone and hair texture. One method that DuBois proposed to circumvent this problem was to allow colored people to develop a separation in group economy and use that separation as a weapon against black poverty. Along with W. E. B. DuBois, there were several other key contributors to the Black Nationalist Movement, namely men like Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad.

Marcus Garvey was born at St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, on August 17, 1887. After attending school for seven years and going on to work as a printer, he became an active trade unionist and was eventually elected as vice president of Compositors’ branch of the Printers” union in 1907. During 1911, Marcus Garvey moved and studied at Birkbeck College in England where he met additional blacks that were also struggling to seize their own independence from the British Empire. Being motivated by learning that he established the Universal Negro Improvement Association in Jamaica and published the flyer, The Negro Race and It's Problems. Marcus Garvey was known for leading a larger black nationalist movement, being an immigrant that built the Universal Negro Improvement Association into a nationwide group based in Harlem. Another equally influential contributor to the Black Nationalist Movement was Elijah Muhammad.

Elijah Muhammad, born as Elijah Poole in Sandersville (Georgia), was known for being the most remarkable leader of the Nation of Islam and greatly influenced Malcolm X.. Elijah Muhammad was raised in a segregated part of the South and worked along the side of his family as a sharecropper. He married Clara Evans in 1919 and moved to Detroit, Michigan with his wife in 1923. He obtained the job of working in an automobile industry until he got laid off during the Great Depression. While unemployed Elijah met Wallace Fard, the founder of the Nation Of Islam and was immediately intrigued by Ford's techniques in the teaching of black Islam and racial supremacy. In 1931, Elijah Poole joined the Nation and changed his name to Elijah Muhammad, during the same year he was able to gain power quickly as Fard named him as Chief Minister of the Nation of Islam. While the leader of the Nation of Islam, Muhammad devoted himself to spreading the organization by teaching against white supremacy. He taught people that while people were devils that were created specifically to oppress the black race and that quickly increased attention towards them from the United States government. Elijah Muhammed went on to become one of Malcolm X’s key inspirations.

During November 10th, 1963, Malcolm X, a black nationalist, also known as Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, delivered an inspiring speech in Detroit to an audience largely comprised of African American individuals. The speech, “Message to the Grass Roots,” aptly named for its address towards the “Grass Roots” of America, explaining how the defense of people of color in America is misguided if armed attacks are deemed acceptable in places abroad in the name of defending Her (America).

“The Russian Revolution—what was it based on? Land, the landless against the landlord. How did they bring it about? Bloodshed. You haven't got a revolution that doesn't involve bloodshed. ... As long as the white man sent you to Korea, you bled. He sent you to Germany, you bled. He sent you to the South Pacific to fight the Japanese, you bled ... but when it comes to seeing your own churches being bombed and little Black girls murdered, you haven't got any blood…” In this passage, X is discussing the pattern of feuds of the landless and the landlords. Stating how a conclusion is only achieved when it is met with bloodshed. This belief in the act of self-defense became the foundation of X’s campaign, as well as the, would earn X his legendary status.

In search of a majority votes, the white Democrat party campaigned to earn the votes of the African American community. If not for the control the Dixiecrats exerted over the communities that were principally responsible for handling the bulk of government activities, the African American community would not have fallen victim to the oppressive power of the Democrats. X claimed that the power held by the Democratic party in Washington was in direct correlation with the existence of the Dixiecrats. Should the Dixiecrats be extinguished, the majority of the seats the Democrats held in Congress would be extinguished as well. Leaving available seats for colored representatives, thusly turning the tables and placing the black community in a position of the majority which they had never received before.

During this time it was also not uncommon for people of color to be provided counselors who were not properly equipped to represent them. This lack of proper representation would lead to an unfair trial. This could be perceived as an act of racism that was used to guarantee that people of color would be charged more harshly and given stronger sentences. The Black Panther Party was created to aid in protecting the colored population from the oppressive powers that sought to keep them confined to their inferior status. The party had many posters and pieces of advertising which served to raise awareness about this movement within the black community. The words “What we want [...] What we believe” are framed in a party poster to serve as a slogan for the movement. The wants of the movement match the beliefs of the party. Alongside the raised fist, this poster represents the fight that the people of the black nationalist movement are willing to put up if it means preserving their rights. The rights of the colored population were largely improved through the efforts of Malcolm X and many other members of the Black Nationalist Movement. This lead to many advancements in terms of the representation of colored people in many realms of society like the economy and politics.

The former President of the United States, Barack Obama, served as a beacon for the colored population in recent years. Barack Hussein Obama ? was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the U.S. on August 4, 1961. He was known for winning the presidency as the first African American to hold the office. Before he became the president of the United States, Obama represented Illinois in the U.S. Senate, is the third African American that was elected to that body since the end of Reconstruction {1877}. In the year 2009 Obama was granted the Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

After Obama had earned his law degree, he became active in the Democratic Party. He coordinated an organization called “Project Vote”, which enrolled tens of thousands of African Americans to be able to vote and helped Bill Clinton from the Democratic Party win Illinois and be able to successfully become president in 1992. The organization was also effective towards Carol Moseley Braun, an Illinois state legislator who was running for Senate become the first African American woman to be in the U.S. Senate.

Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope, provides details on a few controversial issues that include race, abortion, partisanship, religion, morality, and values, & politics. Instead of a more political reference book, it was read more like an autobiography towards the readers. Not only does this book have under-discussed arguments but also shows how the former president lived in his daily life. The book also demonstrates how politicians are also humans that are unable to escape the hatred from everyone else.

Equality has always been a struggle within America. From the rights of colonists before the Independence of America to slaves not being treated equally as a human but rather an object. The foundation to what is based off and the situation at hand isn’t much different. Progressing into a much more just and fair playing field is difficult than just putting out there. With renowned social activists such as W.E.B DuBois, Booker T. Washington, and Marcus Garvey were pioneers in helping to start some sort of change for the African-American population. Then later would spark the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement which included social activist, Malcolm X. With the age of technology and more changes happening from the younger population what the past once wanted to accomplish will succeed in modern times.   

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