Introduction To Malcolm X And His Life

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Malcolm Little, better known as Malcolm X, was born May 19, 1925 and assassinated February 21, 1965. He was an African-American leader and figurehead in the Nation of Islam (NOI), important to the movement for freedom and equality in postwar America because of his orations regarding, race, pride, and black nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s. Early in life, Malcolm struggled to survive as a black, young man growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, especially with a father whose activism for the local chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and preaching gained attention from white supremacist groups, leading to his family’s frequent encounters with harassment.

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Persecution followed the family as they moved from Omaha to Milwaukee to Lansing, and eventually led to the 1921 death of his father. After his mother was admitted into a mental institution following her husband’s death, Malcolm and his siblings were put into separate foster homes.

Although he excelled in school, he was not expected to do much. At fifteen, his English teacher made this clear, telling him explicitly that his dream of becoming a lawyer was unrealistic. Malcolm dropped out of school and eventually earned a 10 year prison sentence in 1946. HE occupied his time in prison by reading books and getting familiar with the Nation of Islam by visiting siblings. NOI was a small faction of black Muslims who embraced black nationalism, believing that in order to gain freedom, justice, and equality, black Americans must establish an independent state from white Americans. His conversion to the Nation of Islam, before his release from prison in 1952, would lead to his work as a minister and activist for the NOI, where he would work alongside their leader, Elijah Muhammad, to expand the movement’s following among black Americans.

This time in postwar America, is populated with rapid progress in almost every way possible. Between 1945 and 1960, the gross national product in the US more than doubles; the economy is booming and much of it is a result of government spending on interstate highways, schools, veterans’ benefits, and new technologies, like military airplanes and consumer goods. Middle-class Americans had more money to spend than ever before and usually spent it on leisure and children. However, beneath this picture of a prosperous America, issues regarding civil rights and counterculture begin to erupt. In 1948 we begin to see our government take on these greater issues. President Truman issued an executive order that outlawed segregation in the US military and the Supreme Court declared government support, enforcing restrictive agreements to exclude minorities from buying homes in white neighborhoods, to be illegal with the Shelley v. Kraemer case. The 1950s was the first time, however, that this fight against racism and segregation, truly entered mainstream of American life.

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