Some people wear band t-shirts for fashion without being familiar with the music, and some sport silk-screened images of Che Guevara and have little knowledge of the real life person behind the icon of revolution. Some people are so legendary, we forget how brave they were for being so ahead of the times their calls for change were perceived as threats. They carried tremendous responsibility in representing a hope for the future to the many that admired them. They were so dedicated to their causes, that even the threat of an assassin’s bullet didn’t stop them from proclaiming their messages. Malcolm X was one of these people.
In the 1992 biopic Malcolm X Spike Lee framed the minister’s work in a modern context. The film opens with clips of the infamous beating of Rodney King by the LA Police Department. In the last scene there is a voice over eulogy, that includes real footage of the man portrayed by Denzel Washington, crowds of people chanting, a teacher in a modern classroom, and Nelson Mandela in a small village, both teaching their classes about the man, while children declare, I am Malcolm X.
In the curriculum classic The Autobiography of Malcolm X, his story lives on. Other important works like the Spike Lee movie, hip hop songs, and the biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable have cemented his status as both an important figure in history and popular culture.
Earl Little, Sr., the father of Malcolm X, was a carpenter, Baptist minister, a follower of Marcus Garvey, and a member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. In 1929 he bought a house for his family in Lansing, Michigan. A sales clause in the property deed stated the house could not be sold to blacks, and a judge approved their neighbors demands to have the Little’s evicted. While they waited on an appeal, the home was burned to the ground. IN 1931 Earl was killed in an accident, and foul play was suspected. In 1939, Malcolm’s mother was committed to a state psychiatric hospital.
Malcolm Little’s life spiraled into a life of crime that culminated in his imprisonment where he learned about the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, and the Nation of Islam, a militant black separatist group. While in prison Malcolm read voraciously, and his education included works by W.E.B. DuBois, Nat Turner, Kant, Nietzsche, and Mahatma Gandhi. He radically transformed his life, lost his last name, and became a temple minister, and a powerful public speaker for the NOI. Biographer Marable said of his style, “He possessed an excellent tenor voice, which helped him attract listeners. But even more unusual was how he employed his voice to convey his thoughts. Coming into maturity during the big band era, he quickly picked up on the cadence and percussive sounds of jazz music.”
Malcolm X eventually broke from the Nation of Islam. He discovered NOI leader Elijah Muhammad was having affairs and had several children by different women. This disillusionment fueled a spiritual rebirth. After his hajj, the traditional pilgrimage to visit Mecca, Malcolm X converted his faith, and became an orthodox Sunni Muslim. His politics also evolved, and he stressed that cooperation from all people was necessary in the civil rights movement. His home in Queens, New York was firebombed. In February 21, 1965 at the Audubon Grand Ballroom in New York City Malcolm X set to give a speech was gunned down on stage.
To honour Malcolm X and his legacy, we need to remember his message, and use it as a measure in our contemporary society of how far we have come, and how much further we need to go. To guide us in our task, here are 12 powerful quotations from Malcolm X.
12 Malcolm X Quotes:
“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” —Malcolm X
“People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.” —Malcolm X
“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” —Malcolm X
“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” —Malcolm X
“If you have no critics you’ll likely have no success.” —Malcolm X
“Truth is on the side of the oppressed.” —Malcolm X
“Hence I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.” —Malcolm X
“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.” —Malcolm X
“Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” —Malcolm X
“To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace.” —Malcolm X
“In fact, once he is motivated no one can change more completely than the man who has been at the bottom. I call myself the best example of that.” —Malcolm X
“Despite my firm convictions, I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.” —Malcolm X
Author Bio: Tara Collum
Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the volunteer social media coordinator for the Death Row Support Project @COB_DRSP and co-writes a web serial at splitsvilleblog.wordpress.com. She is all about tea, books, mumblecore, music, long walks, and self-improvement. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun
Malcolm X Quotes Sources:
- Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable. Penguin Books: 2011
- Malcolm X. Director: Spike Lee. Warner Brothers, 1992. Film