By the time of his Feb. 21, 1965, execution at 39 years old, Malcolm X had profoundly affected the political platform for Black people in the land of the free. He was using politics as a means to ensure his people could attain the basic needs and rights all humans were due, and this aspect of his legacy continued to resonate for several generations more through various movements.
A number of local events will commemorate this occasion, including one this Friday at 2 p.m., “The Dead are Arising, The Life of Malcolm X—Virtual Book Party,” and another Tuesday at the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center (3940 Broadway) and Schomburg Center (515 Malcolm X Blvd.).
“We have two psychological battles that we’re fighting against white folks. We won one. They told us we should hate Malcolm X. We dumped that. Thank God,” said Black Panther Stokely Carmichael (later Dr. Kwame Ture) in 1969. “The second battle we’re now fighting is whether or not we will have the courage to decide how our movement is going to go. They don’t want us to use ‘Black Power.’ I got news for them!”
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During spring 1964, after departing from the Nation of Islam, he established the Organization of Afro-American Unity [OAAU], which advocated this. The subsequent Black Power era, which emerged after Malcolm’s death, advocated for Americanized Africans to be self-determining and self-reliant rather than attempting to assimilate with the offspring of their oppressors.
“I felt the movement [NOI] was dragging its feet in many areas. It didn’t involve itself in many of the civic, civil, or political struggles that our people are confronted by,” Malcolm X said in an early 1964 interview. “All it did was stress the importance of moral reformation.“
During his speaking engagements, he would encourage Black people to have influence in the businesses, politics, and schools in their communities, which would bring about significant change and instill cultural as well as racial pride in Black people. This caused much fear among Caucasian-Americans and docile negroes.
After visiting Mecca and Northern Africa in early 1964, his international scope broadened and he became more familiar with the global system of white supremacy. Drawing inspiration from his Garveyite upbringing and Nation of Islam teachings, he helped many Blacks find their paths.
“More than any other person, Malcolm X was responsible for the growing consciousness and new militancy of Black people,” Julius Lester said in 1968.
Toward the end of his life, Malcolm X was focusing more on human rights for his people, rather than civil rights. This theme was also picked up by several other progressive activists who followed.
After Malcolm’s death, the OAAU pretty much fizzled out, yet his ideologies later surfaced via the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, Revolutionary Action Movement (R.A.M.), and several other self-determining organizations.
The annual May 19 pilgrimage to Ferncliff Cemetery, where Malcolm and Betty are interred, is still on.
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