MALCOLM X

The civil rights movement’s first phase had produced a clear set of objectives, far-reaching accomplishments, and a series of coherent if sometimes competitive organizations. The second witnessed political fragmentation and few significant victories. Even during the heyday of the integration struggle, the fiery orator Malcolm X had insisted that blacks must control the political and economic resources of their communities and rely on their own efforts rather than working with whites. Having committed a string of crimes as a youth, Malcolm Little was converted in jail to the teachings of the Nation of Islam, or Black Muslims, who preached a message of white evil and black self-discipline. Malcolm dropped his “slave surname” in favor of “X,” symbolizing blacks’ separation from their African ancestry. On his release from prison he became a spokesman for the Muslims and a sharp critic of the ideas of integration and nonviolence, and of King’s practice of appealing to American values. “I don’t see any American dream,” he proclaimed. “I see an American nightmare.”

On a 1964 trip to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Islam’s spiritual home, Malcolm X witnessed harmony among Muslims of all races. He now began to speak of the possibility of interracial cooperation for radical change in the United States. But when members of the Nation of Islam assassinated him in February 1965 after he had formed his own Organization of Afro-American Unity, Malcolm X left neither a consistent ideology nor a coherent movement. Most whites considered him an apostle of racial violence. However, his call for blacks to rely on their own resources struck a chord among the urban poor and younger civil rights activists. His Autobiography, published in 1966, became a great bestseller. Today, streets, parks, and schools are named after him.

Female students on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., sport the Afro, a hairstyle representative of the “black is beautiful” campaign of the 1960s.

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