(The UNITED STATES and EQUAL RIGHTS, 1947-65 – continued)

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Malcolm X

Martin Luther King Jr. was not so popular among African-Americans in his day as he would be in the decades following his assassination. Some blacks did not care to seek favor from whites and were uninterested in being liked by whites, and they had no more desire to mix with whites than many whites had to mix with blacks. Among those who questioned King's movement was Malcolm X. In 1963, Malcolm X described King as a white man in his thinking, and he described black integrationists as "bourgeois." Malcolm was then a member of the Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad. All Christians, said Malcolm, were white in their thinking.  Christianity, he said, was a white religion. And "white people," he told the author Alex Haley, "are born devils by nature."  Malcolm claimed that the only leader who had the qualifications necessary to unite all elements of black people in America was the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. With every point that Malcolm X made he referred to the "Honorable Elijah Muhammad."

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in 1964

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, March 26, 1964

Pronouncements by Malcolm X were sensational and received a lot of attention in the press. Malcolm became a speaker in great demand. His sassing whites and his call for freedom "by any means necessary" appealed to many African-Americans. King, in turn, denounced "extremist leaders who preach revolution" but were "unwilling to lead what would certainly end in bloody, chaotic and total defeat." note81

Then Malcolm journeyed abroad. He went on his pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca.  In Mecca he saw all races coming together in praise of Allah. The experience moved Malcolm toward a more standard form of Islam, and in 1964, after returning to the United States, he spoke of all races being the creation of God and all races being able to live together in peace as equals. He said he had forgotten the bad things that other black leaders had said about him, and he said that he prayed that they also forgot "the many bad things I've said about them."

Malcolm X had been unhappy with Elijah Muhammad's opposition to members of the Nation of Islam participating in politics and protests. And Malcolm left Elijah Muhammad's organization, also known as the Black Muslims, and he took a number of Black Muslims with him. They became a part of Malcolm's organization.

Malcolm had became to the Nation of Islam what Trotsky had been to Stalin. Malcolm received numerous death threats at his office and his home. He announced that he was a marked man. He was aware that he was being followed by Black Muslims, and he was convinced that the Black Muslims intended to kill him. Instead of retreating, Malcolm went public with an attack on Elijah Muhammad for sexual dalliances and for having fathered eight illegitimate children. One of the Nation of Islam's rising leading activists, Louis Farrakhan, is reported to have said that Malcolm was "worthy of death."  Malcolm's group kept members of the Nation of Islam at bay with guns. Then on February 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, a group of black men gunned down Malcolm.  Members of the Nation of Islam were tried and convicted of Malcolm's murder, but they claimed innocence. And some blacks were to believe that Malcolm's death was a conspiracy that included the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


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