As a child, he experienced the horrors of racism growing up in Lansing, Mich., where his father, Earl Little, was lynched when Malcolm was six years old. When Malcolm told one of his teachers that he wanted to be a lawyer, she discouraged him from pursuing this career because he was Black.
When he went to prison in the early 1950s for petty crimes, Malcolm’s political outlook blossomed as he met and joined the Nation of Islam, the largest mass Black organization in the U.S.
As his political reputation as a nationalist leader grew while imprisoned, Malcolm drew the attention and ire of the FBI’s counterintelligence program, known as Cointelpro. This repressive program — created by then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and sanctioned by every branch of the U.S. government — targeted any mass movements inside the U.S. that sought self-determination and national liberation from racist repression. The FBI’s tactics included demonizing through disinformation, frame-ups leading to incarceration and killings of political leaders of movements led by the oppressed.
Malcolm X’s advocacy for the right to armed self-defense against state repression influenced mass organizations such as the Black Panther Party, the Deacons for Self-Defense, the Young Lords, the American Indian Movement and many others. These groups eventually were targeted by Cointelpro, along with countless heroic leaders like Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Assata Shakur, Fred Hampton, Safiya Bukhari, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier.
Malcolm X’s political consciousness broadened from revolutionary Black Nationalism at home to anti-capitalist internationalism based on his travels abroad, especially to Africa, Asia and the Middle East. He once stated, “The same man that was colonizing our people in Kenya was colonizing our people in Congo. The same one in the Congo was colonizing our people in South Africa, and in Southern Rhodesia, and in Burma and in India, and in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan. They realized all over the world where the dark man was being oppressed, he was being oppressed by the white man; where the dark man was being exploited, he was being exploited by the white man.” (Malcolm X Speaks, 1965)
A week before his assassination, he stated, “It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of Black against White, or as a purely American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.”
After leaving the NOI, Malcolm X initiated the short-lived Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1964 to help promote Pan-Africanism and broaden solidarity between Black people at home and globally. He was assassinated while giving a speech at the Audubon Ballroom auditorium on Feb. 21, 1965. It is widely known that the U.S. government was behind the assassination.
As the late Panther leader Fred Hampton — who was assassinated by Chicago police on Dec. 4, 1969 — once stated, “You can kill a revolutionary but you can’t kill the revolution.” These prophetic words certainly apply to Malcolm X, whose inspiring words and legacy will live on.