Malcolm X and the American Civil Rights Movement
With the recent screening of the Spike Lee movie dealing with Malcolm X, the life of this controversial figure was again an issue for debate within the American civil rights movement. The complexity of Malcolm X's life, and the transformations he underwent were made apparent in the film. For the most part, however, in the popular mind he remains a one-dimensional figure associated with the Black Muslim movement and intense anti-white sentiments. While this does not represent the final stance of Malcolm's life, it does represent one of the major ways in which he affected the American civil rights movement.
In order to properly consider the role of Malcolm X in the modern civil rights movement, it helps to understand his background. Unlike most of the modern leaders, and a number of earlier leaderism, Malcolm did not come through a middle-class path of education and religion. Although associated with the Black Muslim movement, his is not the route of a Martin Luther King or Jesse Jackson. The Black Muslim religion represented a break with those traditional routes and a community for men and women who sometimes had problematic early histories.
For Malcolm, that early history was filled with violence. Violence came in the form of white attacks against his father's siblings before Malcolm was born, then against his own family by the Klu Klux Klan and the Black Legion, and finally from within the family in the form of his father's abuse of his mother and most of the older children in the family. Malcolm himself indicated that his father seemed to favor him, possibly because of his light skin (Haley and Malcolm X, 1964, p.4).
One of the most interesting facts about Malcolm's early life, given the direction of his later religious and political efforts, is that his father was an organizer for Marcus Garvey and his back-to-Africa movement. That movement was certainly a for...