Explain which of Malcolm X's characteristics helped to make him the leader that he was?

Expert Answers
jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Malcolm X writes about himself as a child, "I learned early that crying out in protest could accomplish things." As a youngster, he would make a fuss to his mother when he did not get something, and, as a result, she would relent. He applied the same concept to achieving African-American rights. Rather than passively accept the role of the African-American person as inferior in white society, Malcolm X agitated for the segregation of the races. In his passionate speeches, he urged his followers to separate from white society and to believe in their own superiority as African Americans. It was, in part, his courage in the face of the dominant white society and his willingness to act against the power structure that made him successful as a leader. He also writes in his autobiography, "I've never been one for inaction. Everything I've ever felt strongly about, I've done something about." He was a fiery leader who not only spoke about his beliefs but was also compelled to act on them. 

He was also clearly a very bright man. Though he received very little formal education and was dissuaded from becoming a lawyer by a white teacher, he went on to educate himself in prison and after he was released from prison. He spoke and wrote eloquently, and he read widely. These qualities propelled him to a position of authority within the Nation of Islam and, after he had left the Nation of Islam, among African Americans as a whole.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It was his narrative that made Malcolm X so appealing to so many African- Americans.   Contrary to the African- American leader who went to a good school, hailed from a good family, and experienced financial security and well- being on both emotional and physical levels, Malcolm X's narrative appealed to those who were dispossessed and alienated from America.  Malcolm's narrative of the father killed early on, the mother institutionalized, the family broken up, and enduring racism on the most fundamental of levels appealed to many other African- Americans.  His story of being enticed by the expectations that White society had for Black society and then suffering greatly for it also helped to appeal to African- Americans, who themselves suffered the same arc of narrative development.

It is in this where Malcolm X finds his greatest relevance and his greatest audience appeal.  Malcolm X becomes embraced by those who need someone to embrace.  His popularity and appeal did not exist with upper class or well- to- do African- Americans.  Rather, the people who flocked to his rallies lived in Harlem or Roxbury or Englewood.  They found themselves able to understand the story he told about his own life because it was a story they were living in theirs.  To this end, Malcolm X becomes such a great and inspiring leader because his narrative parallels those who are listening to him, causing an easy embrace and belief to be established.

crunchtime | Student

Malcolm X appealed to a growing number of Blacks who believed that a peaceful means to equality were basically a pipe dream. It is important to realize that World War II opened up the eyes of Blacks to the possibilities they could have with equality, but those ideas were quickly squashed by blatant and legalized racism.

Malcolm X was well read, articulate, a powerful orator, and also a rare different voice for young Blacks. Although Dr. Martin Luther King was young as well, some Blacks believed that the Christian approach to equality might not work or was too structured around Anglo-centered cultures and idealisms: "There is nothing in our book, the Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That’s a good religion."
"Message to the Grass Roots," speech, Nov. 1963, Detroit (published in Malcolm X Speaks, ch. 1, 1965). Source: http://www.africawithin.com/malcolmx/quotes.htm


Malcolm X, for much of his life, did not believe in compromise, again due to his life experiences: "The day that the black man takes an uncompromising step and realizes that he's within his rights, when his own freedom is being jeopardized, to use any means necessary to bring about his freedom or put a halt to that injustice, I don't think he'll be by himself."

Other blacks, especially in heavily racist areas, could readily identify.

Read the study guide:
The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question