Malcolm X Goals

What was the purpose of Malcolm X's fight for black people's rights?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The purpose of the work done by Malcolm X was to improve the lives of African Americans. His strategies differed from those of other civil rights leaders, but his purpose and underlying message was the same. African Americans should claim power over their own identity and define that identity positively, historically and publicly.

Taken broadly, this is the aim of the entire civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X sought to secure access to employment, to protections within the legal system, and to a positive sense of self/identity for African Americans. Unlike King, Malcolm X did not always see the potential for achieving these aims through integration. 

"He opposed the mainstream civil rights movement, publicly calling for black separatism and rejecting nonviolence and integration as effective means of combatting racism" (eNotes).

For Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, the path to progress and equality was defined by self-definition and self-reliance for African Americans. This meant living (talking, shopping, going to church, etc.) in a context of racial segregation. 

Dignity and an increased general welfare for African Americans would be attained through this strategy of separatism and self-reliance. While Malcolm X remained always a dedicated social activist, he did develop different views as to how people ought to relate to one another in order to achieve social progress. 

"Since I learned the truth in Mecca, my dearest friends have come to include all kinds—some Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and even atheists! I have friends who are called capitalists, Socialists, and Communists! Some of my friends are moderates, conservatives, extremists—some are even Uncle Toms! My friends today are black, brown, red, yellow, and white!"

The purpose of his work was always to improve the lives of African Americans (and people of the African diaspora worldwide). Civil rights, for Malcolm X, perhaps had a greater emphasis on rights at times than on civility if we characterize his views as militant, which they sometimes were. Yet, Malcolm X was not militant in his actions -- not literally.

Advocating active resistance to oppression, Malcolm X nonetheless presented himself not as a soldier in arms but as an unyielding person of convictions, self-esteem and intelligence who spoke out. He made speeches and lived according to his beliefs. And he did so in a way that inspired many others to do likewise and to see themselves as the arbiters of their own value as human beings.  

sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Malcolm X fought for the rights of black people to enable them to free themselves from what he considered to be the yoke of white identity they could not escape if they lived in a dominant white culture.  His autobiography tells the story of why Malcolm Little changed his name to Malcolm X. He did this  as a statement of protest to the white society that took away his real name through slavery years ago. Malcolm believed in separatism, that black people need to assert their identity as black and can only do this by denouncing white culture. His story recounts his life as the son of a preacher who turned to drugs and crime, and eventually when to jail where he was introduced to the Nation of Islam. He hoped that by telling his story (albeit through interviews by another person) he would persuade others to believe in his views.  In other words, the autobiography is didactic in intent and proselytizes his ideas about the Nation of Islam and black identity.  His ideas are very different from those of Dr. Martin Luther King, and they were and remain very controversial.

Read the study guide:
The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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