Who do you think were the major influences in Malcolm X's life that led him to become the leader he was?

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In his book the Autobiography of Malcolm X , Malcolm talks about a number of major influences that shaped his life, but perhaps his first and most lasting influence was his older half-sister, Ella Collins. Malcolm X calls her "the first really proud black woman [he] had ever seen in...

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In his book the Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm talks about a number of major influences that shaped his life, but perhaps his first and most lasting influence was his older half-sister, Ella Collins. Malcolm X calls her "the first really proud black woman [he] had ever seen in [his] life."

Ella took the 15-year-old Malcolm into her Boston home after Malcolm's mother was committed to a mental institute, found him a job, and generally gave him the sense of purpose he had previously lacked. Though Malcolm would later get into trouble, Ella never left his side. Upon his release from Charleston State Prison, she insisted that he move to Detroit where he could start anew.

Ella even paid for the trip to Mecca that changed his philosophy and some would say softened his stance on what he called "America's racist society":

. . . the white man is not inherently evil, but America's racist society influences him to act evilly. The society has produced and nourishes a psychology which brings out the lowest, most base part of human beings.

While he saves some of his most extravagant praise for the men in his life, Malcolm X readily admits:

[Ella] played a very significant role in my life. No other woman ever was strong enough to point me in directions.

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The teachings of the Prophet Muhammad became a major influence on Malcolm X's life. Particularly after his pilgrimage to Mecca in April 1964, which he followed with a trip around the world, including visits to Ghana and to Richard Wright's daughter, Julia, in Paris.

After Malcolm X's suspension from the Nation of Islam, in which Elijah Muhammad forbade him from public speaking after Malcolm responded to President Kennedy's death as "chickens coming home to roost," Malcolm used this as an opportunity to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and to develop a purer Muslim faith. Another reason for his estrangement from the NOI was his discovery of Elijah Muhammad's affairs with numerous young women within the Nation of Islam, encounters that often resulted in children. Malcolm discovered that there was a contradiction between what the Honorable Elijah Muhammad preached to his disciples and what he practiced privately. Malcolm also learned that his leader and mentor frequently badmouthed him behind his back, out of envy.

At Mecca, Malcolm recalled drinking from the same cup as Muslims whose skin was white, who had blond hair and blue eyes—that is, they looked like the "devils" that both American racism and the Nation of Islam taught him to hate. He learns that the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, which were corrupted by the Nation of Islam, encourage Muslims to regard all fellow men as brothers. Islam, Malcolm realizes, is a religion of peace.

When Malcolm returns to the U.S. to establish his own organization, the Organization for Afro-American Unity (OAAU), he uses the influence of his "purer" faith, based more on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, to start an organization that would later be willing to use the help of white allies.

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I think that when assessing the role of who inspired Malcolm X to become the leader he was, I believe that one has to immediately gravitate towards the role of the Honorable Elijah Muhammed.  His correspondence and continued sense of guidance to the young Malcolm X helped him understand the full implications of leadership and how to assume such a role in the Nation of Islam.  The correspondence between Malcolm in prison and then when he emerged from it helped to give a sense of purpose and meaning in Malcolm's life and helped to embrace the leadership positions that would help define his professional life and the ideas to which he would cling until the end of his life.  While there was a break between both men, the role that Elijah Muhammed had on Malcolm X in terms of formulating his political, social, and spiritual dimensions was a profound one.  It is this particular element that helped to translate into a leadership role that would end up becoming a staunch one against racism and social, political, and economic discrimination.  In this, I think that Elijah Muhammed's role was a big one, and one that helped to define Malcolm X's leadership stances.

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