The 1960’s

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Malcolm X was a driving force for the Nation of Islam, which grew from a minuscule religious movement of four hundred members to a sect of national prominence with forty temples, ten thousand members, a media system of radio stations and a newspaper, and a network of businesses owned and operated by African Americans. Founded in 1930, the Nation of Islam advanced a racial theology that held that blacks were Allah’s chosen race and that whites were the race of Satan. The group believed that whites had constructed a false history to justify their exploitation of blacks. It was the Nation of Islam’s expressed goal to awaken African Americans to their true heritage by freeing them of the values of white culture and directing them on a grand historical quest for freedom, justice, and equality. Unlike the gradualism and pacifism of King’s civil rights followers, the Nation of Islam promoted immediate black self-determination through an increasingly militant stance that totally excluded whites as potential allies. Malcolm became the group’s most productive recruiter in northern ghettoes because of his power as a public speaker, his leadership through his exemplary spartan personal life, and his escalating verbal outrage at overt acts of white racism. By 1963, Malcolm had emerged as the chief rival to King for leadership of the Civil Rights movement. In 1964, Malcolm formally left the Nation of Islam because of a rift with its leader, Muhammad, over strategic policy and personal codes of conduct for the Nation of Islam’s inner ruling circle. Following a celebrated pilgrimage to Mecca (the Holy Land of Islam), Malcolm recanted his universal indictment of whites as inherently evil racists and formed the Organization of Afro- American Unity (OAAU) to transform the struggle for civil rights into a universal struggle for human rights. He changed his name to el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz and, in 1965, crisscrossed the globe seeking international support for the OAAU. Drawing increased wrath from the Nation of Islam, Malcolm suspected an assassination plot had been ordered against him by Muhammad. On the afternoon of February 21, 1965, the thirty-nine-year-old Malcolm was speaking at an OAAU rally in a hotel ballroom in New York City when he was assassinated. Three fringe members of the Nation of Islam were later convicted of the murder, but no formal proof linking the killing to the Nation of Islam has been found.