Malcolm X was one of the most influential black American leaders of the 1950’s and
1960’s. At first he was a criminal but then changed himself into an important defender of the
rights of blacks. Growing up as a boy his father was a follower of Marcus Garvey, a black leader
who worked to create close political and economic ties to Africa. In 1931, Malcolm’s father died
after being run over by a car. Malcolm believed white racists took his fathers life. When
Malcolm was 12 years old, his mother was admitted to a mental hospital. After these two
incidents, Malcolm spent the rest of his childhood in foster homes.
In 1941, Malcolm moved to Boston where he became involved in criminal activities. In
1946, he was arrested for burglary and sent to prison. In prison, he joined the Nation of Islam,
also called the Black Muslims. Malcolm was then taught that that white people were devils.
After Malcolm got out of prison, he changed his last name to “X”. The letter stood for
the unknown African name of Malcolm’s slave ancestors. Malcolm X quickly became the Nation
of Islam’s most effective minister. A great speaker, Malcolm urged blacks to live separately from
whites and to win their freedom “by any means necessary.” But he became dissatisfied with the
Nation of Islam, in part because the group avoided political activity. In 1964, Malcolm X broke
with the Nation of Islam. Soon afterward, he traveled to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi
Arabia. He met Muslims of many ethnic backgrounds and rejected the view that all white people
are devils. Malcolm X adopted the Muslim name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabbazz. After returning to
the United States, he formed his own group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Malcolm
X rejected nonviolence as a principle, but he sought cooperation with Martin Luther King, Jr.,
and other civil rights activists who favored militant nonviolent protests. But by this time, some
Black Muslims had condemned Malcolm X as a hypocrite because of his criticisms of the
group’s leader, Elijah Muhammad. On Feb. 21, 1965, Malcolm X was shot while giving a speech
in New York City. Three members of the Nation of Islam were convicted of the crime.
The story of Malcolm X ties into Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. Guitar and
Milkman are together and Milkmans asks Guitar why he is so secretive. He wanted to know
why he did not know anything about his good friend. Guitar decides to tell Milkman about his
secret life. He explains that he is in a group called the Seven Days. They go around killing
white people to keep the ratio the same between whites and blacks. Then Milkman argues with
Guitar saying its wrong to kill innocent people. The argument finally gets to the point where
Milkman says to Guitar, You sound like that red-headed Negro X. Why dont your join him
and call yourself Guitar X. Guitar replies that names do not matter but his status as a slave does.