Malcolm X


Join Active Minds for a review of the life and legacy of this controversial civil rights leader.  To his admirers Malcolm X was a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks, but his detractors accused him of preaching racism and violence. We will examine how his efforts impacted history and how his ideas continue to influence our society today.

Key Lecture Points

  • Malcolm X was one of the most influential and controversial black Americans of the 20th century.  His advocacy of black pride and Black Nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s raised the self-esteem of black Americans and reconnected them with their African heritage.  He preached race separation instead of racial integration, putting him at odds with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the mainstream Civil Rights movement.  King “looked forward to the time when blacks and whites would sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”  Malcolm X was interested “first in African-Americans gaining control of their lives.”  They also differed on the use of violence to achieve their goals.
  • Malcolm X’s life was a series of transformations, from Malcolm Little, the child exposed to Black Legion racism, poverty and the black nationalist creed of Marcus Garvey; to Detroit Red, the numbers-running hustler; to Satan, the convicted felon; to Malcolm X, the charismatic leader of the Nation of Islam; to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, the Sunni Muslim with a newly softened attitude to mainstream Civil Rights activism.
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, published after his assassination, has kept Malcolm’s story alive.  It became a best seller and is considered one of the most influential non-fiction books of the 20th century.  Many people have been inspired by Malcolm’s personal story—a man transformed from a self-destructive youth to an educated leader who influenced thousands of African Americans.
  • Malcolm X’s legacy is that he was an electrifying icon for the African American freedom movement, instilling in black Americans pride, solidarity and dignity.

Exploration Questions

  • What factors in Malcolm X’s life led him to become a Black Nationalist and a leader in the struggle for African American freedom?
  • What are the similarities and the differences between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X?
  • What is the legacy of Malcolm X?

Reflective Question

  • Do you think Malcolm X was a great leader?  Why? Why Not?
  • What do you remember most about Malcolm X and the Civil Rights Movement?
  • Why do you think we continue to be so interested in Malcolm X’s story?

More to Explore

  • Photos, quotes, videos of Malcolm X Click here
  • Readings and digital media about Malcolm X Click here

Books for Further Reading

  • Malcolm X.  The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  Ballentine Books, 1987. 496 pages.  Malcolm’s story in his own words has become a classic of American literature.
    Click here to order
  • Marable, Manning.  Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.  Penguin Books, 2011 pages. 608 pages.  Marable adds new information to the story of Malcolm X, adding new insights into race and class in America.
    Click here to order