May 19 is a date tied to the birth of the black liberation movement, a date credited to the advancements and achievements accomplished within the black and Muslim community and has relations to the Civil Rights Movement. May 19 is the birthday of Malcolm X. Malcolm X’s actions still resonate, half a decade after his passing, with many today, including me. His sayings and his words are still applicable today, and even if they weren’t, his character, mindset and goals are enough to entice growth in a person and act as a framework for anyone who wishes to become braver and more dedicated towards a positive change, as Malcolm was. May 19, 2018, would have been his 93rd birthday. However, this date is not recognized by the U.S. government. Malcolm X is, and always will be, a prominent figure in the African-American community and the Muslim American community. So why isn’t his legacy celebrated? If his birth isn’t celebrated, there should be another day set aside to commemorate such a person. Yet there isn’t. The birth of someone so monumental to a positive, more inclusive change the U.S. underwent should irrefutable always be recognized and honored and the U.S. government needs to realize this.
One possible factor is the great misconception of him by the general American public. Malcolm X is widely known as the “evil Martin Luther King [Jr.]” through the words of my brother. This malicious perception of him probably comes from his rejection of the peaceful method enacted by the civil rights movement Martin Luther King Jr. lead. While Malcolm X did advocate and condone violence against oppressors of any kind, he only encouraged it as a form of retaliation.
“We will be non-violent with those who are non-violent with us. But if a four-legged dog attacks me for demanding rights that I’m deserved because I’m a human being, I’m going to shoot that dog. And then I’m going to shoot the dog’s owner who allowed it to attack me. I don’t call it violence when it’s in self-defense. I call it intelligence.” — Malcolm X
However, there have been countless other American leaders who condoned violence and still receive praise from the mass public. What makes Malcolm any different? Because he is rooting for the success of black people? Because he is a minority and minorities are typically only praised when they engage in activism that doesn’t necessarily critique white people or encourage nonviolence? Either way, sometimes, the violence that is so often associated with Malcolm X is enough for people who consider themselves pacifists to not pay as much attention to Malcolm, which is perfectly understandable.
After a short discussion with my brother, it was evident that he had no idea who Malcolm X was, asides from him being “that bad guy.” Maybe the stigma surrounding Malcolm X would extinguish if more people were aware of all of his achievements that contributed to the black and Muslim community as a whole. So, here are some of the actions Malcolm X did that made his legacy so great:
- Malcolm X became the minister of the Nation of Islam’s Boston mosque, as well as the Philadelphia and New York mosque.
- Founded the newspaper Muhammad Speaks in 1957. The publication is considered one of the most widely-read newspapers that was produced by an African-American. The paper is still alive today, with the name The Final Call.
- 1960 was the year in which Malcolm X partook in numerous debates and television programs, all in which he advocated his cause. He also spoke at multiple universities such as Harvard, Howard and Columbia.
- The Unity Rally held in Harlem is cited as one of the biggest civil rights event in the U.S. and Malcolm X led it in 1963.
- 1964 boxer Cassius Clay reverts to Islam and changes his name to Muhammad Ali after Malcolm befriends and acts as a mentor to him.
- Malcolm X forms the Muslim Mosque, Inc. in 1964 after his departure from the Nation of Islam. He also established the Organizations of Afro-American Unity.
Not to compare the two, but Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on January 15 is, in fact, a federal holiday. This is in recognition of the work King has done for America. I see no reason for that same recognition to be applied to Malcolm X, as they both have achieved great things. While the U.S. government may turn a blind eye to his achievements, in order to combat the lack of support, activists celebrate his life and the legacy Malcolm X left behind. People gather in New York on this day, which they have deemed ‘Malcolm X Day.’ These activists go through multiple ceremonies at his grave and encourage others to take action within their communities as well. This celebration of life began in 1965, the very same year he died.
Malcolm X remains an essential figure in the advocation for black liberation and his life’s work showcases all he has done in support of the augmentation and advancement of black lives everywhere. He planted the seeds of revolution in the hearts of African-Americans and for that, his birth should be celebrated. Marking his birthday a federal holiday would be a first step towards celebrating his legacy and changing the somewhat skewed perceptions people have of him.
“Malcolm wasn’t afraid of change. God knows he went through many. He was myriad people — dislocated child, psychologically abused student, street-hustler, pimp, dope-dealer, addict, numbers-runner, self-hater, thief, convict, Nation of Islam minister, husband, father, orthodox Muslim, Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, Satan, Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. He grew with every iteration. What a blessing he was.” — Ricky L. Jones, opinion contributor at Courier Journal
Photo: Ed Ford/World Telegram/Library of Congress