“They called me the angriest Negro in America.” — Malcolm X
Malcolm Little was born in 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. Malcolm was still very young when, after threats from the Ku Klux Klan, his family was forced to move to Lansing, Michigan. He was only six years old when his father was savagely murdered by a local white supremacy group. The same group had earlier torched his family’s home.
At school he proved a promising pupil with the talents and enthusiasm that exist in all young people. Unfortunately, as with numerous other young blacks even today, the system was unable or unwilling to develop those talents and aspirations. Instead they were to be crushed. He was told by his teacher that his dream to become a lawyer was “unrealistic for a Nigger.”
After school, Malcolm turned to a life of petty crime. He spent some time in state detention centers. In 1945 he was sentenced to 8-10 years in prison for burglary. There is little doubt that the severity of his sentence was provoked by the outrage of the jury after they were told that Malcolm had been assisted by his white mistress.
For the first 20 years of his life Malcolm experienced ongoing, relentless racism. These experiences alienated him, first from whites, and, eventually, from the whole American system. Later he began to realize that the “American system,” which failed to offer him any hope of a decent future, was the capitalist system. Socialist Alternative believes that the political consciousness of individuals is formed by their day-to-day experiences. It was Malcolm’s own conditions and accumulated experiences that eventually led him to the profound conclusion that, as he put it, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.”
During his first year in prison, Malcolm expressed his frustration and despair in the only way he knew. He deliberately alienated himself, not only from prison guards but also other inmates.
Eventually he used his time to educate himself. He began classes in English and Latin and read so voraciously, even after lights out, that he permanently impaired his vision.
It was in prison that Malcolm eventually converted to the Nation of Islam, a Black Muslim organization espousing separatism as the way forward for the black race. It was this radical religion, described to Malcolm as “the natural religion for the black man,” that seemed to offer a way out. Malcolm grasped it with his heart and soul.