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By Ballot Or By Bullet | The Life of Malcolm X

Sep 2, 2022
Politics
-
28
minutes

He was the American civil rights leader who was a prominent spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Yet he grew too powerful and was killed by the same organisation he had represented.

In this episode, we look at the amazing life, impact and legacy of Malcolm X.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a man you may have heard of before - Malcolm X.

[00:00:29] He was one of the most influential African-American civil rights leaders of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

[00:00:36] An inspiration to some, a violent thug to others, for many Malcolm X is still the most important symbol of black power, African-American identity, liberation, and anti-racism. 

[00:00:50] His legacy lives on in fights against prejudice, oppression, and colonialism not just in the United States, but across the world.

[00:00:58] So, let’s get right into it and talk about the life and legacy of Malcolm X.

[00:01:05] It was a crisp February afternoon in 1965. 

[00:01:10] Malcolm X was in Manhattan to address an Organization of African-American Unity meeting.

[00:01:17] As he was about to begin his speech, there was an altercation in the crowd.

[00:01:23] As bodyguards tried to remove a man from the hall, there was a moment of confusion, and a pause.

[00:01:29] Then, suddenly, a man appeared from the crowd with a sawed-off shotgun.

[00:01:36] He walked slowly towards Malcolm and with a thunderous boom, shot him in the chest.

[00:01:43] The shot ripped through Malcolm X’s body and sent him flying backwards.

[00:01:49] The crowd panicked.

[00:01:51] More men emerged from the crowd firing semi-automatic weapons towards Malcolm X.

[00:01:57] The hall was filled with screams and shouts, and people dropped to the floor, trampling over one another.

[00:02:04] Chairs were overturned as people scrambled for the exits.

[00:02:09] In the front row, Malcolm X’s four daughters and his pregnant wife cowered in fear.

[00:02:16] But it was too late.

[00:02:18] Shortly after arriving at the hospital, at the age of 39, Malcolm X was pronounced dead.

[00:02:27] But who killed Malcolm X?

[00:02:29] Why did they want him dead, and why had our protagonist himself predicted that this would happen?

[00:02:36] Before we get into all of that, we should talk about his life, and how he ended up speaking at that meeting in the first place.

[00:02:44] Our first stop will be his life before he became Malcolm X.

[00:02:49] Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, on the 19th of May, 1925, to Earl and Louise Little.

[00:03:00] Earl, his father, was an outspoken Baptist preacher, and along with his mother was involved in black nationalist groups.

[00:03:09] Both were admirers of Pan-African leader Marcus Garvey, who advocated separating the races and creating black-only states.

[00:03:20] The Littles gave their many children a deep sense of black pride at a time when simply being black could, and often did, make life very difficult.

[00:03:33] After the Ku Klux Klan harassed and threatened Earl about his pro-black nationalist work and sermons, he moved the family briefly to Milwaukee for a couple of years and then to Lansing, Michigan, in order to escape them.

[00:03:50] But the harassment continued in Lansing, and after buying a house in a white neighbourhood, Earl Little was taken to court and evicted.

[00:04:00] But before they could even leave the property, the house was burnt down with the whole family inside.

[00:04:07] Fortunately, they escaped without any injuries but Malcolm X’s father suspected, and it has long been accepted by historians, that a white supremacist offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan called the Black Legion were responsible.

[00:04:24] The Little family’s escape to Michigan hadn’t quite worked as planned - white supremacists seemed to follow them wherever they went.

[00:04:33] Then, in 1931, when Malcolm was six years old, his father, Earl Little was killed in suspicious circumstances in a streetcar accident, his body found strewn on the street beside the tracks.

[00:04:49] Louise, and later Malcolm, believed Earl had been murdered by the Black Legion, and rumours spread around town that his death had not been an accident, like the authorities quickly declared that it was, but that he had been killed by white supremacists.

[00:05:08] The life insurance company, on the other hand, didn’t accept that anyone had killed Earl Little. They said he had killed himself, he had committed suicide, and as a consequence they refused to pay out to Earl Little’s wife and family. As if this wasn’t enough bad luck, Louise, Earl’s wife, suffered a breakdown and was admitted to hospital.

[00:05:33] The Little children were split up and put into foster care.

[00:05:37] After initially doing well in school, Malcolm Little became disillusioned with education when a white teacher ridiculed his dreams of becoming a lawyer and told him that it “was no aspiration” for a black boy. 

[00:05:53] Instead, he dropped out and moved to Boston, where he lived with his half-sister. 

[00:06:00] After a string of uninspiring jobs he became a petty criminal, and in 1943 he moved to Harlem, in New York City, where he worked on the railroad and continued various criminal activities on the side. 

[00:06:16] In order to avoid military service during World War War Two, he pretended to be mentally ill and told the nurse assessing him that the reason he wanted to join the army was that so he could, quote, “steal us some guns and kill crackers.” - crackers, by the way, doesn't mean biscuits, it's a derogatory term towards white people.

[00:06:40] Later on, in his autobiography, Malcolm X would write that at that time of his life, "the only three things in the world” that scared him were "jail, a job, and the Army." 

[00:06:53] His trick worked, however, and he was disqualified from military service on October 25th, 1943.

[00:07:01] When he returned to Boston in 1945 he began doing burglaries in wealthy neighbourhoods and, in 1946, he was arrested while trying to collect a stolen watch he had taken to be repaired.

[00:07:15] As a result, he was convicted of burglary and theft and sentenced to ten years in prison.

[00:07:23] And it would be in prison that Malcolm Little entered a period of intense self-reflection and education.

[00:07:32] He became a big reader and developed a thirst for knowledge and meaning in his life.

[00:07:38] Around this time, in the late-1940’s and early-1950’s, a religious movement known as the Nation of Islam was gaining popularity in the African-American community. 

[00:07:50] The Nation of Islam preached black self-reliance; that black people were the original and superior race; and that Christianity was a white man’s religion forced onto black people by their white slave masters. 

[00:08:06] The group wanted the return of African-Amerians to Africa, where they could live freely from white domination, and the group believed the demise of the entire white race was approaching.

[00:08:20] Nation of Islam ideas were not only popular in US prisons, but with the Little family too.

[00:08:28] His brother Reginald, himself a recent convert, encouraged Malcolm to convert to the Nation of Islam, and he began reading the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the group’s leader.

[00:08:41] Malcolm spent hours in the prison library, and improved his public speaking in prison debates.

[00:08:48] In 1948 he gave up smoking and eating pork, in keeping with Nation of Islam teachings, and wrote to its leader Elijah Muhammad.

[00:08:59] Muhammad encouraged him to renounce his past and convert.

[00:09:05] Shortly after Malcolm duly converted and he became a member of the Nation of Islam.

[00:09:11] When he left prison in 1952, Malcolm Little dropped his last name and adopted ‘X’ - as was customary for many members of the Nation of Islam - the ‘X’ symbolised what he believed was his true ancestral surname lost to slavery.

[00:09:31] He finally met Elijah Muhammad in person that same year, and took on a leading role in spreading the Nation of Islam’s teachings across the country.

[00:09:41] He organised and established temples in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and in towns and cities across the south, spreading the world of Elijah Muhammad and recruiting members.

[00:09:55] Every month hundreds more African-Americans were joining the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X, as he was now known, was largely credited with the group’s rise in membership during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

[00:10:10] He would even go on to recruit the famous heavyweight world champion boxer, Cassius Clay, who would go on to change his name to, well, you may have guessed it if you didn’t know it already, Muhammad Ali.

[00:10:23] Now, there is some dispute among historians as to the exact numbers of recruits during that period, but whatever the figures, Malcolm X began to earn himself a reputation as a reliable recruiter and a powerful public speaker noted for his physical presence.

[00:10:43] At 6’3, over 1 metre 90, with a powerfully built frame, Malcolm X’s public speeches captivated audiences and inspired African-Americans to fight back against racial oppression.

[00:10:58] Here’s a short clip of him speaking:

[00:11:01] We declare our right on this Earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary. 

[00:11:22] Powerful stuff, right?

[00:11:25] Although Malcom X was well known in Nation of Islam circles by now, he had not yet made his mark on the wider American public, nor indeed the authorities.

[00:11:36] He soon became a public figure, however, in 1957, when a Nation of Islam member was viciously beaten by police officers in New York.

[00:11:47] The man, Hinton Johnson, stumbled across the officers beating another African-American man in the street. 

[00:11:55] Sadly, this was not such an uncommon occurrence at the time.

[00:12:01] After trying to intervene, Johnson and his friends were then themselves beaten; with Johnson so badly beaten that he had a brain haemorrhage.

[00:12:12] All four of the men, the men who were trying to help stop the original beating, were arrested.

[00:12:19] When he heard about what had happened, Malcolm X gathered a small group of Nation of Islam followers and went down to the 28th Precinct headquarters police station in Harlem, demanding to see Johnson. 

[00:12:33] The crowd grew to 500 and the police eventually allowed Malcolm X to speak with Johnson, who said he needed to be taken to hospital right away.

[00:12:44] When Johnson returned from the hospital, the crowd had grown to four thousand and the situation became tense as Malcolm X and other Nation of Islam members tried to negotiate Johnson and the other men’s bail.

[00:12:59] Police feared a riot could start.

[00:13:02] Johnson’s bail was denied until the next day. After coming to an agreement with the police, Malcolm X left the station and signalled with his hand that the crowd should disperse, that everyone should just go home. 

[00:13:17] And with that one gesture, the angry mob did indeed disperse, everyone went away.

[00:13:25] The man’s control over the crowd did not go unnoticed by the authorities.

[00:13:31] In the New York Amsterdam News, one police officer was quoted as saying of Malcolm X’s hold over the crowd that "No one man should have that much power.”

[00:13:42] Coverage of the incident in the press not only brought Malcolm X to the attention of the public, but to the police and the FBI.

[00:13:51] Shortly after the Hinton Johnson incident the New York City Police Department started keeping Malcolm X under surveillance, and the FBI, which reportedly had a file open on him since as early 1953, now focused on him as a "key figure" in the Nation of Islam movement.

[00:14:12] It was at around this time that he began to take some of his first international trips, including visits to Egypt, Ghana, Sudan, Nigeria, Syria and Iran.

[00:14:25] In Egypt, he even met with the president, President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

[00:14:30] And in 1960, he met with Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. 

[00:14:35] Malcolm X was becoming a big deal. Or, as he put it in his autobiography, "it seems that everywhere I went telephones were ringing."

[00:14:48] And in 1961, Elijah Muhammad made it official: making him the ‘national representative’ of the Nation of Islam - the second most senior position in the organisation.

[00:15:00] He began lecturing on university campuses and taking part in debates on television and radio, but his rising popularity did not please everyone.

[00:15:12] As is often the case in any organisation, his popularity did not always please the boss.

[00:15:19] In Malcolm X’s case, the boss was Elijah Muhammad, whose closest advisers feared that Malcolm X was becoming too influential and would become the next leader. 

[00:15:31] The rift between them would only get worse, and proved fatal for Malcolm X. 

[00:15:38] His increasing prominence wasn’t just upsetting rivals within the Nation of Islam, or frightening the authorities or those in the country’s white community.

[00:15:48] His brand of black nationalism fused with Islamic teaching was also at odds with the broader Christian civil rights movement in the United States at the time. 

[00:15:59] Led by Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights movement promoted nonviolent resistance to segregation, a multi-racial coalition, and promoted patience and respect on the road to equality.

[00:16:15] Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, however, didn’t buy any of that.

[00:16:21] Whereas King and other civil rights leaders wanted to end the racial segregation of society, Malcolm X wanted the opposite: he called for the complete separation of blacks and whites, and even proposed that African-Americans should return to Africa, just like his parents’ political hero, Marcus Garvey had done.

[00:16:43] Where King called for nonviolent protest, Malcolm X wanted his members to fight back and defend themselves. “The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent,” he said, “are black people."

[00:16:58] Malcolm X was publicly critical of King and the mainstream civil rights movement. King was, he said, ‘a chump’–a fool or an idiot–and he claimed that he and other mainstream civil rights leaders were ‘stooges’ of the white man. A stooge is a word for someone used by someone else.

[00:17:20] He would go on to call the famous 1963 March on Washington led by King, ‘the farce on Washington.’

[00:17:28] Marches like the 1963 one were, in his eyes, "run by whites.”

[00:17:34] And the media played on the difference between the two men.

[00:17:38] Much of the American media portrayed Malcolm X as a violent threat to American society.

[00:17:45] The New York Times described him as, quote: "an extraordinary and twisted man, turning many true gifts to evil purposes.”

[00:17:56] But at the time many African-Americans felt that Malcolm X’s brand of direct resistance was more appealing than King’s long-game of peaceful protest, and that his outspoken nature better voiced their concerns than the calm, respectful King.

[00:18:15] But behind the scenes, things were not as they seemed in the Nation of Islam.

[00:18:22] Tension was bubbling between different factions, and starting in the early-1960’s Malcolm X began to question the Nation of Islam and his place within it.

[00:18:34] A number of incidents caused him to doubt the organisation.

[00:18:38] First, in 1962, the Los Angeles Police Department beat Nation of Islam members outside a temple in south-central Los Angeles.

[00:18:49] After fighting between temple members and police spilled inside, LAPD reinforcements arrived and shot seven unarmed Muslims.

[00:19:00] The Temple’s secretary, Ronald Stokes, was shot dead as he raised his hand above his head in surrender.

[00:19:08] After an all-white jury decided that Stokes’ killing was a "justifiable homicide" and actually indicted several Nation of Islam members for assault, Malcolm X declared revenge.

[00:19:22] Speaking in front of two thousand people at Stokes’ funeral in Los Angeles, he called for a response.

[00:19:30] He wanted to encourage more hardline elements within the Nation of Islam, and he sought approval from Elijah Muhammad to get revenge on the police.

[00:19:41] But he was shocked when Muhammad refused, and many within the organisation pointed to this moment as the beginning of the end of their relationship.

[00:19:53] The second incident that tested his commitment to the Nation of Islam also involved Elijah Muhammad, but this time it was a much more personal matter.

[00:20:04] Later on that same year, rumours began to emerge that Elijah Muhammad was having affairs with several of his secretaries, and that he had even fathered illegitimate children.

[00:20:15] This was a direct contradiction of Nation of Islam teachings, and when Muhammad asked him to help cover-up the scandal, Malcolm X began to seriously question the legitimacy of the Nation of Islam.

[00:20:30] In 1963 a third incident confirmed the rift between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad.

[00:20:39] When president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, in November of that year, Malcolm X made unsympathetic comments about his death in the press. 

[00:20:51] JFK’s death, he said, was simply ‘chickens coming home to roost.’

[00:20:57] The phrase chickens coming home to roost, by the way, means when past mistakes or wrongdoings will eventually be the cause of present troubles, so Malcolm X implied that Kennedy deserved to be killed.

[00:21:11] The Nation of Islam’s official position was very different and Elijah Muhammad had sent the group’s condolences to the family and banned its ministers and members from commenting on the assassination. 

[00:21:26] When Malcolm X made his comments, Muhammad was furious and banned him from public speaking for three months.

[00:21:35] Disillusioned with both Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, in March 1964 Malcolm X left the organisation.

[00:21:43] The next month, he gave a speech in Detroit now known as ‘The Ballot or the Bullet’ speech that outlined his black nationalist ideology.

[00:21:53] A ballot is a voting system, and the bullet is, well, it’s the thing that you fire from a gun.

[00:22:01] In this speech, he advised African-Americans to vote for change but also that it might be necessary for them to take up arms, to fight.

[00:22:13] He also started his own organisation, Muslim Mosque Incorporated, a direct rival to the Nation of Islam. 

[00:22:21] In response the Nation of Islam demanded that he surrender all of his property, including his house in Queens.

[00:22:30] The house was eventually burned to the ground, many people believed, by Nation of Islam members.

[00:22:37] Once again, Malcolm X’s family home had been destroyed. When he was a boy in Michigan, by white nationalists; now as an adult in New York, by black nationalists.

[00:22:50] Feeling threatened and needing inspiration, he went abroad.

[00:22:54] He made another tour of Africa, speaking at universities and meeting with heads of state, and stopped to take part in debates in Paris and London.

[00:23:05] When he was in Oxford to speak in a debate in December of 1964, Malcolm X predicted that he would soon be killed by the Nation of Islam.

[00:23:15] He also made a pilgrimage to the holy site of Mecca, and when he saw Muslims of "all colours, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans" making the pilgrimage together, he started to believe that Islam could be a way in which racism could be overcome.

[00:23:33] Perhaps complete segregation wasn’t the answer after all.

[00:23:38] The experience had such a transformative effect on him that he converted to Sunni Islam and took a new name: el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.

[00:23:49] When he returned to the United States, he publicly renounced the teachings of the Nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammad.

[00:23:57] He founded the Organization for Afro-American Unity, and was repeatedly threatened by Nation of Islam members: the FBI intercepted a phone call in which his wife was told that her husband was, quote, "as good as dead.”

[00:24:14] And the threats continued throughout the rest of 1964.

[00:24:18] Elijah Muhammad said publically that, quote, "hypocrites like Malcolm should have their heads cut off,” and an edition of the widely read magazine Muhammad Speaks featured a cartoon with Malcolm’s severed head.

[00:24:33] In early 1965 Malcolm X returned to England to address the first meeting of the Council of African Organizations in London.

[00:24:42] A few weeks after his return to the United States, on the 21st of February, 1965, he was assassinated in New York.

[00:24:51] In the aftermath of his murder, rumours spread about who had killed Malcolm X. 

[00:24:57] Some suggested it was local drug dealers, others the FBI.

[00:25:03] But it was pretty clear who was responsible.

[00:25:06] A few days after the assassination, Elijah Muhammad denied that the Nation of Islam was involved but said that "Malcolm X got just what he preached."

[00:25:16] Shortly after, the cops found the killers. 

[00:25:20] Three Nation of Islam members were arrested, charged with murder, found gulty and sentenced to twenty years in prison. 

[00:25:29] Like so many other pivotal figures of 1960’s America - Malcolm X was assassinated.

[00:25:36] And just three years later Martin Luther King. Jr was also assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, and the two main, but very different leaders of the Civil Rights movement were silenced.

[00:25:50] King’s enduring legacy was that of nonviolent protest and pacifism in the face of oppression.

[00:25:58] Malcolm X's approach was clearly different, he may be less well known than Martin Luther King, but he was of huge importance.

[00:26:06] He was foundational in the fight against racial oppression and many of the civil rights movements can be traced back to the life and work of Malcolm X.

[00:26:17] As the famous black theologian James Cone put it, “Malcolm changed how black people thought about themselves… After Malcolm, he helped us become black.”

[00:26:30] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Malcolm X.

[00:26:34] I hope it was an interesting one, and whether you knew a lot about Malcolm X and his life before today, or this was the first time you'd heard anything really about him, well I hope you learned something new.

[00:26:46] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:26:50] What do you think about the differing approaches of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King? 

[00:26:55] Which approach was more effective?

[00:26:58] What might Malcolm X have gone on to do if he hadn't been killed?

[00:27:02] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:27:06] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:15] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:20] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a man you may have heard of before - Malcolm X.

[00:00:29] He was one of the most influential African-American civil rights leaders of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

[00:00:36] An inspiration to some, a violent thug to others, for many Malcolm X is still the most important symbol of black power, African-American identity, liberation, and anti-racism. 

[00:00:50] His legacy lives on in fights against prejudice, oppression, and colonialism not just in the United States, but across the world.

[00:00:58] So, let’s get right into it and talk about the life and legacy of Malcolm X.

[00:01:05] It was a crisp February afternoon in 1965. 

[00:01:10] Malcolm X was in Manhattan to address an Organization of African-American Unity meeting.

[00:01:17] As he was about to begin his speech, there was an altercation in the crowd.

[00:01:23] As bodyguards tried to remove a man from the hall, there was a moment of confusion, and a pause.

[00:01:29] Then, suddenly, a man appeared from the crowd with a sawed-off shotgun.

[00:01:36] He walked slowly towards Malcolm and with a thunderous boom, shot him in the chest.

[00:01:43] The shot ripped through Malcolm X’s body and sent him flying backwards.

[00:01:49] The crowd panicked.

[00:01:51] More men emerged from the crowd firing semi-automatic weapons towards Malcolm X.

[00:01:57] The hall was filled with screams and shouts, and people dropped to the floor, trampling over one another.

[00:02:04] Chairs were overturned as people scrambled for the exits.

[00:02:09] In the front row, Malcolm X’s four daughters and his pregnant wife cowered in fear.

[00:02:16] But it was too late.

[00:02:18] Shortly after arriving at the hospital, at the age of 39, Malcolm X was pronounced dead.

[00:02:27] But who killed Malcolm X?

[00:02:29] Why did they want him dead, and why had our protagonist himself predicted that this would happen?

[00:02:36] Before we get into all of that, we should talk about his life, and how he ended up speaking at that meeting in the first place.

[00:02:44] Our first stop will be his life before he became Malcolm X.

[00:02:49] Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, on the 19th of May, 1925, to Earl and Louise Little.

[00:03:00] Earl, his father, was an outspoken Baptist preacher, and along with his mother was involved in black nationalist groups.

[00:03:09] Both were admirers of Pan-African leader Marcus Garvey, who advocated separating the races and creating black-only states.

[00:03:20] The Littles gave their many children a deep sense of black pride at a time when simply being black could, and often did, make life very difficult.

[00:03:33] After the Ku Klux Klan harassed and threatened Earl about his pro-black nationalist work and sermons, he moved the family briefly to Milwaukee for a couple of years and then to Lansing, Michigan, in order to escape them.

[00:03:50] But the harassment continued in Lansing, and after buying a house in a white neighbourhood, Earl Little was taken to court and evicted.

[00:04:00] But before they could even leave the property, the house was burnt down with the whole family inside.

[00:04:07] Fortunately, they escaped without any injuries but Malcolm X’s father suspected, and it has long been accepted by historians, that a white supremacist offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan called the Black Legion were responsible.

[00:04:24] The Little family’s escape to Michigan hadn’t quite worked as planned - white supremacists seemed to follow them wherever they went.

[00:04:33] Then, in 1931, when Malcolm was six years old, his father, Earl Little was killed in suspicious circumstances in a streetcar accident, his body found strewn on the street beside the tracks.

[00:04:49] Louise, and later Malcolm, believed Earl had been murdered by the Black Legion, and rumours spread around town that his death had not been an accident, like the authorities quickly declared that it was, but that he had been killed by white supremacists.

[00:05:08] The life insurance company, on the other hand, didn’t accept that anyone had killed Earl Little. They said he had killed himself, he had committed suicide, and as a consequence they refused to pay out to Earl Little’s wife and family. As if this wasn’t enough bad luck, Louise, Earl’s wife, suffered a breakdown and was admitted to hospital.

[00:05:33] The Little children were split up and put into foster care.

[00:05:37] After initially doing well in school, Malcolm Little became disillusioned with education when a white teacher ridiculed his dreams of becoming a lawyer and told him that it “was no aspiration” for a black boy. 

[00:05:53] Instead, he dropped out and moved to Boston, where he lived with his half-sister. 

[00:06:00] After a string of uninspiring jobs he became a petty criminal, and in 1943 he moved to Harlem, in New York City, where he worked on the railroad and continued various criminal activities on the side. 

[00:06:16] In order to avoid military service during World War War Two, he pretended to be mentally ill and told the nurse assessing him that the reason he wanted to join the army was that so he could, quote, “steal us some guns and kill crackers.” - crackers, by the way, doesn't mean biscuits, it's a derogatory term towards white people.

[00:06:40] Later on, in his autobiography, Malcolm X would write that at that time of his life, "the only three things in the world” that scared him were "jail, a job, and the Army." 

[00:06:53] His trick worked, however, and he was disqualified from military service on October 25th, 1943.

[00:07:01] When he returned to Boston in 1945 he began doing burglaries in wealthy neighbourhoods and, in 1946, he was arrested while trying to collect a stolen watch he had taken to be repaired.

[00:07:15] As a result, he was convicted of burglary and theft and sentenced to ten years in prison.

[00:07:23] And it would be in prison that Malcolm Little entered a period of intense self-reflection and education.

[00:07:32] He became a big reader and developed a thirst for knowledge and meaning in his life.

[00:07:38] Around this time, in the late-1940’s and early-1950’s, a religious movement known as the Nation of Islam was gaining popularity in the African-American community. 

[00:07:50] The Nation of Islam preached black self-reliance; that black people were the original and superior race; and that Christianity was a white man’s religion forced onto black people by their white slave masters. 

[00:08:06] The group wanted the return of African-Amerians to Africa, where they could live freely from white domination, and the group believed the demise of the entire white race was approaching.

[00:08:20] Nation of Islam ideas were not only popular in US prisons, but with the Little family too.

[00:08:28] His brother Reginald, himself a recent convert, encouraged Malcolm to convert to the Nation of Islam, and he began reading the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the group’s leader.

[00:08:41] Malcolm spent hours in the prison library, and improved his public speaking in prison debates.

[00:08:48] In 1948 he gave up smoking and eating pork, in keeping with Nation of Islam teachings, and wrote to its leader Elijah Muhammad.

[00:08:59] Muhammad encouraged him to renounce his past and convert.

[00:09:05] Shortly after Malcolm duly converted and he became a member of the Nation of Islam.

[00:09:11] When he left prison in 1952, Malcolm Little dropped his last name and adopted ‘X’ - as was customary for many members of the Nation of Islam - the ‘X’ symbolised what he believed was his true ancestral surname lost to slavery.

[00:09:31] He finally met Elijah Muhammad in person that same year, and took on a leading role in spreading the Nation of Islam’s teachings across the country.

[00:09:41] He organised and established temples in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and in towns and cities across the south, spreading the world of Elijah Muhammad and recruiting members.

[00:09:55] Every month hundreds more African-Americans were joining the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X, as he was now known, was largely credited with the group’s rise in membership during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

[00:10:10] He would even go on to recruit the famous heavyweight world champion boxer, Cassius Clay, who would go on to change his name to, well, you may have guessed it if you didn’t know it already, Muhammad Ali.

[00:10:23] Now, there is some dispute among historians as to the exact numbers of recruits during that period, but whatever the figures, Malcolm X began to earn himself a reputation as a reliable recruiter and a powerful public speaker noted for his physical presence.

[00:10:43] At 6’3, over 1 metre 90, with a powerfully built frame, Malcolm X’s public speeches captivated audiences and inspired African-Americans to fight back against racial oppression.

[00:10:58] Here’s a short clip of him speaking:

[00:11:01] We declare our right on this Earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary. 

[00:11:22] Powerful stuff, right?

[00:11:25] Although Malcom X was well known in Nation of Islam circles by now, he had not yet made his mark on the wider American public, nor indeed the authorities.

[00:11:36] He soon became a public figure, however, in 1957, when a Nation of Islam member was viciously beaten by police officers in New York.

[00:11:47] The man, Hinton Johnson, stumbled across the officers beating another African-American man in the street. 

[00:11:55] Sadly, this was not such an uncommon occurrence at the time.

[00:12:01] After trying to intervene, Johnson and his friends were then themselves beaten; with Johnson so badly beaten that he had a brain haemorrhage.

[00:12:12] All four of the men, the men who were trying to help stop the original beating, were arrested.

[00:12:19] When he heard about what had happened, Malcolm X gathered a small group of Nation of Islam followers and went down to the 28th Precinct headquarters police station in Harlem, demanding to see Johnson. 

[00:12:33] The crowd grew to 500 and the police eventually allowed Malcolm X to speak with Johnson, who said he needed to be taken to hospital right away.

[00:12:44] When Johnson returned from the hospital, the crowd had grown to four thousand and the situation became tense as Malcolm X and other Nation of Islam members tried to negotiate Johnson and the other men’s bail.

[00:12:59] Police feared a riot could start.

[00:13:02] Johnson’s bail was denied until the next day. After coming to an agreement with the police, Malcolm X left the station and signalled with his hand that the crowd should disperse, that everyone should just go home. 

[00:13:17] And with that one gesture, the angry mob did indeed disperse, everyone went away.

[00:13:25] The man’s control over the crowd did not go unnoticed by the authorities.

[00:13:31] In the New York Amsterdam News, one police officer was quoted as saying of Malcolm X’s hold over the crowd that "No one man should have that much power.”

[00:13:42] Coverage of the incident in the press not only brought Malcolm X to the attention of the public, but to the police and the FBI.

[00:13:51] Shortly after the Hinton Johnson incident the New York City Police Department started keeping Malcolm X under surveillance, and the FBI, which reportedly had a file open on him since as early 1953, now focused on him as a "key figure" in the Nation of Islam movement.

[00:14:12] It was at around this time that he began to take some of his first international trips, including visits to Egypt, Ghana, Sudan, Nigeria, Syria and Iran.

[00:14:25] In Egypt, he even met with the president, President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

[00:14:30] And in 1960, he met with Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. 

[00:14:35] Malcolm X was becoming a big deal. Or, as he put it in his autobiography, "it seems that everywhere I went telephones were ringing."

[00:14:48] And in 1961, Elijah Muhammad made it official: making him the ‘national representative’ of the Nation of Islam - the second most senior position in the organisation.

[00:15:00] He began lecturing on university campuses and taking part in debates on television and radio, but his rising popularity did not please everyone.

[00:15:12] As is often the case in any organisation, his popularity did not always please the boss.

[00:15:19] In Malcolm X’s case, the boss was Elijah Muhammad, whose closest advisers feared that Malcolm X was becoming too influential and would become the next leader. 

[00:15:31] The rift between them would only get worse, and proved fatal for Malcolm X. 

[00:15:38] His increasing prominence wasn’t just upsetting rivals within the Nation of Islam, or frightening the authorities or those in the country’s white community.

[00:15:48] His brand of black nationalism fused with Islamic teaching was also at odds with the broader Christian civil rights movement in the United States at the time. 

[00:15:59] Led by Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights movement promoted nonviolent resistance to segregation, a multi-racial coalition, and promoted patience and respect on the road to equality.

[00:16:15] Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, however, didn’t buy any of that.

[00:16:21] Whereas King and other civil rights leaders wanted to end the racial segregation of society, Malcolm X wanted the opposite: he called for the complete separation of blacks and whites, and even proposed that African-Americans should return to Africa, just like his parents’ political hero, Marcus Garvey had done.

[00:16:43] Where King called for nonviolent protest, Malcolm X wanted his members to fight back and defend themselves. “The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent,” he said, “are black people."

[00:16:58] Malcolm X was publicly critical of King and the mainstream civil rights movement. King was, he said, ‘a chump’–a fool or an idiot–and he claimed that he and other mainstream civil rights leaders were ‘stooges’ of the white man. A stooge is a word for someone used by someone else.

[00:17:20] He would go on to call the famous 1963 March on Washington led by King, ‘the farce on Washington.’

[00:17:28] Marches like the 1963 one were, in his eyes, "run by whites.”

[00:17:34] And the media played on the difference between the two men.

[00:17:38] Much of the American media portrayed Malcolm X as a violent threat to American society.

[00:17:45] The New York Times described him as, quote: "an extraordinary and twisted man, turning many true gifts to evil purposes.”

[00:17:56] But at the time many African-Americans felt that Malcolm X’s brand of direct resistance was more appealing than King’s long-game of peaceful protest, and that his outspoken nature better voiced their concerns than the calm, respectful King.

[00:18:15] But behind the scenes, things were not as they seemed in the Nation of Islam.

[00:18:22] Tension was bubbling between different factions, and starting in the early-1960’s Malcolm X began to question the Nation of Islam and his place within it.

[00:18:34] A number of incidents caused him to doubt the organisation.

[00:18:38] First, in 1962, the Los Angeles Police Department beat Nation of Islam members outside a temple in south-central Los Angeles.

[00:18:49] After fighting between temple members and police spilled inside, LAPD reinforcements arrived and shot seven unarmed Muslims.

[00:19:00] The Temple’s secretary, Ronald Stokes, was shot dead as he raised his hand above his head in surrender.

[00:19:08] After an all-white jury decided that Stokes’ killing was a "justifiable homicide" and actually indicted several Nation of Islam members for assault, Malcolm X declared revenge.

[00:19:22] Speaking in front of two thousand people at Stokes’ funeral in Los Angeles, he called for a response.

[00:19:30] He wanted to encourage more hardline elements within the Nation of Islam, and he sought approval from Elijah Muhammad to get revenge on the police.

[00:19:41] But he was shocked when Muhammad refused, and many within the organisation pointed to this moment as the beginning of the end of their relationship.

[00:19:53] The second incident that tested his commitment to the Nation of Islam also involved Elijah Muhammad, but this time it was a much more personal matter.

[00:20:04] Later on that same year, rumours began to emerge that Elijah Muhammad was having affairs with several of his secretaries, and that he had even fathered illegitimate children.

[00:20:15] This was a direct contradiction of Nation of Islam teachings, and when Muhammad asked him to help cover-up the scandal, Malcolm X began to seriously question the legitimacy of the Nation of Islam.

[00:20:30] In 1963 a third incident confirmed the rift between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad.

[00:20:39] When president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, in November of that year, Malcolm X made unsympathetic comments about his death in the press. 

[00:20:51] JFK’s death, he said, was simply ‘chickens coming home to roost.’

[00:20:57] The phrase chickens coming home to roost, by the way, means when past mistakes or wrongdoings will eventually be the cause of present troubles, so Malcolm X implied that Kennedy deserved to be killed.

[00:21:11] The Nation of Islam’s official position was very different and Elijah Muhammad had sent the group’s condolences to the family and banned its ministers and members from commenting on the assassination. 

[00:21:26] When Malcolm X made his comments, Muhammad was furious and banned him from public speaking for three months.

[00:21:35] Disillusioned with both Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, in March 1964 Malcolm X left the organisation.

[00:21:43] The next month, he gave a speech in Detroit now known as ‘The Ballot or the Bullet’ speech that outlined his black nationalist ideology.

[00:21:53] A ballot is a voting system, and the bullet is, well, it’s the thing that you fire from a gun.

[00:22:01] In this speech, he advised African-Americans to vote for change but also that it might be necessary for them to take up arms, to fight.

[00:22:13] He also started his own organisation, Muslim Mosque Incorporated, a direct rival to the Nation of Islam. 

[00:22:21] In response the Nation of Islam demanded that he surrender all of his property, including his house in Queens.

[00:22:30] The house was eventually burned to the ground, many people believed, by Nation of Islam members.

[00:22:37] Once again, Malcolm X’s family home had been destroyed. When he was a boy in Michigan, by white nationalists; now as an adult in New York, by black nationalists.

[00:22:50] Feeling threatened and needing inspiration, he went abroad.

[00:22:54] He made another tour of Africa, speaking at universities and meeting with heads of state, and stopped to take part in debates in Paris and London.

[00:23:05] When he was in Oxford to speak in a debate in December of 1964, Malcolm X predicted that he would soon be killed by the Nation of Islam.

[00:23:15] He also made a pilgrimage to the holy site of Mecca, and when he saw Muslims of "all colours, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans" making the pilgrimage together, he started to believe that Islam could be a way in which racism could be overcome.

[00:23:33] Perhaps complete segregation wasn’t the answer after all.

[00:23:38] The experience had such a transformative effect on him that he converted to Sunni Islam and took a new name: el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.

[00:23:49] When he returned to the United States, he publicly renounced the teachings of the Nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammad.

[00:23:57] He founded the Organization for Afro-American Unity, and was repeatedly threatened by Nation of Islam members: the FBI intercepted a phone call in which his wife was told that her husband was, quote, "as good as dead.”

[00:24:14] And the threats continued throughout the rest of 1964.

[00:24:18] Elijah Muhammad said publically that, quote, "hypocrites like Malcolm should have their heads cut off,” and an edition of the widely read magazine Muhammad Speaks featured a cartoon with Malcolm’s severed head.

[00:24:33] In early 1965 Malcolm X returned to England to address the first meeting of the Council of African Organizations in London.

[00:24:42] A few weeks after his return to the United States, on the 21st of February, 1965, he was assassinated in New York.

[00:24:51] In the aftermath of his murder, rumours spread about who had killed Malcolm X. 

[00:24:57] Some suggested it was local drug dealers, others the FBI.

[00:25:03] But it was pretty clear who was responsible.

[00:25:06] A few days after the assassination, Elijah Muhammad denied that the Nation of Islam was involved but said that "Malcolm X got just what he preached."

[00:25:16] Shortly after, the cops found the killers. 

[00:25:20] Three Nation of Islam members were arrested, charged with murder, found gulty and sentenced to twenty years in prison. 

[00:25:29] Like so many other pivotal figures of 1960’s America - Malcolm X was assassinated.

[00:25:36] And just three years later Martin Luther King. Jr was also assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, and the two main, but very different leaders of the Civil Rights movement were silenced.

[00:25:50] King’s enduring legacy was that of nonviolent protest and pacifism in the face of oppression.

[00:25:58] Malcolm X's approach was clearly different, he may be less well known than Martin Luther King, but he was of huge importance.

[00:26:06] He was foundational in the fight against racial oppression and many of the civil rights movements can be traced back to the life and work of Malcolm X.

[00:26:17] As the famous black theologian James Cone put it, “Malcolm changed how black people thought about themselves… After Malcolm, he helped us become black.”

[00:26:30] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Malcolm X.

[00:26:34] I hope it was an interesting one, and whether you knew a lot about Malcolm X and his life before today, or this was the first time you'd heard anything really about him, well I hope you learned something new.

[00:26:46] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:26:50] What do you think about the differing approaches of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King? 

[00:26:55] Which approach was more effective?

[00:26:58] What might Malcolm X have gone on to do if he hadn't been killed?

[00:27:02] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:27:06] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:15] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:20] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a man you may have heard of before - Malcolm X.

[00:00:29] He was one of the most influential African-American civil rights leaders of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

[00:00:36] An inspiration to some, a violent thug to others, for many Malcolm X is still the most important symbol of black power, African-American identity, liberation, and anti-racism. 

[00:00:50] His legacy lives on in fights against prejudice, oppression, and colonialism not just in the United States, but across the world.

[00:00:58] So, let’s get right into it and talk about the life and legacy of Malcolm X.

[00:01:05] It was a crisp February afternoon in 1965. 

[00:01:10] Malcolm X was in Manhattan to address an Organization of African-American Unity meeting.

[00:01:17] As he was about to begin his speech, there was an altercation in the crowd.

[00:01:23] As bodyguards tried to remove a man from the hall, there was a moment of confusion, and a pause.

[00:01:29] Then, suddenly, a man appeared from the crowd with a sawed-off shotgun.

[00:01:36] He walked slowly towards Malcolm and with a thunderous boom, shot him in the chest.

[00:01:43] The shot ripped through Malcolm X’s body and sent him flying backwards.

[00:01:49] The crowd panicked.

[00:01:51] More men emerged from the crowd firing semi-automatic weapons towards Malcolm X.

[00:01:57] The hall was filled with screams and shouts, and people dropped to the floor, trampling over one another.

[00:02:04] Chairs were overturned as people scrambled for the exits.

[00:02:09] In the front row, Malcolm X’s four daughters and his pregnant wife cowered in fear.

[00:02:16] But it was too late.

[00:02:18] Shortly after arriving at the hospital, at the age of 39, Malcolm X was pronounced dead.

[00:02:27] But who killed Malcolm X?

[00:02:29] Why did they want him dead, and why had our protagonist himself predicted that this would happen?

[00:02:36] Before we get into all of that, we should talk about his life, and how he ended up speaking at that meeting in the first place.

[00:02:44] Our first stop will be his life before he became Malcolm X.

[00:02:49] Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, on the 19th of May, 1925, to Earl and Louise Little.

[00:03:00] Earl, his father, was an outspoken Baptist preacher, and along with his mother was involved in black nationalist groups.

[00:03:09] Both were admirers of Pan-African leader Marcus Garvey, who advocated separating the races and creating black-only states.

[00:03:20] The Littles gave their many children a deep sense of black pride at a time when simply being black could, and often did, make life very difficult.

[00:03:33] After the Ku Klux Klan harassed and threatened Earl about his pro-black nationalist work and sermons, he moved the family briefly to Milwaukee for a couple of years and then to Lansing, Michigan, in order to escape them.

[00:03:50] But the harassment continued in Lansing, and after buying a house in a white neighbourhood, Earl Little was taken to court and evicted.

[00:04:00] But before they could even leave the property, the house was burnt down with the whole family inside.

[00:04:07] Fortunately, they escaped without any injuries but Malcolm X’s father suspected, and it has long been accepted by historians, that a white supremacist offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan called the Black Legion were responsible.

[00:04:24] The Little family’s escape to Michigan hadn’t quite worked as planned - white supremacists seemed to follow them wherever they went.

[00:04:33] Then, in 1931, when Malcolm was six years old, his father, Earl Little was killed in suspicious circumstances in a streetcar accident, his body found strewn on the street beside the tracks.

[00:04:49] Louise, and later Malcolm, believed Earl had been murdered by the Black Legion, and rumours spread around town that his death had not been an accident, like the authorities quickly declared that it was, but that he had been killed by white supremacists.

[00:05:08] The life insurance company, on the other hand, didn’t accept that anyone had killed Earl Little. They said he had killed himself, he had committed suicide, and as a consequence they refused to pay out to Earl Little’s wife and family. As if this wasn’t enough bad luck, Louise, Earl’s wife, suffered a breakdown and was admitted to hospital.

[00:05:33] The Little children were split up and put into foster care.

[00:05:37] After initially doing well in school, Malcolm Little became disillusioned with education when a white teacher ridiculed his dreams of becoming a lawyer and told him that it “was no aspiration” for a black boy. 

[00:05:53] Instead, he dropped out and moved to Boston, where he lived with his half-sister. 

[00:06:00] After a string of uninspiring jobs he became a petty criminal, and in 1943 he moved to Harlem, in New York City, where he worked on the railroad and continued various criminal activities on the side. 

[00:06:16] In order to avoid military service during World War War Two, he pretended to be mentally ill and told the nurse assessing him that the reason he wanted to join the army was that so he could, quote, “steal us some guns and kill crackers.” - crackers, by the way, doesn't mean biscuits, it's a derogatory term towards white people.

[00:06:40] Later on, in his autobiography, Malcolm X would write that at that time of his life, "the only three things in the world” that scared him were "jail, a job, and the Army." 

[00:06:53] His trick worked, however, and he was disqualified from military service on October 25th, 1943.

[00:07:01] When he returned to Boston in 1945 he began doing burglaries in wealthy neighbourhoods and, in 1946, he was arrested while trying to collect a stolen watch he had taken to be repaired.

[00:07:15] As a result, he was convicted of burglary and theft and sentenced to ten years in prison.

[00:07:23] And it would be in prison that Malcolm Little entered a period of intense self-reflection and education.

[00:07:32] He became a big reader and developed a thirst for knowledge and meaning in his life.

[00:07:38] Around this time, in the late-1940’s and early-1950’s, a religious movement known as the Nation of Islam was gaining popularity in the African-American community. 

[00:07:50] The Nation of Islam preached black self-reliance; that black people were the original and superior race; and that Christianity was a white man’s religion forced onto black people by their white slave masters. 

[00:08:06] The group wanted the return of African-Amerians to Africa, where they could live freely from white domination, and the group believed the demise of the entire white race was approaching.

[00:08:20] Nation of Islam ideas were not only popular in US prisons, but with the Little family too.

[00:08:28] His brother Reginald, himself a recent convert, encouraged Malcolm to convert to the Nation of Islam, and he began reading the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the group’s leader.

[00:08:41] Malcolm spent hours in the prison library, and improved his public speaking in prison debates.

[00:08:48] In 1948 he gave up smoking and eating pork, in keeping with Nation of Islam teachings, and wrote to its leader Elijah Muhammad.

[00:08:59] Muhammad encouraged him to renounce his past and convert.

[00:09:05] Shortly after Malcolm duly converted and he became a member of the Nation of Islam.

[00:09:11] When he left prison in 1952, Malcolm Little dropped his last name and adopted ‘X’ - as was customary for many members of the Nation of Islam - the ‘X’ symbolised what he believed was his true ancestral surname lost to slavery.

[00:09:31] He finally met Elijah Muhammad in person that same year, and took on a leading role in spreading the Nation of Islam’s teachings across the country.

[00:09:41] He organised and established temples in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and in towns and cities across the south, spreading the world of Elijah Muhammad and recruiting members.

[00:09:55] Every month hundreds more African-Americans were joining the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X, as he was now known, was largely credited with the group’s rise in membership during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

[00:10:10] He would even go on to recruit the famous heavyweight world champion boxer, Cassius Clay, who would go on to change his name to, well, you may have guessed it if you didn’t know it already, Muhammad Ali.

[00:10:23] Now, there is some dispute among historians as to the exact numbers of recruits during that period, but whatever the figures, Malcolm X began to earn himself a reputation as a reliable recruiter and a powerful public speaker noted for his physical presence.

[00:10:43] At 6’3, over 1 metre 90, with a powerfully built frame, Malcolm X’s public speeches captivated audiences and inspired African-Americans to fight back against racial oppression.

[00:10:58] Here’s a short clip of him speaking:

[00:11:01] We declare our right on this Earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary. 

[00:11:22] Powerful stuff, right?

[00:11:25] Although Malcom X was well known in Nation of Islam circles by now, he had not yet made his mark on the wider American public, nor indeed the authorities.

[00:11:36] He soon became a public figure, however, in 1957, when a Nation of Islam member was viciously beaten by police officers in New York.

[00:11:47] The man, Hinton Johnson, stumbled across the officers beating another African-American man in the street. 

[00:11:55] Sadly, this was not such an uncommon occurrence at the time.

[00:12:01] After trying to intervene, Johnson and his friends were then themselves beaten; with Johnson so badly beaten that he had a brain haemorrhage.

[00:12:12] All four of the men, the men who were trying to help stop the original beating, were arrested.

[00:12:19] When he heard about what had happened, Malcolm X gathered a small group of Nation of Islam followers and went down to the 28th Precinct headquarters police station in Harlem, demanding to see Johnson. 

[00:12:33] The crowd grew to 500 and the police eventually allowed Malcolm X to speak with Johnson, who said he needed to be taken to hospital right away.

[00:12:44] When Johnson returned from the hospital, the crowd had grown to four thousand and the situation became tense as Malcolm X and other Nation of Islam members tried to negotiate Johnson and the other men’s bail.

[00:12:59] Police feared a riot could start.

[00:13:02] Johnson’s bail was denied until the next day. After coming to an agreement with the police, Malcolm X left the station and signalled with his hand that the crowd should disperse, that everyone should just go home. 

[00:13:17] And with that one gesture, the angry mob did indeed disperse, everyone went away.

[00:13:25] The man’s control over the crowd did not go unnoticed by the authorities.

[00:13:31] In the New York Amsterdam News, one police officer was quoted as saying of Malcolm X’s hold over the crowd that "No one man should have that much power.”

[00:13:42] Coverage of the incident in the press not only brought Malcolm X to the attention of the public, but to the police and the FBI.

[00:13:51] Shortly after the Hinton Johnson incident the New York City Police Department started keeping Malcolm X under surveillance, and the FBI, which reportedly had a file open on him since as early 1953, now focused on him as a "key figure" in the Nation of Islam movement.

[00:14:12] It was at around this time that he began to take some of his first international trips, including visits to Egypt, Ghana, Sudan, Nigeria, Syria and Iran.

[00:14:25] In Egypt, he even met with the president, President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

[00:14:30] And in 1960, he met with Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. 

[00:14:35] Malcolm X was becoming a big deal. Or, as he put it in his autobiography, "it seems that everywhere I went telephones were ringing."

[00:14:48] And in 1961, Elijah Muhammad made it official: making him the ‘national representative’ of the Nation of Islam - the second most senior position in the organisation.

[00:15:00] He began lecturing on university campuses and taking part in debates on television and radio, but his rising popularity did not please everyone.

[00:15:12] As is often the case in any organisation, his popularity did not always please the boss.

[00:15:19] In Malcolm X’s case, the boss was Elijah Muhammad, whose closest advisers feared that Malcolm X was becoming too influential and would become the next leader. 

[00:15:31] The rift between them would only get worse, and proved fatal for Malcolm X. 

[00:15:38] His increasing prominence wasn’t just upsetting rivals within the Nation of Islam, or frightening the authorities or those in the country’s white community.

[00:15:48] His brand of black nationalism fused with Islamic teaching was also at odds with the broader Christian civil rights movement in the United States at the time. 

[00:15:59] Led by Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights movement promoted nonviolent resistance to segregation, a multi-racial coalition, and promoted patience and respect on the road to equality.

[00:16:15] Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, however, didn’t buy any of that.

[00:16:21] Whereas King and other civil rights leaders wanted to end the racial segregation of society, Malcolm X wanted the opposite: he called for the complete separation of blacks and whites, and even proposed that African-Americans should return to Africa, just like his parents’ political hero, Marcus Garvey had done.

[00:16:43] Where King called for nonviolent protest, Malcolm X wanted his members to fight back and defend themselves. “The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent,” he said, “are black people."

[00:16:58] Malcolm X was publicly critical of King and the mainstream civil rights movement. King was, he said, ‘a chump’–a fool or an idiot–and he claimed that he and other mainstream civil rights leaders were ‘stooges’ of the white man. A stooge is a word for someone used by someone else.

[00:17:20] He would go on to call the famous 1963 March on Washington led by King, ‘the farce on Washington.’

[00:17:28] Marches like the 1963 one were, in his eyes, "run by whites.”

[00:17:34] And the media played on the difference between the two men.

[00:17:38] Much of the American media portrayed Malcolm X as a violent threat to American society.

[00:17:45] The New York Times described him as, quote: "an extraordinary and twisted man, turning many true gifts to evil purposes.”

[00:17:56] But at the time many African-Americans felt that Malcolm X’s brand of direct resistance was more appealing than King’s long-game of peaceful protest, and that his outspoken nature better voiced their concerns than the calm, respectful King.

[00:18:15] But behind the scenes, things were not as they seemed in the Nation of Islam.

[00:18:22] Tension was bubbling between different factions, and starting in the early-1960’s Malcolm X began to question the Nation of Islam and his place within it.

[00:18:34] A number of incidents caused him to doubt the organisation.

[00:18:38] First, in 1962, the Los Angeles Police Department beat Nation of Islam members outside a temple in south-central Los Angeles.

[00:18:49] After fighting between temple members and police spilled inside, LAPD reinforcements arrived and shot seven unarmed Muslims.

[00:19:00] The Temple’s secretary, Ronald Stokes, was shot dead as he raised his hand above his head in surrender.

[00:19:08] After an all-white jury decided that Stokes’ killing was a "justifiable homicide" and actually indicted several Nation of Islam members for assault, Malcolm X declared revenge.

[00:19:22] Speaking in front of two thousand people at Stokes’ funeral in Los Angeles, he called for a response.

[00:19:30] He wanted to encourage more hardline elements within the Nation of Islam, and he sought approval from Elijah Muhammad to get revenge on the police.

[00:19:41] But he was shocked when Muhammad refused, and many within the organisation pointed to this moment as the beginning of the end of their relationship.

[00:19:53] The second incident that tested his commitment to the Nation of Islam also involved Elijah Muhammad, but this time it was a much more personal matter.

[00:20:04] Later on that same year, rumours began to emerge that Elijah Muhammad was having affairs with several of his secretaries, and that he had even fathered illegitimate children.

[00:20:15] This was a direct contradiction of Nation of Islam teachings, and when Muhammad asked him to help cover-up the scandal, Malcolm X began to seriously question the legitimacy of the Nation of Islam.

[00:20:30] In 1963 a third incident confirmed the rift between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad.

[00:20:39] When president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, in November of that year, Malcolm X made unsympathetic comments about his death in the press. 

[00:20:51] JFK’s death, he said, was simply ‘chickens coming home to roost.’

[00:20:57] The phrase chickens coming home to roost, by the way, means when past mistakes or wrongdoings will eventually be the cause of present troubles, so Malcolm X implied that Kennedy deserved to be killed.

[00:21:11] The Nation of Islam’s official position was very different and Elijah Muhammad had sent the group’s condolences to the family and banned its ministers and members from commenting on the assassination. 

[00:21:26] When Malcolm X made his comments, Muhammad was furious and banned him from public speaking for three months.

[00:21:35] Disillusioned with both Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, in March 1964 Malcolm X left the organisation.

[00:21:43] The next month, he gave a speech in Detroit now known as ‘The Ballot or the Bullet’ speech that outlined his black nationalist ideology.

[00:21:53] A ballot is a voting system, and the bullet is, well, it’s the thing that you fire from a gun.

[00:22:01] In this speech, he advised African-Americans to vote for change but also that it might be necessary for them to take up arms, to fight.

[00:22:13] He also started his own organisation, Muslim Mosque Incorporated, a direct rival to the Nation of Islam. 

[00:22:21] In response the Nation of Islam demanded that he surrender all of his property, including his house in Queens.

[00:22:30] The house was eventually burned to the ground, many people believed, by Nation of Islam members.

[00:22:37] Once again, Malcolm X’s family home had been destroyed. When he was a boy in Michigan, by white nationalists; now as an adult in New York, by black nationalists.

[00:22:50] Feeling threatened and needing inspiration, he went abroad.

[00:22:54] He made another tour of Africa, speaking at universities and meeting with heads of state, and stopped to take part in debates in Paris and London.

[00:23:05] When he was in Oxford to speak in a debate in December of 1964, Malcolm X predicted that he would soon be killed by the Nation of Islam.

[00:23:15] He also made a pilgrimage to the holy site of Mecca, and when he saw Muslims of "all colours, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans" making the pilgrimage together, he started to believe that Islam could be a way in which racism could be overcome.

[00:23:33] Perhaps complete segregation wasn’t the answer after all.

[00:23:38] The experience had such a transformative effect on him that he converted to Sunni Islam and took a new name: el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.

[00:23:49] When he returned to the United States, he publicly renounced the teachings of the Nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammad.

[00:23:57] He founded the Organization for Afro-American Unity, and was repeatedly threatened by Nation of Islam members: the FBI intercepted a phone call in which his wife was told that her husband was, quote, "as good as dead.”

[00:24:14] And the threats continued throughout the rest of 1964.

[00:24:18] Elijah Muhammad said publically that, quote, "hypocrites like Malcolm should have their heads cut off,” and an edition of the widely read magazine Muhammad Speaks featured a cartoon with Malcolm’s severed head.

[00:24:33] In early 1965 Malcolm X returned to England to address the first meeting of the Council of African Organizations in London.

[00:24:42] A few weeks after his return to the United States, on the 21st of February, 1965, he was assassinated in New York.

[00:24:51] In the aftermath of his murder, rumours spread about who had killed Malcolm X. 

[00:24:57] Some suggested it was local drug dealers, others the FBI.

[00:25:03] But it was pretty clear who was responsible.

[00:25:06] A few days after the assassination, Elijah Muhammad denied that the Nation of Islam was involved but said that "Malcolm X got just what he preached."

[00:25:16] Shortly after, the cops found the killers. 

[00:25:20] Three Nation of Islam members were arrested, charged with murder, found gulty and sentenced to twenty years in prison. 

[00:25:29] Like so many other pivotal figures of 1960’s America - Malcolm X was assassinated.

[00:25:36] And just three years later Martin Luther King. Jr was also assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, and the two main, but very different leaders of the Civil Rights movement were silenced.

[00:25:50] King’s enduring legacy was that of nonviolent protest and pacifism in the face of oppression.

[00:25:58] Malcolm X's approach was clearly different, he may be less well known than Martin Luther King, but he was of huge importance.

[00:26:06] He was foundational in the fight against racial oppression and many of the civil rights movements can be traced back to the life and work of Malcolm X.

[00:26:17] As the famous black theologian James Cone put it, “Malcolm changed how black people thought about themselves… After Malcolm, he helped us become black.”

[00:26:30] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Malcolm X.

[00:26:34] I hope it was an interesting one, and whether you knew a lot about Malcolm X and his life before today, or this was the first time you'd heard anything really about him, well I hope you learned something new.

[00:26:46] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:26:50] What do you think about the differing approaches of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King? 

[00:26:55] Which approach was more effective?

[00:26:58] What might Malcolm X have gone on to do if he hadn't been killed?

[00:27:02] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:27:06] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:15] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:20] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]