Malcolm X: Islamic Traitor Turned Civil Rights Movement Leader

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It was 1963, just before Malcolm X had become known as the traitor from the Nation of Islam he gave a speech called “God’s Judgement of White America” (Malcolm X Speeches). For this particular speech Malcolm went on stage to remind people of the oppression that black people were facing at the time. Malcolm entered the enormous room full of people slowly but with a demeanor that radiated extreme confidence. The usual myriad of flashing cameras and reporters was not present, there was only a small amount of those. The room was dimly lit and had an orange tint to it which was due to the color of the lighting inside the room. 

There was a feeling of excitement that could be felt right when one entered the room, this being because people wanted to see Malcolm speak so badly. Once he got on stage Malcolm also spoke about black people being segregated and treated like second class citizens, and that for that reason God looked down on as a race. God was judging America because of the unfair way they were treating black people. Malcolm told people that black people have to fight back and not take no for an answer. Most of all Malcolm wanted the voices of black people to be heard because the majority of black people at the time were not voting because even though voting was legal for black people, until 1965 federal laws did not challenge the authority of states and locals to establish and administer their own voting requirements. The thing that made this speech so memorable to people is the fact that Malcolm answered a question that was asked about the late John F. Kennedy, in a way that came from the heart and was blunt. 

He said that Kennedy died because he was not able to stop the violence that blacks were continually facing in America, and that came back to Kennedy in the sense of karma (Malcolm X speeches).This made people realize in a more broader sense the things that blacks were going through on a daily basis, and Malcolm got through the message he wanted to.. Malcolm X, the famous civil rights activist, was born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha Nebraska. He did not grow up wealthy and his parents both earned a very low income and had to support eight kids. His mother, Louise Norton Little, was a homemaker and was almost always occupied with the family’s eight children. His father, Earl Little, was a Baptist minister and avid supporter of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. Malcolm’s father died when he was very young, and this left Malcolm’s mother by herself to raise her eight kids. Malcolm’s mom did her best to raise her children but could not handle this heavy load and was forced to give up her children to the state. She was declared mentally ill as well and sent to the Kalamazoo State Mental Hospital, where she stayed for 26 years (Malcolm X Make it Plain). Although Malcolm was not nurtured and given the educational opportunities that other kids got he made do with what he had, and in fact was a very gifted student. 

Although he was a gifted student he dropped out of school at the age of 15 (Malcolm X: An Islamic perspective). Malcolm told his teacher that he wanted to be a lawyer when he grew up, and when he said this she told him that he should stick to a labor job and one that did not require much brain power. This was the last straw for him and was one of the reasons he dropped out of school. After Malcolm dropped out of school he started dealing drugs on the streets and hanging around gang bangers and people who were a bad influence to him, which lead to his incarceration. Malcolm went to jail for the first time in 1946 with his friend Shorty. Malcolm tried to get back a stolen thousand dollar watch from a pawnshop and was arrested and charged with grand larceny, breaking and entering, and firearms possession. He was given an eight to ten year sentence, but was released in six years’ time. While he was in prison Malcolm is introduced to the Nation of Islam or NOI and their leader Elijah Muhammad, by another inmate. Malcolm immediately is attracted to the NOI and Elijah. Discovering the NOI to Malcolm was as though he had found his calling, something that he could really connect to and feel like he was a part of. Not surprisingly this is exactly what Malcolm did when he was released from prison in 1952, he joined the NOI (Malcolm X Make It Plain). Malcolm continued to work with NOI for twelve years, until 1964. During these years Malcolm rose in the ranks of the NOI and became the Minister of Harlem Temple No.7, which was a huge honor that was bestowed only to him. He also became the right hand man of Elijah Muhammad, and a sort of second leader of the NOI. Malcolm gave many speeches on behalf of the NOI to different universities and congregations of people. 

Although a lot of the speeches that were given were about the NOI a lot of them were also about civil rights and how black people in America were being segregated and treated with injustice. After twelve years of being affiliated with the NOI Malcolm X left the group. He realized that he did not have the same beliefs that they had, and believed that they were a corrupt group (Malcolm X Make It Plain). Malcolm also wanted to be more independent and be able to do things like work with other civil rights leaders, which he was not allowed to do when he was with the NOI. Secondly, Malcolm thought that the teachings of the NOI were too rigid and the organization had gone as far as it could go. Malcolm left the NOI and became a Sunni Muslim, and to fully become one he went on his pilgrimage to Mecca. On this pilgrimage Malcolm discovered an authentic Islam that had brotherhood and respect, things that the NOI did not have. On February 21st, 1965 about a year after Malcolm left the NOI he was assassinated by three members of the NOI. What I have written above is not exactly the life story of Malcolm X. Although, all of the things I wrote did happen Malcolm did not gain his success by becoming the leader of the NOI and becoming friends with Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm X gained his success because of several different factors. 

The author of Outliers: The Story of Success Malcolm Gladwell shares with his readers the many different secrets of obtaining success by showing them that the very common “rags-to-riches” idea is not the reason for success. Gladwell knows that a person’s success cannot be understood that easily, one has to look deeper into their life and “understand the culture he or she was a part of, and who their friends and families were, and what town their families came from” (Gladwell 10). Gladwell had many ideas that pertained to the path of success. Three of the ideas that lead to the eventual success Malcolm X has was the 10,000 hour rule, cultural legacies, and advantageous birth era. The 10,000 hour rule is one that states that a person needs to have 10,000 hours of practice at a certain thing to reach a level of mastery at it. That without 10,000 hours a person cannot be an expert in their field. Advantageous birth era shows us that if we are born in the right time and the right place, we are in a better position to become successful. Advantageous birth era is not the fact that you are born on a specific date but that that date allows you to be the right age to pursue the thing that makes you successful. 

Cultural legacy shows that we get different customs from our past and the way we lead our lives and the decisions we make is because of the cultural legacy weaved into our lives. Advantageous birth era shows us that if we are born in the right time and the right place, we are in a better position to become successful. Advantageous birth era is not the fact that you are born on a specific date but that that date allows you to be the right age to pursue the thing that makes you successful. Malcolm X’s success can be credited to these three factors that made him the civil rights activist and Islamic leader he is known as today. First, the thousands of hours that Malcolm X put into his debate skills, reading skills and public speaking skills helped him become a respected man and a charismatic leader and speaker. Malcolm took many debate classes to improve his debate skills, read for many hours a day for 7 years to improve his reading and comprehension ability. Second, because of the cultural legacies like his father being a minister, Malcolm also became one. Even though Malcolm did not have the same ideas his father, the fact that his father advocated for black people in some way is the reason why Malcolm did as well. Lastly, since Malcolm was born in 1925 he was the age of 30 in 1955, this being the perfect time for Malcolm to be involved in the civil rights movement, when the movement was at its peak. Practice Makes Perfect: 10,000 Leads to Mastery First, to really understand the way Malcolm X became successful we have to go into how he achieved the famous mark of 10,000 hours of practice. 

Gladwell goes deeper into the 10,000 hours affect when he writes about the life of Bill Joy. Bill was a computer scientist in the 1970’s who had put in an excessive amount of hours of work into coding to become one of the greatest computer scientist of his age. Gladwell explains how he was able to log so many hours of hard work in in this way: Just look at the stream of opportunities that came Bill Joy’s way. Because he happened to go to a farsighted school like the University of Michigan, he was able to practice on a time-sharing system instead of with punch cards; because the Michigan system happened to have a bug in it, he could program all he wanted; because the university was willing to spend the money to keep the Computer Center open twenty-four hours, he could stay up all night; and because he was able to put in so many hours, by the time he happened to be presented with the opportunity to rewrite UNIX (Gladwell 46). Gladwell goes more in depth on this topic when he wrote about how Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft himself became successful in his field because of the 10,000 hour rule. Gladwell claims: And what did virtually all of those opportunities have in common? They gave Bill Gates extra time to practice. 

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By the time Gates dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year to try his hand at his own software company, he’d been programming practically nonstop for seven consecutive years. He was way past ten thousand hours. How many teenagers in the world had the kind of experience Gates had? (Gladwell 55). How do these examples relate to Malcolm X? Once Malcolm was released from prison and joined the NOI he wrote and gave many speeches to a vast majority of people. One of his most famous ones being God’s Judgment of White America, which was extremely long and would have taken a while to write (The Oxford Companion to African American Literature).To give this speech Malcolm would of have had to have a lot of practice composing and giving them, which he has because he has given hundreds of speeches. When Malcolm was affiliated with the NOI he used to give many speeches about them and relay what their message was to society. Since Malcolm was the voice of the NOI and had multiple temples he would teach at if he gave three speeches a week in total and did that for 10 years, which was how long he was affiliated with the NOI for, that is over one thousand speeches (Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary ). 

While in prison Malcolm did not have much to do, so instead of wasting his free time he used to self-educate himself. Malcolm talks about his reading when he says: I could for the first time pick up a book and read and now begin to understand what the book was saying. Anyone who has read a great deal can imagine the new world that opened. Let me tell you something: from then until I left that prison, in every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading on my bunk. You couldn’t have gotten me out of books with a wedge (Alex Haley 267). While Malcolm was in prison he did not want to affiliate with many people, but instead saw prison as a time for him to further his education, he did this by reading relentlessly. Since he was also being recruited by the NOI he read many books about Islam and their culture. This was the only way that Malcolm could become the right hand man of Elijah Muhammad. Elijah would send him books and different academic articles and Malcolm would learn about Islam in that way. My evidence shows the significant amount of hours that Malcolm X put into the work that he did. All the speeches Malcolm wrote and performed, the debate classes he took, and memorizing the things like the dictionary, and reading for hundreds maybe thousands of hours. All of these things combined gave him so much knowledge and experience on the different things he was a master at. Gladwell had the idea that if people were to work for 10,000 hours that they would have been masters and successful in the field they put in 10,000 hours of work in. Malcolm read in prison every chance that he got, and the 10,000 hours can be shown here. Malcolm read for at least 4 hours a day, doing this for 365 days in a year, which would amount to 1460 hours a year. 

Since he was in prison for 7 years the grand total of hours that Malcolm read for is 10,220. This is more than the amount of hours needed to achieve mastery. Malcolm gave three speeches a week and if each were to last an hour on average and he did this for 10 years that would be 1560 speeches and 1560 hours of giving them. This is a grand total of 11,780 hours of work Malcolm put into his craft which allowed him to be an expert at it. This correlates to Malcolm’s success as well because if Malcolm had not put in the countless hours delivering and writing speeches then he would not have been so good at giving them. If Malcolm did not read as much as he did he would not have been as intelligent as he was, and this would then not give him the respect he earned from his peers and people around the world. His peers including Martin Luther King. This is why the 10,000 hours Malcolm put into his craft is important to his success. (Malcolm X an Islamic Perspective) Right Time Right Place Another thing that contributed to the success of Malcolm X was the fact that he was born at a time that let him partake in the civil rights movement and be a part of the NOI. 

Gladwell calls this advantageous birth era, he writes about this when he explains how Bill gates was born in an advantageous birth era: You really want to get in on the ground floor, right in 1975, and you can’t do that if you’re still in high school. So let’s also rule out anyone born after, say, 1958. The perfect age to be in 1975, in other words, is old enough to be a part of the coming revolution but not so old that you missed it Ideally, you want to be twenty or twenty-one, which is to say, born in 1954 or 1955 (Gladwell 65). Another person that Gladwell writes about that was born in an Advantageous Birth Era is Bill Joy, the computer scientist. Gladwell talks about how if it were not for the time period that Joy was born in, he would not have been presented with the opportunities he had This was the opportunity that greeted Bill Joy when he arrived on the Ann Arbor campus in the fall of 1971. He hadn’t chosen Michigan because of its computers. He had never done anything with computers in high school. 

He was interested in math and engineering. But when the programming bug hit him in his freshman year, he found himself—by the happiest of accidents—in one of the few places in the world where a seventeen-year-old could program all he wanted (Gladwell 45). Malcolm going to prison was not a fortuitous thing that happened to him, but it was one of the reasons why he was able to be so successful. Malcolm went to prison in the 1946, and in 1946 he would have been 21 which is the perfect age for him to be recruited by the NOI because he was young and still finding his way in the world. This was perfect timing for Malcolm because if he had went to prison 10 years earlier or later he would of have not gotten the opportunity to join them (History Malcolm X). The fact that Malcolm was born in 1925 is also an example of an Advantageous Birth era. When Malcolm turns 30 it would have been 1955, which places him in the perfect time and age group to be a part of the civil rights movement. If he was not born at the time he was he would of have been too young or too old to participate in the movement, but he gained an advantage because he was born at a perfect time (Malcolm X Biography). 

Malcolm X was born in an era that allowed him to be successful in the different areas he was involved in. Malcolm is born in times where he is able to be involved in the Civil Rights Movement and be able to be connected with Martin Luther King Jr. In the 1950’s Martin Luther King was leading different rallies and boycotts, one of the most prominent being the bus boycott of 1956, where black people would not use the public bus system because they were not given the same rights when it came to riding them. Rosa parks refusing to sit on the back of the bus and going to jail because of her decision also happened in the 1950’s. 

The NOI’s real boom also came in the 1950’s, they started to gain a bigger audience because they had figures like Malcolm X giving speeches across the nation (Nation of Islam). The NOI was known all over the country near the end of the 1950’s, and this was also due to the things they were preaching. Unlike Martin who believed in nonviolence the NOI believed in self-defense and standing up for yourself, even if that meant fighting other people. Malcolm was involved in almost all of the speeches and rallies that the NOI had because he was the one that was usually leading them. Gladwell says that the reason for people being successful is because of the era that they are born in, and because of that era they can accumulate different advantages that they couldn’t get if they were born in another era. This connect to Malcolm X’s life because if he was not born in 1925 then he wouldn’t be able to be a part of the civil rights movement and he would not be the right age to do so either. The same thing goes for him being able to be a part of the Nation of Islam. If Malcolm X was born just 30 years before or after he was originally born he would not be the person we know today because he wouldn’t be able to do things he did and impact the world the way he has. 

Lastly, Malcolm X’s success has a lot to do with his father, and the Cultural Legacy that was present because of his father. Gladwell explained this further when he wrote But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine. (Gladwell 19). Gladwell goes into more depth on this when he writes about how big of an effect cultural legacies have on people and what types of aspects of their lives it affects. In Malcolm’s case it is the way that his father went about life that affected how Malcolm lived his, “Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives. 

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