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Last Updated on January 9, 2023

Malcolm X was a charismatic human rights activist during the civil rights movement. From a petty criminal who spent years inside prison cells, he transformed himself through serious readings on the Muslim faith, until he became its most articulate spokesman.

Early life            

He was named Malcolm Little when he was born on the 19th of May, 1925. His father was Earl Little, a Baptist minister and an avid follower of Marcus Garvey, a Black Nationalist leader. Due to his involvement with the movement, the family was threatened by the white supremacist group Black Legion, forcing them to relocate when Malcolm was only four years old.

In 1929, the family’s house was burned down. A few years later, Earl was murdered, with his body left near the train tracks for all the town to see. Louise Little succumbed to a serious mental breakdown soon after and had to be institutionalized. Her children were split up among several foster homes and orphanages, with Malcom finally landing in his half-sister’s home in Roxbury near Boston. It was here that Malcolm became involved in petty crimes and served time for his wrongdoings.

The Nation of Islam

In a sense, life in prison was positive for young Malcolm. Here, he used the time to further his education. The regular prison visits of his younger brother Reginald ushered his conversion to Islam. Reginald belonged to the religious organization called the Nation of Islam (NOI), which tremendously influenced Malcom’s early activism. He became the ardent follower of NOI leader Elijah Muhammad, who claimed that the whites kept the blacks in a perpetual state of powerlessness. Muhammad envisioned an independent state of blacks. When Malcolm was paroled in 1952, he removed his surname because it was a slave name, and chose “X” instead.

Malcolm’s rise in the movement was fast. Being articulate, he was appointed minister and national spokesman for the NOI. In no time, he was also doing columns, radio appearances and TV talks in the propagation of NOI’s doctrines. Malcolm’s charisma reflected in the large numbers of members flocking to the NOI, increasing its membership from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963 when the civil rights movement surged. A week-long TV special in 1959, which explored the fundamentals of NOI, raised Malcolm’s popularity over that of his mentor Mohamad. It also attracted the FBI to the growing organization, infiltrating it and placing bugs, wiretaps and other surveillance equipment to monitor NOI’s activities.

The Muslim Mosque

At the height of the civil rights movement in 1963, Malcolm X’s faith in his Mentor Muhammad crashed. He discovered that the latter was having relations with six women in the NOI and that some of these relationships bore children. Since joining the NOI, Malcolm was strict about his own morals. Practicing celibacy before his marriage, he could not tolerate Muhamad’s dalliances and refused to help cover up Muhamad’s affairs. He began to feel that the organization was fraudulent, with too many lies to ignore.

Shortly after his shocking discovery, he was criticized for a comment he made on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. After that, he was forbidden by his mentor and leader Muhamad to issue statements or make speeches for 90 days. That ended his relationship with NOI, after which he founded his own religious organization: the Muslim Mosque, Inc. His subsequent trip to Mecca, Saudi Arabia proved to be life-changing.

Malcolm X’s Ideology

Malcolm X began to challenge the mainstream civil rights movement and the non-violent protests espoused by Martin Luther King. Instead, he exhorted blacks to defend themselves by any means necessary. He criticized the movement as “too sectarian and too inhibited,” advocating greater engagements in the black struggles that were exploding in the country. He said in order to become involved in the civil rights movement, politics and religion had to be separated.

After a visit to Africa, Malcolm was arguing that the black struggle in the United States was part of an international struggle, one connected to the struggle against capitalism and imperialism. He was turning socialist in his ideology, explaining that the fight for black liberation was no longer simply a racial conflict.

Assassination

The break with NOI made life dangerous for Malcolm. He rarely traveled without bodyguards. On February 14, 1965, his home was firebombed, but nobody got injured. A week later, however, his enemies were successful. While he was speaking, three men rushed onstage and fatally shot him 15 times. He was dead on arrival at the hospital.

Although his life was ended, the ideas he preached lived on in the Black Power Movement in the 1970s. Thanks to his valiant efforts, he helped pave the way for racial equality and inspired many others to pursue it.

Here are 88 inspiring quotes from Malcolm X:

Malcolm X Quotes

“A new world order is in the making, and it is up to us to prepare ourselves that we may take our rightful place in it.” – Malcolm X

“What I want to know is how the white man, with the blood of black people dripping off his fingers, can have the audacity to be asking black people [why] they hate him?” – Malcolm X

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“Yes, I’m an extremist. The black race… is in extremely bad condition. You show me a black man who isn’t an extremist and I’ll show you one who needs psychiatric attention!” – Malcolm X

“There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.” – Malcolm X

“I find it difficult [to believe] that… Christians accuse [Black Muslims] of teaching racial supremacy or… hatred, because their own history and… teachings are filled with it.” – Malcolm X

“Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American.” – Malcolm X

“The holiest and most sacred city on earth. The fountain of truth, love, peace, and brotherhood.” – Malcolm X

“I am not a racist. I am against every form of racism and segregation, every form of discrimination. I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color.” – Malcolm X

“How can anyone be against love?” – Malcolm X

“It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong, what do you do? You integrate it with cream… But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep.” – Malcolm X

“The white man is afraid of truth… I’m the only black man they’ve ever been close to who they know speaks the truth to them. Its their guilt that upsets them, not me.” – Malcolm X

“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” – Malcolm X

“We’re not Americans, we’re Africans who happen to be in America. We were kidnapped and brought here against our will from Africa. We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock – that rock landed on us.” – Malcolm X

“Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.” – Malcolm X

“It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.” – Malcolm X

“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom. “ – Malcolm X

“People involved in a revolution don’t become part of the system; they destroy the system… The Negro revolution is no revolution because it condemns the system and then asks the system it has condemned to accept them…” – Malcolm X

“One of the things that made the Black Muslim movement grow was its emphasis upon things African. This was the secret to the growth of the Black Muslim movement. African blood, African origin, African culture, African ties. And you’d be surprised – we discovered that deep within the subconscious of the black man in this country , he is still more African than he is American.” – Malcolm X

“The price of freedom is death.” – Malcolm X

“History is a people’s memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals.” – Malcolm X

“Power never takes a back step – only in the face of more power. “ – Malcolm X

“Time is on the side of the oppressed today, it’s against the oppressor. Truth is on the side of the oppressed today, it’s against the oppressor. You don’t need anything else.” – Malcolm X

“Speaking like this doesn’t mean that we’re anti-white, but it does mean we’re anti-exploitation, we’re anti-degradation, we’re anti-oppression.” – Malcolm X

“Once I was, yes. But now I have turned my direction away from anything that’s racist.” – Malcolm X

“Early in life I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.” – Malcolm X

“We do not condemn the preachers as an individual but we condemn what they teach. We urge that the preachers teach the truth, to teach our people the one important guiding rule of conduct – unity of purpose.” – Malcolm X

“I don’t even call it violence when it’s in self defense; I call it intelligence.” – Malcolm X

“If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her. And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country.” – Malcolm X

“Nonviolence is fine as long as it works.” – Malcolm X

“A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” – Malcolm X

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“I am for violence if non-violence means we continue postponing a solution to the American black man’s problem just to avoid violence.” – Malcolm X

“There can be no black-white unity until there is first some black unity. We cannot think of uniting with others, until after we have first united among ourselves. We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” – Malcolm X

“We black men have a hard enough time in our own struggle for justice, and already have enough enemies as it is, to make the drastic mistake of attacking each other and adding more weight to an already unbearable load.” – Malcolm X

“My alma mater was books, a good library. I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.” – Malcolm X

“You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it. “ – Malcolm X

“We declare our right on this earth 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.” – Malcolm X

“I believe in human rights for everyone, and none of us is qualified to judge each other and that none of us should therefore have that authority.” – Malcolm X

“I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation.” – Malcolm X

“The only way we’ll get freedom for ourselves is to identify ourselves with every oppressed people in the world. We are blood brothers to the people of Brazil, Venezuelan Haiti and Cuba.” – Malcolm X

“Stumbling is not falling.” – Malcolm X

“I am neither a fanatic nor a dreamer. I am a black man who loves peace, and justice, and loves his people.” – Malcolm X

“Dr. King wants the same thing I want. Freedom.” – Malcolm X

“In all our deeds, the proper value and respect for time determines success or failure.” – Malcolm X

“The Negro revolution is controlled by foxy white liberals, by the Government itself. But the Black Revolution is controlled only by God.” – Malcolm X

“History is not hatred.” – Malcolm X

“I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke in me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.” – Malcolm X

“A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it can never fulfill itself.” – Malcolm X

“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” – Malcolm X

“People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.” – Malcolm X

“Envy blinds men and makes it impossible for them to think clearly.” – Malcolm X

“I want Dr. King to know that I didn’t come to Selma to make his job difficult. I really did come thinking I could make it easier. If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King.” – Malcolm X

“Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny, because the power of a just cause is based on conviction, and leads to resolute and uncompromising action.” – Malcolm X

“Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.” – Malcolm X

“I believe in the brotherhood of all men, but I don’t believe in wasting brotherhood on anyone who doesn’t want to practice it with me. Brotherhood is a two-way street.” – Malcolm X

“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.” – Malcolm X

“It takes heart to be a guerrilla warrior because you’re on your own. In conventional warfare you have tanks and a whole lot of other people with you to back you up—planes over your head and all that kind of stuff. But a guerrilla is on his own. All you have is a rifle, some sneakers and a bowl of rice, and that’s all you need — and a lot of heart.” – Malcolm X

“There is nothing in our book, the Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That’s a good religion.” – Malcolm X

“When a person places the proper value on freedom, there is nothing under the sun that he will not do to acquire that freedom. Whenever you hear a man saying he wants freedom, but in the next breath he is going to tell you what he won’t do to get it, or what he doesn’t believe in doing in order to get it, he doesn’t believe in freedom. A man who believes in freedom will do anything under the sun to acquire or preserve his freedom.” – Malcolm X

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“They put your mind right in a bag, and take it wherever they want.” – Malcolm X

“If you have no critics you’ll likely have no success.” – Malcolm X

“You show me a capitalist, and I’ll show you a bloodsucker.” – Malcolm X

“You don’t have to be a man to fight for freedom. All you have to do is to be an intelligent human being.” – Malcolm X

“The real names of our people were destroyed during slavery. The last name of my forefathers was taken from them when they were brought to America and made slaves, and then the name of the slave master was given, which we refuse, we reject that name today and refuse it. I never acknowledge it whatsoever.” – Malcolm X

“I believe in a religion that believes in freedom. Any time I have to accept a religion that won’t let me fight a battle for my people, I say to hell with that religion.” – Malcolm X

“One day, may we all meet together in the light of understanding.” – Malcolm X

“We are nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us.” – Malcolm X

“I don’t see an American Dream, I see an American Nightmare.” – Malcolm X

“I’m the man you think you are. If you want to know what I’ll do, figure out what you’ll do. I’ll do the same thing–only more of it.” – Malcolm X

“What is a Dixiecrat? A Democrat. A Dixiecrat is nothing but a Democrat in disguise.” – Malcolm X

“Without education, you’re not going anywhere in this world.” – Malcolm X

“The day that the black man takes an uncompromising step and realizes that he’s within his rights, when his own freedom is being jeopardized, to use any means necessary to bring about his freedom or put a halt to that injustice, I don’t think he’ll be by himself.” – Malcolm X

“Being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they’ve always made me glad.” – Malcolm X

“I for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they’ll create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action.” – Malcolm X

“I feel like a man who has been asleep somewhat and under someone else’s control. I feel that what I’m thinking and saying is now for myself. Before it was for and by the guidance of Elijah Muhammad. Now I think with my own mind, sir!” – Malcolm X

“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” – Malcolm X

“When ghetto living seems normal, you have no shame, no privacy.” – Malcolm X

“If you have a dog, I must have a dog. If you have a rifle, I must have a rifle. If you have a club, I must have a club. This is equality.” – Malcolm X

“Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” – Malcolm X

“You can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree. You can’t hate Africa and not hate yourself.” – Malcolm X

“If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.” – Malcolm X

“To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace.” – Malcolm X

“I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he’s wrong. Than the one who comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil.” – Malcolm X

“My black brothers and sisters – of all religious beliefs, or of no religious beliefs – we all have in common the greatest binding tie we could have. We are all black people!” – Malcolm X

“Segregation is that which is forced upon an inferior by a superior. Separation is done voluntarily by two equals.” – Malcolm X

“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” – Malcolm X

“I just don’t believe that when people are being unjustly oppressed that they should let someone else set rules for them by which they can come out from under that oppression.” – Malcolm X

“It’s hard for anyone intelligent to be nonviolent. Everything in the universe does something when you start playing with his life, except the American Negro. He lays down and says, ‘Beat me, daddy.’“ – Malcolm X

“In the past, the greatest weapon the white man has had has been his ability to divide and conquer. If I take my hand and slap you, you don’t even feel it. It might sting you because these digits are separated. But all I have to do to put you back in your place is bring those digits together.” – Malcolm X