What impact did Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam have on the civil rights movement in the United States of America in the period between 1960 and 1965?
In the United States of America (USA), in the period 1960 to 1965, the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X had a strong impact on the civil rights movement. Through the bold teachings of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, African-Americans gained a greater awareness of the horrific atrocities committed against them by Caucasians throughout the history of the USA and specifically during the civil rights campaign, and this impacted on the civil rights movement as issues such as racial violence and inequality were exposed by the teachings of the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam empowered many African-Americans to stand up for their human rights, whilst Malcolm X provided a strong example to African-Americans of someone who was willing to stand up for the fundamental rights of the race which positively impacted on the civil rights movement.Order now
The Nation of Islam offered an extreme alternative to the non-violent approach of Martin Luther King Junior and other civil rights groups and made the demands for equality of King far more acceptable to Caucasians, despite the fact that the sense of militancy that accompanied Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam gave the African-American people greater voice, strength and unity within the community, the extreme views of the Nation of Islam negatively impacted upon the civil rights movement in the period 1960 to 1965, as their beliefs conflicted with other civil rights groups and leaders which made progress and unity harder to achieve within African-American society. Thus, the imposing presence of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam in the USA between 1960 and 1965, had a strong impact on the civil rights movement despite the positive and negative responses that were elicited.
The teachings of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X impacted on the civil rights movement as they exposed and created a greater awareness of the atrocities committed against African-Americans throughout their history. Black Muslims believe that the “white man is the devil”
1 and that Caucasians over time had “robbed, raped, beaten and destroyed the Black man”
2. This philosophy strongly appealed to many African-Americans, as not only did it reveal the crimes that had been committed by Caucasians but it also put forward the idea that African-Americans are superior to Caucasians. The Nation of Islam’s teachings were often accepted by those in the most vulnerable and exploited position within society as they found the teachings and philosophies of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X relevant and real to their experiences.
This applied to a young Malcolm X who in his autobiography stated, “when I thought back I could not remember a single good thing a white person had ever done to me”
3. Atrocities committed against African-Americans by Caucasians include the horrific lynchings that occurred across the USA, with approximately 3,445 African-American lynshings between 1882 and 1968. The severity, callousness and racism of the lynchings illustrates the atrocities that the Nation of Islam exposed in its teachings, “typically, the victims were hung or burned to death by mobs of White vigilantes, frequently in front of thousands of spectators, many of whom would take pieces of the dead person’s body as souvenirs to help remember the spectacular event”
4. The philosophy of the Nation of Islam exposed the atrocities that Caucasians had committed against African-Americans throughout history and in the period between 1960 and 1965, and thus both the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X impacted strongly upon the civil rights movement.
The strong teachings of the Nation of Islam and the leadership of Malcolm X impacted on the civil rights movement as it empowered many African-Americans within the community to stand up for their fundamental human rights and challenge those who threaten these rights. The teachings of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam are that the African-American race is superior to the Caucasian race, and that “the Black Man will endure forever, for he is born in righteousness”
5. This philosophy sanctioned greater strength within the African-American community before and during the civil rights campaign and thus positively impacted upon the civil rights movement as African-Americans were encouraged to strive for the greatness and supremacy that African-Americans had been deprived of, according to the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam also used African history to unite and empower African-Americans who had limited knowledge of any racial history, as Malcolm X stated, “one of the things that made the Black Muslim movement grow was its emphasis upon things African.
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.”
6 The united African-American front of the Nation of Islam is illustrated in the establishment of This outspoken and strong leadership of Malcolm X, similarly impacted upon the civil rights movement as African-Americans began to follow the example Malcolm X set as demonstrated through the testimony of a militant following Malcolm X’s death, “What made Malcolm X a great man, is that he had the guts to say what nine-tenths of American Negroes would like to say but don’t have the guts to say”.
7 Malcolm X attracted many African-Americans to the Nation of Islam through promoting a religion that was perceived to stand up for African-Americans against Caucasians, “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”
8. This uncompromising strength and ambition that Malcolm X conveyed empowered African-Americans and thus, there was a greater African-American voice within the USA in the period of 1960-1965.
The growing presence of the Nation of Islam with its extreme and often perceived offensive views of its members in the USA between 1960 and 1965, allowed the work of King and organisations wanting integration, to receive wider acceptance as an alternative to the ‘black power’ and ‘black nationalism’ that the Nation of Islam offered. NAACP, SCLC. Similarly, many pitted Malcolm X against King and the preferred alternative for African-Americans and obviously Caucasians was King. Malcolm X realised that the seemingly severe and radical Black Muslims made King far more acceptable to Caucasians, “At one time the whites in the United States called him a racialist, and extremist, and a Communist. Then the Black Muslims came along and the whites thanked the Lord for Martin Luther King”
9. The intense and racist views of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X impacted on the civil rights movement as it often made the non-violent equalitarian views of King and other civil rights groups more acceptable to Caucasians and many African-Americans in the USA between 1960 and 1965.
The extreme view of Caucasians taken by Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, negatively impacted on the civil rights movement, as it distanced the relationship between the two races. As the Nation of Islam viewed Caucasians with such detestation and anger, the ability of Muslim leaders such as Malcolm X to impact upon the civil rights movement through cooperation with other civil rights leaders, either African-American or Caucasian, was limited until 1964 when he was able to form and organisation that encouraged cooperation between civil rights leaders (the Organisation of Afro-American Unity). Before Malcolm X split from the Nation of Islam he refused to work alongside anyone who did not follow the extreme views that Elijah Muhammad taught him, “It could also be argued that the attacks from the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X on others involved in the civil rights movement also negatively impacted the movement, as illustrated through Malcolm X’s verbal attacks on King, “He (King) got the peace prize, we got the problem. … If I’m following a general, and he’s leading me into a battle, and the enemy tends to give him rewards, or awards, I get suspicious of him. Especially if he gets a peace award before the war is over”
10. As the philosophies of the Nation of Islam contradicted many of the objectives of other civil rights groups and leaders, it impacted negatively on the civil rights movement between 1960 and 1965 through their inability to co-operate with other groups and leaders.
The increasing presence of the Nation of Islam within the US community in the period 1960 to 1965, signified strength and unity amongst African-Americans and the strong, militant philosophies demonstrated by Malcolm X in this period gave African-Americans a voice within the community that impacted on the civil rights movement. Malcolm X pushed ‘black’ unity which gave African-Americans unity that it had not seen before in the USA, “All of us are black first, and everything else second”
11. The strong, purposeful philosophies of Malcolm X who was renowned for his famous “by any means necessary” statement, gave African-Americans a militant figure who was prepared to physically fight Caucasians. This appealed to many African-Americans who wanted to counteract Caucasian violence with violence.
Malcolm X’s consistent threat to the Caucasian community also impacted on the civil rights campaign as Caucasians felt threatened by the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X. The creation of the militant African-American, Black Panther Party, “in the wake of the assassination of black leader Malcolm X”
12, in 1966, illustrates the impact of Malcolm X’s militant that inspired the creation of this group that Federal Bureau of Investigation chief J. Edgar Hoover described as, “the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States”.
1 What is Islam? What is a Muslim?, http://www.muhammadspeaks.com/about.html
3 A. Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Penguin,
4 R.W. Logan, The betrayal of the Negro: From Rutherford B. Hayes to Woodrow Wilson, New York, Macmillan, P.239.
5 The Nation of Islam, http://www.noi.org.html
6 The Official Website of Malcolm X, www.cmgww.com/historic/malcolm/quotations.html
10 The Official Website of Malcolm X, www.cmgww.com/historic/malcolm/quotations.html
11 Malcolm X,”God’s angry men”, WO, 31 May 1958 (FBI files 105-8999-788)
12 The Black Panther, http://www.blackpanther.org/TenPoint.htm
Modern History 12 Individual Essay Cullen Bailey