What in your view was the short term significance of Malcolm X? Essay
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Malcolm X was much different from any other civil rights activists who were participating in the civil rights movement. His violent policies often led him into trouble, none more so when he was assassinated by members of his own organisation at the age of 39. Before his assassination he was well known for being a strong speaker and for his attempts at raising the awareness of the situation blacks faced in the ghettos of the USA. This led to X becoming a significant figure within the civil rights movement in the short term.
A primary source taken from a quote from The New York Times newspaper states how Malcolm X ‘had the ingredients for leadership’, although his ‘ruthless and fanatical belief in violence’ prevented X from becoming the sort of leader which he had hoped. However the source is from around X’s time and therefore the relevant information has not been yet gathered to perhaps evaluate his leadership skills, it does prove to be a rather accurate take on X’s leadership. Malcolm firstly did take a violent approach within the civil rights movement, and as the source goes on to comment he was then met by ‘a violent end’.
Malcolm’s end came at the hands of his own people, which proves that he was perhaps too far involved with the violent side of the civil rights movement, and his actions must have been so radical for his own to assassinate him. Overall it shows that although Malcolm had potential to be a leader in the fight for equality, he failed to do so, due to his ideologies and his policy of violence. I agree with the sources view that Malcolm X did have the leadership potential, but it was clear that Black American’s had wanted to go about reducing racial discrimination with use of a non violent approach, this is shown in X’s rivalry with Martin Luther King who always had fonder support from Black American’s. Therefore he had very little short term significance due to his radical views.
A source that contradicts this would be the opinion of James Farmer from the Congress of Racial Equality. Who felt that X did nothing but ‘verbalize’ and that he didn’t actually take any ‘action’. This is a primary source, and may be bias in that it was taken from around that time. It perhaps doesn’t have the relevant information to back up what it is attempting to say. However the source is important in that it came from James Farmer, who was a fellow civil rights activist and a black American, this is likely to make it bias, as it is likely that Farmer is going to want to be viewed as a more capable civil rights activist than Malcolm X, and gain popularity for himself, and is therefore going to do anything he can to make it seem as though X is doing nothing for the civil rights movement.
In terms of what the source is actually commenting upon, it is debatable on whether it is actually true. Although Malcolm X was a fond speaker, for example making speeches on the race problem in America, and the African revolution and the impact it had on the American Negros, it is difficult to think of anything that he physically done during his time as a civil rights activist aside from his work with the Black Panthers, this shows some lack of significance, as if he was significant, surely it would be easy to think of for example an event he has organised, or some action he has taken. Therefore to a certain extent I agree with the source.
In terms of advancing the civil rights movement a source which comes from a man named Alex Haley is important in showing how significant Malcolm X was in doing this. Towards the end of the interview Haley says how X had been a speaker outside his church, attempting to persuade people to think as he did, and to think about how Black Americans had been treated unequally and that although people think that they are equal to the white man, they are actually not. This then saw churches to split, and even those who never chose to convert to the Nation of Islam done so shakily.
This showed that Malcolm X was gaining more support, and this in turn was helping the civil rights movement to advance further. Although this source may be bias, Alex Haley being fond of Malcolm X says himself how as a young writer he was very interested by X and was in his words ‘bordered on fascination’. The source is primary, and again likely to be bias, and to add to this further Haley in fact wrote Malcolm X’s autobiography, showing how fond of X he actually was. However it is important to highlight that one of X’s strong traits was that he was a good speaker, and it is highly likely that through his ideological views he could persuade American’s to his way of thinking. Therefore I am inclined to agree with the views of this source, because I know that one of Malcolm X’s strong attributes was his ability as a speaker.
A similar source coming from an educational website informing about the life of Malcolm X and his role in the civil rights movement comments that X became the ‘leader of activists’ who had believed that non-violent protest would be unable to bring about the desired change for blacks that everybody wanted. This to me suggests that Malcolm X made progress with the civil rights movement, perhaps not in advancing it in a way that most wanted, however he did further it towards equality by his inspiration to other activists and breaking previous commitment to non-violent protest. This is a trustworthy source being that its aims are to educate, and it comes from a website which enables students to read up on information about various topics. I am led to believe this source as I know that X was significant in advancing the civil rights movement. For example his aid in the implication of laws such as the Civil Rights Act 1964, as well as raising consciousness to the situation of certain blacks.
A secondary source taken from a school text book highlights the influence that Malcolm X had on the Black people of the USA. The source states that X did a lot to improve the situation for Blacks in America’s ghettos, and he ‘drew early attention’ to the conditions in these ghettos. He became a black icon and role model for black youth. This source is reliable in saying this due to the fact that it is secondary and written to educate. It is unlikely that the source which comprises part of a school text book would be giving irrelevant or unreliable data. I also happen to know that Malcolm X is well known for his work in relieving the situation for Blacks in the north and in the ghettos, therefore I am able to trust this source. However the source also criticises X for his use of violence during the civil rights movement, making it quite difficult to comprehend whether the source is positive towards X’s influence on blacks or negative. Also it could be argued that due to the fact the source states he had influence on the ‘black youth’ means he wasn’t really significant as a whole.
Furthermore, a primary source which coming from the article ‘The Angry Children of Malcolm X’ again supports the idea that Malcolm X influenced Black Americans. It says that Malcolm was not afraid of speaking what he felt was right, and saying the things that Negroes had been saying ‘among themselves’ as well as the things they were ‘afraid’ to say. According to the article Malcolm X ‘cut through the chains on black minds like a giant blow-torch’. This shows X’s influence on Blacks who looked up to him because he was not afraid to say what many wanted to. Although this source is perhaps unreliable in that it is primary, the relevant information may not have been gathered to say what it does.
However when relating back to the other sources that I have used, we learn that Malcolm X was well known for being a strong speaker, which may have helped his significance in influencing black Americans. The source hints that X influenced more than the black youth unlike the previous source comments, although being there as X imposed himself upon the civil rights movement the author of this source ‘Julius Lester’ may have a more certified idea of the influence that X had on black American’s being that he was a black American himself, and a successful university graduate, with a prosperous career in writing. This leads me to trust this source more than the previous source, as it makes a sure statement about the significance of Malcolm X.
In terms of reducing racial discrimination a man named Bayard Rustin in this next source seemed to have the belief that X was only a marginal figure, and also that he didn’t seem to have any ‘real answers’ to the immediate problems which Negroes wanted an answer to. Although this source is primary coming from 1964 therefore may be unreliable due to its lack of evidence. Being also that Bayard Rustin was a black civil rights activist himself makes the source rather unreliable. It is likely that he would have wanted to put his own ideas across and thus create his own legacy, and to do this perhaps involved drawing followers away from Malcolm X and towards himself. Therefore I do not agree with this source due to its unreliability and lack of evidence. The further implication that Malcolm X had very little significance appears to me to be false. Although I do believe that Malcolm X did not directly reduce racial discrimination, his significance came from him making others aware of the situations for example in northern America with blacks in ghettos which other activists such as rival King did little for.
In a critical source by the Saturday Evening Post in 1964, X is slated for being a burglar, addict, jailbird and a ‘preacher of hatred’. This suggests that he did very little for the reduction of racial discrimination. However the source is unreliable and may be bias due to it being primary. The source makes X’s short term significance out to be very little, and if he were not a Negro then he wouldn’t have any influence at all.
Whilst I believe this is understandable at that time, when assessed it is clear to see that Malcolm had some involvement in the reduction of racial discrimination. It was due to his and other activists influences that certain laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were implemented, to stop racism. Although he never directly implemented such laws, his ideas were significant to many other activists, and his ideas were even taken a hold of his rival King after his death. This shows the extent of Malcolm X’s short term significance.
To conclude, I think that the short term significance was great. Although many had not been attracted to X’s ideas of violence and believed he was unruly and dangerous, it can’t be disregarded the effect that X had in his use as a strong speaker, and his attempts to take another route towards reducing racial discrimination. In many ways his significance helped to open the eyes of others, for example his work in raising consciousness of the blacks in the ghettos was very influential and brought about certain implementations of laws. Therefore, I think that Malcolm X had great short term significance through his leadership, influence on blacks particularly in northern America, and his advancing of the civil rights movement.