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Opinion: We can finally meet the real Malcolm X

February 21, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 19.8%. 2 min read.

Amid an ongoing racial reckoning in America, Malcolm X's radical legacy continues to undergo an extraordinary resurgence in American politics and culture over half a century after his death, 56 years ago this week, says historian Peniel Joseph.

He is the author of several books, most recently, "The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. " The views expressed here are his own.

In prison Malcolm Little found his m├ętier in religion and politics via membership in the Nation of Islam (NOI), unorthodox practitioners of Islam who believed in racial solidarity, economic self-determination, and that their leader Elijah Muhammad was the literal messenger of God. By the late 1950s, through a documentary hosted by Mike Wallace and reported by Black journalist Louis Lomax, Malcolm X and the NOI became household names whose calls for racial separatism and indictment against White racism lent a radical veneer to a group that eschewed formal political engagement.

Malcolm X's bold denunciation of White supremacy attracted thousands of new converts to the NOI, many drawn by his audacious display of Black intelligence, charismatic speaking style and ability to outclass a wide range of debate opponents.

By the time of his February 21, 1965 assassination, Malcolm's political evolution reflected a willingness to collaborate with former adversaries, most notably King, a recognition that politically progressive and sincere Whites could be part of a wider racial justice struggle, and an effort to convince the entire world that the struggle for Black dignity and freedom represented nothing less than a global human rights movement.

Malcolm X is still too often best remembered as the political sword who contrasted with Martin Luther King's nonviolent shield.

Likewise, Malcolm's influence on King can be seen in the latter years of King's career -- increasingly sharp critiques of White supremacy, a warm embrace of Black pride and political self-determination and anti-war activism.

Malcolm X was always more than the sum parts of the most brutal aspects of his personal and political experiences.

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