Today might have been Malcolm X’s 86th birthday had he not been assassinated in New York City on February 21st, 1965. It would have been interesting to see how his life and political views would have played out had it not been for those murderous thugs responsible for his death.
As I’ve written before, I’m quite interested in the life of Malcolm X, particularly how his views on the civil rights movement shifted over time. Those of you who share that interest should probably examine Manning Marable’s new biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. I’m not sure yet what to make of Marable’s interpretation of X. It isn’t exactly Alex Haley’s account. Moreover, the book has been quite controversial given that Marable discusses the possibility that Malcolm X engaged in homosexual behavior and that his marriage with Betty Shabazz was not exactly blissful. Mr. X’s grandson just today was quoted in the New York Amsterdam News criticizing the book, Marable, and that author’s suggestions about Malcolm X’s personal life before and after his conversion to Islam.
Those interested in Mr. X would probably also benefit from Columbia University’s excellent resource, The Malcolm X Project – especially if you, like me, want to sift through primary sources and not just secondary ones before coming to any conclusions. The layout of the site is a bit non-intuitive, but it contains a remarkable array of resources on its subject – including hard to find news articles from sources like the Amsterdam News.
One interesting aspect of Malcolm X’s thought worth noting on his birthday is his view of the individual right to bear arms (to which I was first alerted by historian David Beito). Several pieces at the Malcolm X Project relate to his take on it. For example, here, here, and here. What you’ll find is that Malcolm X was a supporter of the individual right to self-defense and the individual right to bear arms. As quoted in Marable’s biography, X argued that “It is lawful for anyone to own a rifle or a shotgun and it is everyone’s right to protect themselves from anyone who stands in their way to prevent them from obtaining what is rightfully theirs” (pg. 304). At one point according to Marable, X even advocated that African-Americans start gun clubs to exercise that right. Here is a speech in which Mr. X discusses the 2nd Amendment, around minute 3:00:
Here is what Malcolm X said about gun rights in his famous “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech:
Last but not least, I must say this concerning the great controversy over rifles and shotguns. The only thing that I’ve ever said is that in areas where the government has proven itself either unwilling or unable to defend the lives and the property of Negroes, it’s time for Negroes to defend themselves. Article number two of the constitutional amendments provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun. It is constitutionally legal to own a shotgun or a rifle. This doesn’t mean you’re going to get a rifle and form battalions and go out looking for white folks, although you’d be within your rights—I mean, you’d be justified; but that would be illegal and we don’t do anything illegal. If the white man doesn’t want the black man buying rifles and shotguns, then let the government do its job.
Here is one of my previous posts on Malcolm X on schools.