Malcolm X was assassinated 50 years ago on February 21 and since then, the community has been obsessed with learning all about the man behind the human rights icon. What drove him to advocate so hard for the underserved? What effect did his unsettled upbringing have on his political and social views? In her latest book, X: A Novel, his daughter Ilyasah Shabazz hopes to unravel her father’s story from his teen years into adulthood so that we might better understand her father’s legacy.
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“My first book, the children’s illustration book, was such a beautiful foundation of Malcolm, the love of his parents, the siblings, the responsibility of the adults around him that contributed to his ultimate development,” she told HuffPost Live. “And once his father was killed by the KKK and his mother was put in an institution and his siblings were separated, Malcolm was sent away from his siblings and even in that he became the class president of his school.”
“When his teacher said, 'Listen, you cannot be a lawyer," and even looking at Malcolm wanting to be a lawyer, not a fireman nor a musician nor a poet — nothing wrong with those careers — but the foundation his father had provided for him wanting to help people and defending human rights, he was in pain,” she continued. “So I often say when our young people are in pain they usually live a life, not always, of self-destruction. And so my father, in his journey of self-discovery, participated in some of those self-destructive actions and ultimately would become one of the world’s greatest political strategists and human rights activists. So X: A Novel is about that journey, his adolescence from 14 to 20.”
It was these formative years that would create the icon who would later rile up a nation, a man who found the courage to speak when so many let fear silence them.
"He loved his people. He loved his country. He sacrificed his life," Shabazz said. "He was just in his 20s when the world would learn of him. He was only 39 when he was killed. He was a man of great compassion and impeccable integrity."
Shabazz, who was only three when Malcolm X was killed, stressed the importance of continuing the work he began and teaching future generations that they have the power to make things better.
“I think it’s such an unfortunate assassination, but I think it’s important to examine our social climate and then as adults now, 50 years later, that we adults have to take responsibility for what we’re teaching our children. If we want better then we have to be those agents that we seek.”
As for whether she feels others have properly carried on that torch since her father’s death, Shabazz was quick to say that today’s youth are not taking injustices sitting down.
"My father was seeking the oneness of humanity," she said. "I think there are many young people now who are looking more into his work and carrying it forward."
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(Photos from left: Candlewick, Richard Saunders/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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