By Ilyasah Shabazz (@ilyasahShabazz)
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and have lived well.” – RALPH WALDO EMERSON
My father—El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Malcolm X was an exemplary human being because of the service he gave to humanity. Malcolm X was only in his 20s when he burst onto the scene of the human rights struggle. He was only in his 20s when he hoisted all of humanity upon his shoulders. And in just a few short years of tireless service, he carried all of us forward into a brighter and more egalitarian future—asking nothing for himself or his family in return. My father was just 39 years old when he was martyred. But thanks to Allah, he left us with a legacy . . . A legacy of Truth! A legacy of courage, compassion, and love for all humanity and a legacy of service to God.
My father, like his parents, was willing to risk everything—including his life, in the name of truth and justice. In my book, I discuss that one of my greatest concerns about the way my family’s history is told is the distorted picture that is given of my father’s early family life. One such distortion is that before my father went to prison and discovered the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, he was an illiterate deviant who could barely sign his name. To some degree, the Autobiography is responsible for this. Before making Hajj, everything my father did was for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation [of Islam]. The Autobiography was completed after my father’s assassination. And three of the final chapters were strangely omitted.
My father, who was devoted to Elijah Muhammad during the first-run of the Autobiography, downplayed his own intelligence and his family’s educational and moral influence. But the truth is the Little’s were dignified, moral, well-read and well-educated citizens—- Earl and Louise were two young “conscious” activists having met in Canada at a Garvey rally. And it was they, as husband and wife—father and mother, who emphasized the importance of social justice, literacy and education to young Malcolm and his siblings. It was they, my grandparents, who promoted Literacy, [accountability, responsibility, and leadership ideals] in young Malcolm and his siblings.
Malcolm’s mother, Louise Norton-Little, was an educated woman from Grenada: St. George’s Dominion, who spoke five different languages and who served as the national recording secretary for Marcus Garvey’s organization, the United Negro Improvement Association. As a young mother, she filled their home with language, culture, humanity, and the love of education, teaching young Malcolm and her other children to sing the alphabet in French and having them read to her from newspapers produced by Garvey and a fellow Grenadian. She kept a dictionary on the table where her children did their homework; and if they mispronounced a word, she made them look it up. (I’d imagine, that’s where my father’s habit of reading the dictionary arose.)
My grandfather, Reverend Earl Little, was a Baptist minister who helped organize Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association. Grandfather Earl fought fearlessly for freedom from the inhumane yet lawful oppression of Black skinned people back in the 1920s. On the night of my grandfather’s assassination, he, was giving service—gathering signatures—in Klu Klux Klan territory, for a petition to bring the U.S. government up on charges before the League of Nations for violating the human rights of Black Americans. The League of Nations was the predecessor to the United Nations. And so, it was the thinking and analysis of Earl, Louise, and the Garveyites that influenced my father’s nationalistic, pluralistic, and global understanding of freedom strategies.
At the time of my father’s death, he was planning to bring the U.S. before the United Nations on the exact same charges [as] his father‘s petition, i.e., for violating the rights of 22 million Black Americans. Tirelessly and selflessly, Haj Malik Shabazz, Malcolm X had garnered the support of 33 heads of African states for this effort.
The cause of uniting Africans (or Black people) of the Diaspora to reclaim control of Africa and their heritage; and to preserve an economic and cultural land base from which Africans and the Diaspora would thrive and provide leadership in the world order and global economy as every other ethnic group.
All of this dedication and work because the seeds of scholarship, responsibility and accountability were sown in my father at an early age by his parents, Grandfather Earl and Grandmother Louise—who were also young activists championing for social justice in the 1920s.
I am often reminded that during my father’s time, teachers in classrooms all across the world taught that Africa and her people had no history pre-Enslavement—before the bondage of Black people. The older men of my father’s day tell me the beauty of Malcolm was that for the first time in their lives, they heard good things—honest and accurate facts—about who they were as men, and, as men of African descent … as human beings. Malcolm told them that they did in fact have a history—the richest history ever recorded and one of which to be proud. That for the first time in their lives, they heard documented historical facts about from whence they came. And so for them, the detachment from history, the disconnection from culture, and the repudiation of their heritage that continually haunted them … ended.
Malcolm X read everything you can imagine—newspapers, magazines, biographies, histories, the dictionary, encyclopedia—anything on which he could get his hands. And he had a wide range of interests: the classics, anthropology, world history, African history, the origin of religions, anything by or about people of color. He was so widely read and so brilliant that he was able to truthfully educate a mis-educated nation about its history. Malcolm X, quite a young man himself, teaching the world the truth about history! What an invaluable service to humanity.
People mistakenly say that my father made Hajj and came back a changed man who NOW loved humanity—like he didn’t previously. They say, “He returned to the United States with a newly found compassion for all people.”
My father’s struggle for the benefit of people began long before he made Hajj. He traveled around this country alone tirelessly educating and lecturing because of his love for people, because of his love for our humanity. For all of those years of sacrifice, he pleaded with this nation’s citizens and demanded of its government because he possessed great compassion for humanity. It seems that his Hajj served to increase his awareness and understanding. That’s why people make Hajj—but it did not change him into one who loved humanity. He had already proven himself as such.
And today, I can honestly say I am extremely proud to be a daughter of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Malcolm X, and of Dr. Betty Shabazz. They were exceptional human beings. Simply extraordinary. And I do not say this because they are my parents; but because of their love and compassion for all of us. They dedicated themselves to complete service to humanity… freedom and justice.