“By any means necessary”: DePaul Socialists remember Malcolm X


Malcolm X. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

During the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-50s, while Martin Luther King Jr. offered a message of justice by way of peace, Malcolm X led an alternative movement focused on combating racism by enforcing the values of black empowerment, liberation and achieving social justice “by any means necessary,” which included violence.

While Malcolm X’s rhetoric shifted, and he favored a more peaceful approach to achieving civil rights by the time of his assassination in 1965, the intense and perceivably radical ideologies he held during the peak of his leadership continue to linger, making him one of the most prominent, yet controversial voices of the Civil Rights Movement.

In an event hosted Wednesday, Feb. 14 by the DePaul Socialists, a room packed with students and faculty reflected on the life and legacy of activist Malcolm X, openly discussing how his more aggressive political views evolved and why his message of persistence lives on.  

DePaul student Anna Winston began the event by providing some background on the blatant racism and discrimination Malcolm X—then known as Malcolm Little—endured growing up. She also discussed his fall into a life of criminal activity, and how his six years in jail and conversion to Islam pushed him to use his voice to encourage African-Americans from all classes to come together and become self-reliant.

Following the short biographical overview of Malcolm’s life, the event soon transitioned into a group discussion. Nursing student Mary Bowman made note of the importance of remembering Malcolm in the way he used his militaristic ideas, his presence and his celebrity to bring people together within his movement.

“I think towards the end of his life, what he really was trying to do was visualize and include people in a vision of solidarity,” said Bowman, who also cited a quote of Malcolm’s from a 1964 Oxford Union debate, saying, “I, for one, will join in with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”

When it comes to remembering Malcolm X’s legacy and teaching millennials about his message and fight for civil rights, his significance in academic settings seems to have diminished over time.  

Faculty member Dr. Judith Singleton, who attended the Malcolm X event after one of her students mentioned it to her, remembers asking her class how many of them knew who Malcolm X was and what he stood for, receiving mixed reactions.

“Then I asked if anybody had read the autobiography of Malcolm X, and nobody raised their hand,” Singleton said, remembering his autobiography being a book she was required to read as an undergrad.  

Singleton mentioned there being a disconnect when it comes to knowledge of prominent leader Martin Luther King Jr., who has been characterized as a less radical leader with a “more palatable ” public message. She says it’s sad that “young kids” only associate King with his “I Have a Dream” speech.

While Malcolm X never pointedly identified himself as a Socialist while he was alive, according to Brian Bean, a member of International Socialist Organization in Chicago who attended the event, Malcolm’s militancy and fight for civil rights led him to critique the system of capitalism.

“If you look at the development of his ideas over time, you saw that he was beginning to come to conclusions near the end of his life, particularly in his last year, that, ‘If I want to fight against oppression, I’m actually fighting against capitalism,'” Bean explained, “and that Socialism is the solution to it.”  

For her part, Winston hopes the audience realizes that unity and freedom can only become a reality when everyone, regardless of partisanship, stands and works together.

“I’m not free until you’re free,” Winston said.  “I’m not free until we’re all free.”