Malcolm X Day: Where And Why Is It Celebrated?

May 19 is Malcolm X Day. Not everyone knows about this holiday, nor do they understand where and why it is celebrated. While not a federal holiday like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, many people take May 19, to recognize, honor, and remember the works of civil rights leader and activist Malcolm X.

Malcolm X Day is held on May 19, because that was the date Malcolm X was born. Malcolm X Day is a local holiday that is most notably celebrated in the city of Berkeley, California, where it is considered an official holiday. Residents of Berkeley will find that schools and government offices are closed on Malcolm X Day.

Malcolm X Day has been celebrated in the city of Berkeley since 1979, making it the longest held recognized holiday or official event for the observance. Since 1979, more cities have adopted ordinances to recognize Malcolm X Day, and other localities engage in special activities on May 19. On May 19, 2015, the Chicago Monitor reported that the state of Illinois would officially recognize the date as Malcolm X Day. This ordinance marked the first time a state-wide resolution for the holiday was passed.

Malcolm X has been compared to Martin Luther King Jr., as the two were both highly visible civil rights leaders. The two had very different messages; however. Where Martin Luther King Jr., preached societal change through non-violent protests, Malcolm X expressed that, when white force was used against black citizens, black citizens needed to stand up for themselves. You can hear Malcolm X speak about his views in the video below.

Another difference between Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X is that though they were both reverends, Martin Luther King Jr., was a Baptist Christian and Malcolm X was a Muslim who was a leader for the Nation of Islam. Martin Luther King Jr., believed that blacks could smoothly and peacefully integrate with white society and culture, while Malcolm X believed that, due to years of racism, oppression, and prejudice, white culture would never fully accept blacks, and therefore blacks should create their own culture apart from whites. Malcolm X promoted the Black Nationalist Movement.

You can learn more about Malcolm X, his beliefs, and his life in the following PBS documentary.

Born Malcolm Little, Malcolm X first converted to the Nation of Islam while in prison for robbery. He was under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad, when after a while, he became upset with the leaders’ material wealth. Malcolm X would later form the Organization of Afro-American Unity. You can learn more about civil rights in America and the roles Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X played in the link.

In 1963, Louis Lomax interviewed Malcolm X in what would be a thorough and in-depth discussion. Malcolm X shared his views on where the black man and woman fit into America and essentially stated that, due to centuries of racism, there was no room for the black man to integrate.

Malcolm X stated the following during the interview which you may read in its entirety here.

“LOMAX: Minister Malcolm, we are all by now familiar with your basic philosophy; we have heard you speak, seen you on television, and read your remarks in magazines and newspapers. By now, I think, everybody knows your position that the white man is a devil, a man incapable of doing right; you hold that the black man is of God’s divine nature, that he fell from power because of weakness; you hold further that the white man’s rule over the earth was scheduled to end in 1914, but that his end has been delayed because of the need to get the American Negro into the fold of the black brotherhood.

“MALCOLM X: Yes, sir, that is what The Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us. The white devil’s time is up; it has been up for almost fifty years now. It has taken us that long to get the deaf, dumb, and blind black men in the wilderness of North America to wake up and understand who they are. You see, sir, when a man understands who he is, who God is, who the devil is… then he can pick himself up out of the gutter; he can clean himself up and stand up like a man should before his God. This is why we teach that in order for a man to really understand himself he must be part of a nation; he must have some land of his own, a God of his own, a language of his own. Most of all he must have love and devotion for his own kind.

“LOMAX: Wouldn’t you say the Negro has a nation—America?

“MALCOLM X: Sir, how can a Negro say America is his nation? He was brought here in chains; he was put in slavery and worked like a mule for three hundred years; he was separated from his land, his culture, his God, his language! The Negro was taught to speak the white man’s tongue, worship the white God, and accept the white man as his superior. This is a white man’s country. And the Negro is nothing but and ex-slave who is now trying to get himself integrated into the slave master’s house. And the slave master doesn’t want you! You fought and bled and died in every war the white man waged, and he still won’t give you justice. You nursed his baby and cleaned behind his wife, and he still won’t give you freedom; you turned the other cheek while he lynched you and raped your women, but he still won’t give you equality. Now, you integration-minded Negroes are trying to force yourselves on your former slave master, trying to make him accept you in his drawing room; you want to hang out with his women rather than the women of your own kind….

“LOMAX: I have heard you say that a thousand times, but it always jolts me. Why do you call the white man a devil?”

“MALCOLM X: Because that’s what he is. What do you want me to call him, a saint? Anybody who rapes, and plunders, and enslaves, and steals, and drops hell bombs on people… anybody who does these things is nothing but a devil.”

Malcolm X delivered a message that was difficult for many white people to accept; however, it resonated with numerous blacks. Between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, black citizens were shown different ways to address the nation’s racist practices and Jim Crow laws. Some followed Martin Luther King Jr. and participated in non-violent protests, while others felt Malcolm X had the right perspective.

Malcolm X was assassinated on Feb. 21, 1965, by three members of the Nation of Islam. He was 39-years-old and left behind his wife and six children.

Are you going to celebrate Malcolm X Day? If so, how?

[Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images]