This course examines the life and legacy of Malcolm X, considering him both as an historical figure whose ideas and actions were part of a specific historical moment, and as an iconic, almost mythical figure whose image continues to stand as a powerful symbol. Our focus will be on understanding Malcolm X’s influence on the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, when various organizations and individuals claimed to be carrying on his legacy. In addition, we will critically assess the ways in which his legacy continues to be constructed and used to represent that period of Black struggle. Our investigation will be guided by three broad objectives.
First, we will study Malcolm X’s life leading up to his emergence as a national and international figure of Black resistance.
Secondly, we will examine the contours and depth of his activism and its relationship to the broader African American freedom movement. This will include a close look at the various ways in which his ideas and his example as a political activist impacted the Civil Rights movement and the emergence of the Black Power movement following his assassination in 1965.
Finally, we will analyze and interpret contemporary representations of Malcolm X in both scholarly and popular forms, allowing us to better understand his legacy and his place in narratives of African American history. Throughout the academic term, we will take care to highlight the ways that ideas and images are used to construct historical meaning — that is, to make sense of the past and its relationship to the present.