Malcolm X and the Media

Although the political leader central to the rise of the black power movement—Malcolm X—was a strong champion of cultural self-determination, he was not beyond using “any means necessary,” including the mainstream media, to achieve his goals.

The national spokesman for the Nation of Islam, the Black Muslim religious group, Malcolm X was a fierce opponent of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his advocacy of civil disobedience, integration, and interracial dialogue. When persecuted by racial oppression, Malcolm X argued, black Americans must not see themselves as victims, but fight aggressively, meeting brutality with violence if necessary, to maintain their freedom and independence.

Malcolm X was one of the most media-savvy black leaders of the period, readily employing television, magazines, and newspapers to spread the ideology of Islam and black nationalism. By the time of his assassination, in February 1965, he had appeared on scores of television programs, arguably more than any other civil rights figure including King. This media outreach helped build membership in the Nation of Islam from five hundred in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963, and enabled its leaders to influence African American public opinion for decades to come.

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MALCOLM X born: May 19, 1925/HO CHI MINH born: May 19, 1890, n.d.
MALCOLM X born: May 19, 1925/HO CHI MINH born: May 19, 1890, n.d.
Gerry Biggs
MALCOLM X born: May 19, 1925/HO CHI MINH born: May 19, 1890, 1976
Silkscreen on paper
17 1/2 x 22 1/2 in.
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, 2005.196
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1966
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1966
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1966
Grove Press, New York
11 x 8 in.
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, Anonymous Gift, 2009.13
The Hate That Hate Produced, WNTA, Newark, 1959
The Hate That Hate Produced, WNTA, Newark, 1959
The Hate That Hate Produced, WNTA, Newark, 1959
Malcolm X’s extremism offered editors, producers, and reporters a dramatic counterpoint to Martin Luther King Jr. and the establishment civil rights movement. In this controversial five-part television series about black extremism, The Hate That Hate Produced, presented by the nightly half-hour program News Beat, Malcolm X was painted in a negative light as a leader unafraid to condemn white people or espouse black separatism and armed insurrection. Billed as a "study of the rise of black racism, of a call for black supremacy among a small but growing segment of the American Negro population," the series excoriated the Black Muslims.
Malcolm X, Los Angeles, May 28, 1963
Malcolm X, Los Angeles, May 28, 1963
Robert Flora
Malcolm X, Los Angeles, May 28, 1963
Gelatin silver print
6 3/8 x 9 5/8 in.
UPI Telephoto HCP052804-5/28/63
Courtesy United Press International and the Estate of Robert Flora
A keen steward of his own and the Nation of Islam’s visual representation in the media, Malcolm X often carried a camera to record Black Muslim activities, and even set up the shots of photojournalists assigned to cover the group. Media outreach constituted an important part of Malcolm’s effort to communicate directly to the African American community. He publicized and contributed to the illustrated weekly Muhammad Speaks, founded by the Nation of Islam’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, and helped build a national syndicate of Muslim-owned radio stations.
City Desk, March 17, 1963
City Desk, March 17, 1963
WMAQ, Chicago
City Desk, March 17, 1963
Malcolm X mastered television, crafting every aspect of his on-air persona—from his elegant attire to his urbane speaking style—to emphasize his physical attractiveness, intelligence, and rhetorical gifts. He spoke forcefully and insistently, refusing to stop until he delivered the exact and complete message he wished to convey. Rarely raising his voice or demonstrating any sign of anger or agitation, the charismatic leader remained coolly in charge of rhetoric designed to convince African Americans of the justness and urgency of his cause