Black Nationalism, Malcolm X and International Revolution: The Contextualization of Black Nationalism in the African Freedom Struggle (by Mike McGuinness)


This lesson hopes to broaden students’ understanding of the ideological development of Black Nationalists, particularly Malcolm X, in the 1960s, with specific focus on the developing internationalism of the Black Nationalist Movements in the period of African anti-colonial struggle. Focusing on Malcolm X’s “Speech at the Audubon” from December of 1964, this lesson hopes to show how international radicalism and Malcolm X’s own personal experiences abroad with these movements shaped the ideological progression of Black Nationalists towards militancy, as well as how these ideological connections influenced the political and ideological basis of the Black Power Movements of the late 1960s.


After gaining a better understanding of the primary source’s background and historical context, students will read closely and analyze Malcolm X’s speech. Students must look for the ways in which the historical context of the speech framed its development, looking at how this context shaped the development of the Black Nationalists’ ‘Internationalism’. Analyzing the document through this lens, students will come together to discuss the different ways in which Malcolm X connected international anti-colonial revolutionary struggles with the African American struggle against racism, particularly focusing on the relationships between international institutions, United States and European governments’ structures of racist oppression and the racially oppressive systems within the United States. After this process, students will then be asked to summarize their analyses and conclusions and take their findings further, thinking about how these ideological foundations influenced and transformed later militant Black Nationalist and Black Power Movements.


Malcolm X’s first hand exposure to African anti-colonial revolutions and the events in his life in 1964 helped him forge an internationalist Black Nationalist ideology, connecting the African-American struggle against racial oppression to the international black anti-colonial struggle as seen in his December 13, 1964 speech. This ideological development justified his and later Black Power Movements’ advocacy for armed black nationalist militant revolution in the United States.


  1. How did Malcolm X connect the movement against American white supremacy with the African revolutionary anti-colonial struggle against European racist colonial systems, and similarly how did he connect U.S. internal racist oppression to U.S. actions against black revolutionaries in Africa?
  2. What social, economic and political structures and tools employed by the United States government does Malcolm X identify as present in both the American white supremacist society and the European African colonial institutions?
  3. How does Malcolm X link these methods used against African Americans to the U.S. government’s actions against black revolutionaries in Africa?
  4. How did Malcolm X’s contextualization of the African American struggle within the broader international political struggle shape the direction of his Black Nationalist politics within the United States?
  5. How does this ideological construction help explain the growing militancy of the American Black Nationalist Movement in the middle to latter parts of the 1960s?


Black Nationalism: a racialized form of group or national identity which advocated a separate nation status for blacks.

Internationalism: a political conceptual ideology that stresses the interconnectedness of nations across the globe, aiming to increase cooperation among different nations and communities.

Black Power Movement: an emerging ideology in the middle to latter part of the 1960s that stressed the need for black racial pride, solidarity and independence from white society in the United States.

Abdul Rahman Muhammad Babu: Tanzanian government official and anti-colonial revolutionary who was invited by Malcolm X to speak at the Audubon Ballroom on December 13, 1964.

Congo Crisis: a series of uprisings and anti-colonial revolutions against the colonial Belgium Congolese government during the early 1960s, that involved the United Nations, the United States, the Soviet Union and other European nations. Malcolm X referred directly to this conflict in his December 1964 speech at the Audubon.


The Black Nationalism of the 1960s stressed the need for blacks within the United States to stand up in opposition to the racist, imperialistic United States government and its systems of oppression. Malcolm X, one of the most famous and influential of these early Black Nationalists, articulated the fundamental principles of the emerging Black Power Movement, and became an outspoken proponent of militant Black Power aimed at breaking down internal systems of U.S. government oppression. One of the most important ways in which Malcolm X argued these shifts in black political thought in the first half of the 1960s was by contextualizing the African-American struggle within the broader Anti-colonial struggle against both U.S. and European imperialism in Africa, connecting the systems of oppression employed by the United States’ government at home that reinforced this imperialistic, racist hierarchy.Malcolm X’s speech “At the Audubon” of Harlem in December of 1964 illustrated the ways in which Malcolm X connected the broader political struggle in Africa against European imperialism and white supremacist international systems with the Afro-American struggle against white oppression, exposing the relationship between the political and social forms of domestic oppression and those employed by the government in African countries. This speech illustrated the emerging Pan-Africanism and internationalism in Malcolm X’s Black Nationalist ideology.

The historical context of Malcolm X’s speech at the Audubon and the transformation of his political thought 1963 and 1964 heavily influenced the Audubon speech’s arguments. Beginning in July of 1964 and ending in November, Malcolm X visited different African countries that had rebelled against European colonial rule, a trip through which Malcolm X hoped to gain a broader, first-hand perspective on the international struggle against white supremacist systems. This trip had come after his departure from the Nation of Islam, and was an outgrowth of Malcolm X’s need to rediscover and transform his position as a Black Nationalist. As Manning Marable writes, “If the hajj had brought Malcolm to the full realization of his Muslim life, the second trip to Africa immersed him in a broad-based Pan-Africanism that cast into relief his role as a black citizen of the world.”He toured numerous African countries, forging connections with government leaders, military revolutionaries and Muslim and African organizations in hopes that “the friendships he was forming would yield dividends in the long run.”2 The impact of the exposure to African movements transformed his political ideology in the last years of his life, reorienting his discussion of political ideology and the Freedom Struggle.

Malcolm X redirected his political philosophy after his return to the United States, connecting his criticism of the U.S. white supremacist system with U.S. colonial and imperial ambitions. The foundations of Malcolm X’s philosophy aimed at destroying the forces of racial oppression at work within the United States, destroying these domestic white supremacists systems by any means necessary. Y.N. Kly writes that Malcolm X “was opposed to the philosophy of ‘white superiority’ and to the necessity of black Americans to permit and submit to ‘white privileges’.”3 Upon his visit to Africa, Malcolm X applied this critical framework to understanding the political motivations behind African revolutionaries’ actions, and framed the system of African colonial oppression as an extension of American capitalism and colonialism. In effect, he hoped to teach this philosophy and lead the reorientation of the African American movement to this internationalist ideology; any successful movement against U.S. domestic oppression required the realization of these oppressive systems’ global effects. As Reiland Rabaka writes, Malcolm X argued “that African Americans needed to develop and adopt oppositional ideology, or an alternative series of thought, belief and value systems ‘Black-minded’ enough to both explain and criticize their oppression and their oppressors’ ideology.”4 James Tyner writes that by adopting this position Malcolm X hoped to expand the Afro-American movement into the broader sphere of international politics, and make the Freedom Struggle a facet of the larger, geopolitical struggle against international oppression:

He addressed not only the everyday racial discriminations of segregated spaces (e.g. lunch counters, seats on busses) but more so a larger system of colonial oppression and capitalist exploitation predicated on territoriality. His message was revolutionary: revolutionary in the sense of overturning a racist society, but also revolutionary in changing the direction of the Civil Rights Movement to a broader movement of Third World Liberation and social justice.5

This integration into the broader African and international struggle against oppression, combined with his critical ideological framework, highlighted the ways in which Malcolm X formed the ideological basis his political theories; Tyner writes, “Malcolm X was an intellectual who developed his political thought from a dialectical dialogue of lived experience and critical interpretation.”6 Thus, the African experience from his trip, combined with his critical imagining of the government’s inherently racist portrayal of revolutionaries and anti-colonial movements, prompted Malcolm X to create an international, Black Nationalist ideology that created a common link between African oppression and Afro-American movements against segregation. The American Black Nationalism and the international African freedom struggle both were fighting the same system of American and European racist imperial oppression. His speech in December of 1964, then, hoped to illustrate for American Blacks the intrinsic connection between their struggle and the global black struggle against white supremacism.


Malcolm X’s Speech at the Audubon, Dec. 13, 1964.

General Background and Timeline of Malcolm X’s Travels and Activities, 1963-1965.


The activity will be centered around two class periods each no less than 50 minutes, and will culminate in a written assignment. The first lecture will be centered on developing a historical contextual understanding for the later analysis of Malcolm X’s speech at the Audubon Ballroom from December 13, 1964. The second class period will focus on an in depth discussion and analysis of the primary source.

Day 1: Historical Context

Students will listen to a 15 to 20 minute lecture on Malcolm X’s political life, activities and ideology before his pilgrimage and trip to Africa and the Middle East, as well as the progression of Black Power Movements in the late 1960s. This will help provide some historical background in order to aid their later analysis of the primary source. The teacher should answer any questions concerning this lecture to ensure that students have a full understanding of these developments.

Next, the teacher will spend approximately ten minutes describing the nature of Malcolm X’s overseas trip, as well as the political break with the Nation of Islam before this ‘reawakening’ of the Black Nationalist leader. After this, students will be asked to break down in to discussion groups of approximately 5 to 10 students for the rest of the class period aimed at teasing out the possible importance of this context to Malcolm X’s political ideology. They should be directed to focus on how exposure to African Revolutionary movements might impact Malcolm X’s Black Nationalist thought, and how this exposure to anti-colonial revolutionaries in this period of self reexamination in Malcolm X’s life might have reoriented his political and ideological motivations.

With this analytical framework constructed, students will be asked to read the Speech at the Audubon closely, analyzing the ways in which Malcolm X ties his experience in Africa into his speech, as well as focusing on the ways in which Malcolm X connects anti-colonial African struggles with the African American struggle against American white supremacism.

Day 2: Primary Source Analysis

At the end of the first day, students will have been given a copy of the speech to read and analyze,  and highlight the ways in which Malcolm X used his exposure to the African anti-colonial movement to forge a connection between these movements and the Black Freedom Struggle within the United States. Students should be asked to focus particularly on Malcolm X’s connections between U.S. systems of oppression and similar government tactics employed against African Revolutionaries, how Malcolm X racialized the U.S. government actions and portrayals of African revolutionaries and movements, and similarly how Malcolm X used his exposure to the reality of the African revolutions to frame his examination of these connections, particularly in his discussion of the white press.

After individually analyzing the text, students will be split up into small groups once again, discussing the major topics that they were directed to examine at home. This will help bring multiple perspectives together to ensure a fuller understanding of all the intricacies of Malcolm X’s speech. This should continue until the last 10-15 minutes of the period, after which the instructor will ask each group to explain to the class their interpretations of the text.

After both of these classes, students will be asked to write a 5 to 6 page paper examining the ways in which Malcolm X contextualized the Black Freedom Struggle and American Black Nationalism within the broader anti-colonial struggle, with the hope of to using this to delve into the political and ideological importance of such connections. Students should connect this analysis of the speech with previous background to the Black Nationalist Movement, examining (1) how this ideological repositioning towards internationalism shaped later movements’ political and ideological frameworks, and (2) how this repositioning helps explain the shift toward Black militancy within the United States such as through the emergence of the Black Panther Party of the late 1960s.


Key Ideas and Details

1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Craft and Structure

4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).

5. Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.


Marable, Manning. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. New York: Viking, 2011. Print.

Rabaka, Reiland. “Malcolm X and/as Critical Theory: Philosophy, Radical Politics, and the African American Search for Social Justice.” Journal of Black Studies. 33.2 (2002). p. 145-165.

The Black Book: The True Political Philosophy of Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik El Shabazz). Ed. Y.N. Kly. Atlanta: Clarity, 1986. Print.

Tyner, James. “Territoriality, Social Justice and Gendered Revolutions in the Speeches of Malcolm X.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 29.3 (2004). p. 330-343.

—. The Geography of Malcolm X: Inventing Radical Judgment. East Lansing: Michigan State University, 2004. EBL. Web. Accessed 17 April 2014.

X, Malcolm. “At The Audubon,” December 13, 1964. Malcolm Speaks: Selected speeches and statements. Ed. George Breitman. New York: Pathfinder, 1989. P. 88-104. Print.


1 Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, (New York: Viking, 2011), p. 360.

2 Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, p. 360-361.

3 The Black Book: The True Political Philosophy of Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik El Shabazz), Ed. Y.N. Kly, (Atlanta: Clarity, 1986), p. 3.

4 Reiland Rabaka, “Malcolm X and/as Critical Theory: Philosophy, Radical Politics, and the African American Search for Social Justice,” Journal of Black Studies, 33.2 (2002), p. 158.

5 James Tyner, “Territoriality, Social Justice and Gendered Revolutions in the Speeches of Malcolm X,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 29.3 (2004), p.330.

6 James Tyner, The Geography of Malcolm X: Inventing Radical Judgment, (East Lansing: Michigan State University, 2004), p. 104.


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