In a Q-and-A session with the Rev. Michael Walrond at First Corinthian Baptist Church, de Blasio described the controversial civil rights leader’s 1965 work as “the most influential book on my education.”
“The name he had received was not the name he used,” he said. “My situation was profoundly different, but it sparked a question in me of what you feel is your true identity. And I felt that my mother’s side of the family was the side that brought me up and I wanted to honor that.”
In the early years of his controversial activism, Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, joined the Nation of Islam while serving out a prison term for larceny and breaking and entering. While with the group, he preached that whites were “devils” and inferior to blacks.
In his later years after leaving the Nation of Islam, he softened his rhetoric and no longer called for the separation of blacks and whites.
De Blasio, who was born Warren Wilhelm Jr., retained his father’s surname until 2001 — the same year he ran for and won a City Council seat in Park Slope. His dad fought in World War II but became an alcoholic and took his own life in 1979 while suffering through inoperable lung cancer.
Wilhelm left his family when de Blasio was only 7 years old.
“I was affected by seeing my family fall apart,” the mayor told Walrond and about 200 Sunday worshippers. “I honor my father for all he did for his country, and all the good in him, but I only unfortunately got to see the bad.”
Malcolm X, whose father died when he was 6, explained in his autobiography that he replaced his last name with an X to protest the “white slavemaster name … imposed upon my paternal forebears.”
“There were moments in that autobiography that made me think: we all have to find our own heritage,” de Blasio said. “Why does it have to be patriarchal in definition?”
De Blasio has cited Malcolm X as an inspiration before, most notably in his 2013 mayoral run.