(b. May 19, 1925 – d. February 21, 1965) Skilled orator and Civil Rights leader, Malcolm X, was born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska to Louise and Earl Little, who was a Baptist minister and supporter of Marcus Garvey. Like his father, Malcolm X supported Black Nationalism and became a prominent leader within the Nation of Islam.
Born Malcolm Little, he faced issues of racism growing up as a result of his father’s beliefs. Due to his father’s activism, the family was a frequent target of harassment from groups including the Ku Klux Klan and factions like the Black Legion. This caused the Little’s to relocate twice before Malcolm’s fourth birthday.
Despite attempts to elude threats, the family’s Michigan home was burned down and two years later his father was found dead, lying across the town’s trolley tracks. The death was ruled an accident and led his mother to a nervous breakdown. Malcolm and his siblings were split up and placed in foster homes.
Although he was gifted academically, Malcolm X stopped attending school after a guidance counselor advised him to pursue a career in carpentry rather than his desired career of law. Shortly after dropping out, he moved to Boston and soon got involved in criminal activity. Malcolm X was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for burglary.
While incarcerated, he constantly read books from the prison library to make up for by dropping out of high school. During this time he also began to learn about the Nation of Islam, a group of black Muslims who embrace ideologies of Black Nationalism. By the time of his release from prison in 1952, he changed his name to Malcolm X and converted to the religion.
Malcolm X began to study the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and made a name for himself within the N.O.I. He became the minister of Temple No. 7 in Harlem and Temple No. 11 in Boston, which would later be led by Minister Louis Farrakhan. He also established a national newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, in 1960 to further promote the group’s messages. With Malcolm X as the national representative, membership increased drastically.
However, at the height of his involvement in both the N.O.I and the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X made the decision to part ways with the group after learning unsettling information about his teacher Elijah Muhammad. In 1964, he officially ended his relationship with the N.O.I and went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
His once controversial messages of obtaining equality “by any means necessary” used to put him at odds with other civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., but after his pilgrimage Malcolm X came back with a refined message. He changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. His new message and popularity exposed him to many threats.
Malcolm X was assassinated at a speaking engagement in the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 in Manhattan, New York. At the start of the 1960’s he began working on an autobiography with Alex Haley and it became a bestseller when it was published posthumously the same year of his death.