Malcolm X

Malcolm X

Born: May 19, 1925 in Omaha, NE
Died: Feb 21, 1965 (at age 39) in New York City, NY
Nationality: African-American
Famous For: Leader of the Nation of Islam

Malcolm X is known in history as one of the more influential African-American leaders. He was a human rights activist and a Muslim leader who stood up for the rights of blacks and campaigned for an end to white oppression.

His Early Life

Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, to parents Louise and Earle Little. His father, Earl Little, was a Baptist preacher who followed the Pan-African activist Marcus Garvey and led the Universal Negro Improvement Association in his town.

Threats from the Ku Klux Klan forced the family to relocate in 1926 and eventually settle in Lansing, Michigan. They were regularly persecuted in Lansing by the white supremacist group the Black Legion, and their home was burned in 1929. After his father’s murder by the Black Legion when he was just six years old, the children were separated and placed under foster care.

Malcolm X’s Adolescent Years

Malcolm attended junior high school but dropped out after the eighth grade. At school he had been told by his teacher that he did not have the potential to become a lawyer because he was black. After dropping out, Malcolm took up many different jobs in Roxbury, Boston, the town he was living in with his half-sister, Ella Little-Collins.

He then moved to Flint, Michigan, and subsequently, Harlem, New York, in 1943, where he entered a life of crime. He returned to Boston in 1945 and the following year was convicted for burglary and handed an eight to ten year prison sentence.

Learning of Nation of Islam

While in prison, Malcolm received letters from his siblings that described the Nation of Islam, a new religious movement that advocated black self-reliance, reunification with Africa, and the idea that white people were devils. Malcolm came to be influenced by these ideas and wrote to the leader of the group, Elijah Muhammad, in 1948.

He received advice from him to abandon his past life and submit to God. Subsequently, Malcolm became a member and kept in regular contact with Elijah Muhammad. In 1950, he started using the name Malcolm X as a way of rejecting his “slave” surname.

Early Leadership in Ministry

Following his release on parole in 1952, Malcolm X went to see Elijah Muhammad in Chicago. From then on, he took on ministry positions and contributed to recruitment efforts. He was chose to lead Temple Number 7 in Harlem and was able to significantly increase membership to the Nation of Islam.

Malcolm X was a skilled speaker and provided a charismatic presence at his lectures, speaking out against racism and advocating self-defense. His contributions and efforts encouraged hundreds of African-Americans to join the group each month.

Departure from the Nation of Islam

Malcolm X became increasingly dissatisfied with the Nation of Islam and its failure to join the civil rights movement. He started to believe that Elijah Muhammad lacked sincerity and was disillusioned by corruption in the organization’s higher ranks.

On the other hand, Elijah Muhammad was beginning to feel threatened by Malcolm’s growing popularity, especially within the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). When Malcolm X made a comment that Kennedy’s assassination was a case of “the chickens coming home to roost,” he was suspended by the Nation of Islam in December of 1963.

Malcolm X publicly stated his departure from the organization in March 1964. He traveled to Mecca the same year, where he found that orthodox Islam preached racial equality, which made him reject his earlier idea that white people are devils. Returning to America, he continued to advocate against racism and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He spoke at many rallies and was popularly sought at college campuses.

Death of Malcolm X

Malcolm X was assassinated in an organizational rally held in New York on February 21, 1965, by members of the Nation of Islam.