Occupation: civil rights leader
Malcolm X was initially known for his controversial stance of racial separatism, but after his pilgrimage to Mecca, while he still advocated Black Nationalism, he also accepted a more orthodox Islam view of the "true brotherhood" of man. He came to believe that there was a potential for cross-racial alliance.
Malcolm X’s Childhood
Named Malcolm Little by his parents, Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. Malcolm’s father, Earl Little, was an outspoken supporter of the Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey. As a result, he received numerous death threats and was forced to move his family several times.
While the family was in Lansing, Michigan, their home was burned down. Two years later, Malcolm’s father was murdered. Malcolm’s mother had an emotional breakdown and was unable to care for Malcolm and his siblings. The children were split up and sent to foster homes.
By the time that Malcolm was a teenager, he had dropped out of high school. At first, he worked odd jobs in Boston, Massachusetts, but he soon moved to Harlem, New York and became involved in criminal activity. Malcolm moved back to Boston and shortly thereafter, he was convicted of burglary in 1946.
Malcolm X’s Conversion to the Nation of Islam
While Malcolm was in prison, he converted to the Muslim religious sect, the Nation of Islam. When he was released in 1952, he changed his last name to X because he considered the name “Little” to have been a slave name. The Nation of Islam’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, made Malcolm a minister and sent him around the country on speaking engagements. Malcolm spoke about black pride and separatism, and rejected the civil rights movement’s focus on integration and equality.
Malcolm was a charismatic speaker, and soon was able to use newspaper columns, television, and radio to spread the Nation of Islam’s message. Membership to the Nation of Islam increased dramatically because of Malcolm's speeches. However, while many blacks were embracing his message, civil rights leaders rejected him. Malcolm also became a concern of the government. The Federal Bureau of Investigation began surveillance of him and infiltrated the Nation of Islam.
Malcolm X’s Disillusionment with Elijah Muhammad
While Malcolm had garnered increasing attention, his relationship with Elijah Muhammad became strained in 1963. Malcolm learned that contrary to Muhammad’s teaching of celibacy until marriage, Muhammad was having sexual relations with six women. Malcolm felt that Muhammad was committing fraud, and he refused to keep it a secret.
Malcolm X’s relationship with Muhammad became even more strained when he made some controversial statements. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Malcolm publicly described it as “the chickens coming home to roost.” Because of this comment, Muhammad silenced him for ninety days.
Malcolm X’s Departure from the Nation of Islam
In March 1964, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam and founded the Muslim Mosque, Inc. A month later, he took a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It was there that his view of separatism changed. He discovered that white and black Muslims could coexist together. While he still advocated Black Nationalism, he also accepted a more orthodox Islam view of the "true brotherhood" of man and believed that there was a potential for cross-racial alliance.
When he returned to the United States, he stopped advocating separatism, and instead relayed the message of integration and world brotherhood. However, he discovered that the Nation of Islam wanted to assassinate him. On February 14, 1965, his home was firebombed, but no one was hurt.
A few days later on February 21, 1965, while Malcolm was on stage at the Manhattan Audubon Ballroom, three gunmen shot him to death. The gunmen were arrested and convicted. It was later discovered that they were members of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm was buried on February 27, 1965 in Hartsdale, New York.
Since his death his popularity has continued, and is partly due to the publication of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Spike Lee’s 1992 movie, Malcolm X.