Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha Nebraska. His parents were Earl and Louise Little. His mother was preoccupied with raising eight children, his father was an outspoken Baptist minister and an ardent supporter of civil rights. His activism prompted constant death threats from the Ku Klux Klan, prompting the family to relocate twice before Malcolm’s fourth birthday. His family’s Michigan home was burned to the ground and two years later when Malcolm was six, his father’s mutilated body was found. The death was ruled accidental, but in his autobiography, written with Alex Haley, Malcolm asserts that his father was killed by members of the Klan.
Several years after the death of her husband, Louise little suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to a mental institution. Malcolm, his sisters and his brothers were separated and sent to live in different foster homes.
While he became increasing rebellious after his father’s death, Malcolm remained a smart and focused student. He was voted class president and graduated from junior high at the top of his class. A life changing event occurred in junior high when a favorite teacher told Malcolm his dream of becoming a lawyer was not realistic for a black kid and that he should try doing something with his hands, like carpentry. He dropped out of school.
The other life changing event at this time was his step sister Ella’s getting custody of Malcolm. He moved to Harlem with Ella and for the first time in his life he saw wealthy, sophisticated black people with whom he felt he fit right in. In Harlem he began committing petty crimes, and by the time he was seventeen, Malcolm was coordinating various narcotic, prostitution and gambling rings. In 1946, he was caught in a robbery that resulted in a seven year prison sentence.
When he was in prison, Malcolm was introduced to and converted to the Islamic faith – The Nation of Islam, led by a man named Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm stopped smoking, eating pork and espoused the religion which preached the evil of the white man and that God is a black man. When he was paroled after spending more than 6 years in prison, he changed his name to Malcolm X, X standing for the true African name lost during the days of slavery.
Malcolm X became the minister of a temple in New York. Intelligent and articulate, he became the national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. His charisma and drive attracted an astounding number of new members: from 500 in 1952 to around 30,000 ten years later. He was an important religious leader.
In 1963 Malcolm X’s faith was severely shaken. From the time of his conversion, Malcolm X had strictly adhered to the teachings of Muhammad. He learned that Elijah Muhammad, leader of the American Nation of Islam and a man Malcolm considered a prophet, was secretly having relationships with at least six women in the Nation of Islam. He was shocked, and felt guilty about the deception of his followers. Disillusioned, he terminated his relationship and founded the Muslim Mosque, Inc.
The same year Malcolm made a pilgrimage to Islam’s holy city, Mecca, an event that altered his ideas once again. Previously, he had preached the Nation of Islam’s view of the superiority of the black race, but in his autobiography he explains that, while in Saudi Arabia, he met “blond-haired, blue-eyed men I could call my brothers.” He returned from his pilgrimage with a new optimistic view regarding potential brotherhood between black and white Americans. His message included a view of brotherhood between black and white Americans.
He hardly had time to preach his new vision. Less that a year after returning from his pilgrimage, Malcolm was gunned down by three members of the Nation of Islam who resented his new enlightened teachings. He was murdered at age 39 in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom in New York City on February 21, 1965.
His legacy lives on by way of his teaching and writings. He played an influential role in uniting African American people.