born: MAY 19, 1925
died: FEBRUARY 21, 1965
Malcolm X was a prominent civil rights leader and influential figure in African American history. Born Malcolm Little, he rose to prominence in the Nation of Islam before later distancing himself from the organization and embracing a more inclusive approach to fighting for civil rights. His life, activism, and untimely death continue to inspire and influence people worldwide.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, to Earl and Louise Little. His father was a Baptist minister and an outspoken advocate for Black rights, while his mother was a homemaker and a follower of the Pan-African movement leader Marcus Garvey. Malcolm’s childhood was marred by racial violence, with his family frequently targeted by white supremacists. His father was killed in a suspicious accident when Malcolm was just six years old, and his mother was later committed to a mental institution.
Malcolm spent his adolescence in various foster homes and detention centers. Despite being an excellent student, he dropped out of school after an incident in which a teacher discouraged his aspirations of becoming a lawyer due to his race. He eventually turned to a life of crime and was imprisoned in 1946 for burglary.
During his time in prison, Malcolm was introduced to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. He began studying the organization’s beliefs, which emphasized black self-sufficiency and empowerment, and converted to the Nation of Islam while in prison.
CAREER AND ACTIVISM
Upon his release from prison in 1952, Malcolm changed his last name to “X” to symbolize the loss of his African heritage. He quickly rose through the ranks of the Nation of Islam, becoming the organization’s national spokesperson and helping to increase its membership.
Malcolm X’s fiery speeches and unapologetic advocacy for black rights attracted widespread attention and controversy. He criticized the mainstream civil rights movement, led by Martin Luther King Jr., for advocating nonviolent resistance and integration, instead calling for black empowerment through self-defense and separatism.
In 1964, Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam over ideological differences and personal conflicts with Elijah Muhammad. He formed his own organization, the Muslim Mosque, Inc., and later the Organization of Afro-American Unity, to continue his fight for civil rights.
During this time, Malcolm X’s views evolved, and he began to embrace a more inclusive approach to civil rights. He undertook a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he experienced a transformative encounter with Muslims of different races and nationalities. This experience led him to renounce racial separatism and advocate for a more unified approach to fighting for equality.
TOP 10 BOOKS AND WRITINGS
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)
Co-authored with journalist Alex Haley, this seminal work chronicles Malcolm X’s life and philosophical evolution. It is considered one of the most important nonfiction books of the 20th century.
Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements (1965)
A collection of Malcolm X’s most influential speeches, offering insight into his beliefs and ideas.
Two Speeches by Malcolm X (1965)
Includes the famous Ballot or the Bullet speech and The Black Revolution, both of which highlight his evolving views on civil rights and black empowerment.
By Any Means Necessary: Speeches, Interviews, and a Letter by Malcolm X (1970)
This compilation features various interviews and speeches by Malcolm X, providing a comprehensive overview of his thoughts on race, religion, and civil rights.
The End of White World Supremacy: Four Speeches by Malcolm X (1971)
A collection of speeches that showcase Malcolm X’s critical views on white supremacy and his call for black liberation.
The Last Speeches (1989)
This compilation includes the final speeches Malcolm X delivered before his assassination, reflecting his matured views on race relations and civil rights.
The Diary of Malcolm X (2013)
Edited by Herb Boyd and Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter, this diary provides an intimate glimpse into Malcolm’s thoughts and experiences during his transformative trip to Africa and the Middle East in 1964.
The Portable Malcolm X Reader (2013)
A comprehensive anthology of Malcolm X’s writings, speeches, and interviews, edited by Manning Marable and Garrett Felber.
The Speeches of Malcolm X at Harvard (2018)
This collection of speeches captures Malcolm X’s engagements with students and faculty at Harvard University, highlighting his intellectual prowess and willingness to engage in debate.
The Lost Tapes: Malcolm X (2018)
A compilation of previously unreleased speeches, interviews, and private recordings that offer new insights into Malcolm X’s life and thoughts.
- Malcolm X was a talented orator, known for his captivating speeches and ability to connect with audiences from diverse backgrounds.
- Despite his controversial image, Malcolm X inspired numerous civil rights activists, including the Black Panther Party, which was heavily influenced by his ideas on black empowerment and self-defense.
- Malcolm X was under constant surveillance by the FBI due to his activism and perceived threat to national security.
- In 1964, Malcolm X survived a near-fatal assassination attempt when a Molotov cocktail was thrown into his family’s home.
- Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965 remains the subject of speculation and conspiracy theories, with some suggesting government involvement in his death.
AWARDS AND HONORS
While Malcolm X did not receive many formal awards during his lifetime, his work has been posthumously recognized and honored in various ways. In 1998, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in his honor, and numerous schools, libraries, and cultural institutions bear his name. His autobiography remains a staple in college curricula and is considered one of the most influential works on race and civil rights in American history.
DEATH AND LEGACY
Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965, while delivering a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. Three members of the Nation of Islam were convicted of his murder, though many believe that other parties may have been involved in the plot.
Despite his controversial life and untimely death, Malcolm X’s legacy continues to inspire and shape discussions about race, civil rights, and black empowerment. His ideas on black self-determination and his critique of systemic racism have been embraced by subsequent generations of activists and scholars, and his life story continues to captivate audiences worldwide.