Social Reformer, Civil Rights Leader. As an activist and black leader, he advocated black pride, economic self-reliance and human civil rights. Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, to Earl Little and Louise Norton Little. His father was a Baptist lay preacher and supporter of Marcus Garvey, and was believed killed by the Black Legion, a white supremacist group in Lansing, Michigan, in 1931. When his mother was declared insane in 1939, the family was broken up and the children sent to various foster homes. Malcolm was recognized early for his intelligence, and later moved to Boston, to live with his older half-sister, Ella Little Collins. He found work as a shoeshiner at the Lindy Hop nightclub, and soon moved to New York City, where he became involved in drug dealing, racketeering, robbery, and pimping. When he was given a physical exam for the draft during World War II, he was found to be insane, which he later claimed he faked to avoid the draft. In 1946, he was arrested in Boston at the age of 20, and sentenced to ten years on charges of breaking and entering. It was in Charlestown State Prison that he received an invitation to join the Nation of Islam (NOI), a militant Islamic sect. Malcolm studied Islam and the NOI teachings, and soon became a leader within the NOI. While still in prison, he contacted NOI National Leader Elijah Muhammad by mail and began to correspond with him on an almost daily basis. In 1952, he was released from prison, and immediately went to Chicago to meet Elijah Muhammad. It was here that he adopted the last name "X," meant to symbolize the rejection of his slave name and the absence of a proper African Muslim name. In his autobiography, he also explained that "to take one's X is to take on a certain mystery, a certain possibility of power in the eyes of one's peers and one's enemies." It was also here that the FBI began to keep a file on him. In 1953, he returned to Boston, where he soon became the leader of the local NOI Temple. His rousing and inspirational speeches and spotless personal example soon led him to be viewed as the number two man in the NOI movement, as he is largely credited with increasing NOI membership from 500 in 1952 to nearly 30,000 in 1963. On January 14, 1958, he married Betty Sanders in Lansing, Michigan; they would have six children, all girls. By 1963, Malcolm believed that Elijah Muhammad was jealous of him, and when he was censored by the NOI for commenting that President Kennedy's assassination was "chickens coming home to roost," he broke with the Nation of Islam to form his own Muslim Mosque, Inc, which advocated political and economic black nationalism. In April 1964, he made a Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), meeting numerous Arab leaders while there, a trip that soon proved to be life-changing. He returned to the US as a Sunni Muslim, adopting a new name, El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. He then founded the US branch of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), which he patterned after the Organization of African Unity (OAU). From this, he began to preach on human rights for all people of all races, not just black Americans. During this time, tensions between Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam increased, and he received several death threats. On February 21, 1965, while making a speech in Manhattan, a disturbance broke out, and his bodyguards rushed forward to return order to the audience. Malcolm X died there at the age of 39. "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," written by Alex Haley, was published in 1972. In 1992, the film "Malcolm X" was released, starring actor Denzel Washington in the role of Malcolm X.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson
1936–1997 (m. 1958)