Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925, Malcolm was the son of James Earl Little, a Baptist preacher who advocated the Black nationalist ideals of Marcus Garvey. Threats from the Ku Klux Klan forced the family to move to Lansing, Michigan, where his father continued to preach his controversial sermons despite continuing threats. In 1931, Malcolm’s father was murdered by the white supremacist Black Legion, and Michigan authorities refused to prosecute those responsible. In 1937, Malcolm was taken from his family by welfare caseworkers. By the time he reached high school age, he had dropped out of school and moved to Boston, where he became increasingly involved in criminal activities.
Malcolm X’s early life was marked by poverty, racism, and violence. His family moved frequently and experienced discrimination and harassment in various forms. At the age of six, his father was brutally murdered by white supremacists, and his mother was later declared legally insane and institutionalized. Malcolm X was forced to live in foster homes and orphanages for much of his childhood.
He was deeply affected by the brutal murder of his father. He struggled with anger and resentment throughout his life, and he was known for his fiery, confrontational style of speechmaking
In 1946, at the age of 21, Malcolm was sent to prison on a burglary conviction. It was there he encountered the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, whose members are popularly known as Black Muslims. The Nation of Islam advocated Black nationalism and racial separatism. Muhammad’s teachings had a strong effect on Malcolm, who entered into an intense program of self-education and took the last name “X” to symbolize his stolen African identity.
After six years, Malcolm was released from prison and became a loyal and effective minister of the Nation of Islam in Harlem, New York. In contrast with civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X advocated self-defense and the liberation of African Americans “by any means necessary.” A fiery orator, Malcolm was admired by the African American community in New York and around the country.
In the early 1960s, he began to develop a more outspoken philosophy than that of Elijah Muhammad, whom he felt did not sufficiently support the civil rights movement. In late 1963, Malcolm’s suggestion that President John F. Kennedy’s assassination was a matter of the “chickens coming home to roost” provided Elijah Muhammad, who believed that Malcolm had become too powerful, with a convenient opportunity to suspend him from the Nation of Islam.
A few months later, Malcolm formally left the organization and made a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, where he was profoundly affected by the lack of racial discord among orthodox Muslims. He returned to America as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and in June 1964 founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which advocated Black identity and held that racism, not the white race, was the greatest foe of the African American. Malcolm’s new movement steadily gained followers, and his more moderate philosophy became increasingly influential in the civil rights movement, especially among the leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
There were several failed attempted assassinations on Malcolm X throughout his life.
On stage at the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was gunned down as his pregnant wife and four daughters took cover in the front row. Three members of the Nation of Islam—Mujahid Abdul Halim, Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam—were soon after charged with first-degree murder. Islam and Aziz maintained their innocence, and during the 1966 trial, Halim confessed to the crime and testified that Islam and Aziz were innocent. All three men were found guilty, however, and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
In 2021, Aziz and Islam were exonerated after an investigation that included the discovery of key FBI documents withheld from the defense and prosecution during the trial. Aziz was 83 at the time of the exoneration; Islam had died in 2009.
Prior to this fatal incident, there were other attempts on Malcolm X’s life. In January 1965, his home in Queens was firebombed, but no one was injured. And in November 1964, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the ballroom where he was speaking in Detroit, causing a small fire but no injuries.
Despite the challenges he faced in his personal life, Malcolm X’s legacy as a civil rights leader and political activist continues to inspire people all around the world. He was a powerful and influential voice in the struggle for racial justice and equality, and his ideas and his legacy continue to shape the ongoing fight for social justice and human rights.
Here are some famous quotes by Malcolm X:
1. “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
2. “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.”
3. “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”
4. “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”
5. “We declare our right on this earth to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”
6. “I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color.”
7. “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
8. “We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.”
9. “I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”
10. “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
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