Malcolm Little, known as Malcolm X later on in his life, was born on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents, Earl and Louis Norton Little worked hard to support their eight kids. Malcolm’s mother was a homemaker, while his father was a Baptist minister and a supporter of the Black National leader, Marcus Garvey. As a result, Malcolm’s father received many death threats from white supremacist groups. The family was forced to move from one place to another. Thus, the future leading voice advocating for black self-defense had to change his place of residence many times. His family spent very little time in Omaha before they moved to Milwaukee. Then there was East Chicago, Indiana, and Lansing, Michigan, where Earl Norton would be killed.
In 1929, the Littles’ house was burned to the ground due to their strong support of African American advancement. Two years later, the body of Earl Little was found mutilated lying across the town’s trolley track. The police ruled it as an accident but the Littles were certain that it was a member of the Black Legion to do the crime. After Earl’s death, Malcolm’s mother had an emotional breakdown and was sent to a mental institution. Her now-parentless children were separated and sent to different foster homes. At first, welfare officials agreed to let Malcolm stay with his neighbors. Soon afterward, Malcolm X was sent to a juvenile detention home located in Mason, Michigan. There, one of the most famous leaders of the civil rights movement went to a nearly all-white junior high.
Malcolm was smart and had a dream of becoming a lawyer. However, it was his white teacher to discourage his strong ambitions. Having heard of the boy’s dreams, Malcolm’s favorite eighth-grade teacher completely disappointed him by saying, “A lawyer is no realistic goal for a nigger.” As a result, the boy completely lost his interest in school. Malcolm dropped out of school and spent time in Boston trying different jobs to earn money. The boy became a hustler in Harlem and Boston. His friends gave him the nickname “Detroit Red” because, at that moment, Malcolm had red hair. In 1943, together with his friend John Sanford, Malcolm found a job at Jimmy’s Chicken Shack in Harlem. In the daytime, they washed dishes. As night came upon, the friends committed street crimes together. An interesting fact is that John Sanford became one of the first black comedians to perform for a white audience in the city of Las Vegas.
By 1942, Malcolm was involved in prostitution, drug dealing, and gambling rings. Together with his best friend Malcolm Jarvis, also known as Shorty, Malcolm Little was arrested and accused of burglary charges in 1946. At that moment, Malcolm was twenty-one years old. That’s when the man was caught with a stolen watch. Asa result, he was accused of breaking, entering, and possessing some stolen property. He was sentenced to seven years at the Charlestown State Prison.
While serving his prison sentence, Malcolm experienced a real awakening. He exerted every effort to boost his writing and reading skills. In the process, he did his best to memorize the dictionary and make his penmanship better by copying many pages. That’s when Malcolm’s whole life changed. His brother came to visit him and told him about the Nation of Islam. He became very interested in that matter and studied the teachings of the Islam Nation. In 1952, he was paroled and devoted himself to the Islam Nation. He changed his last name to X because he considered “Little” to be a slave name and chose X to represent his lost tribal name.
Malcolm X left prison in 1952 and moved to Detroit, where he turned up at his brother’s house. In Detroit, Malcolm X attended the local Nation of Islam mosque and had big plans on the new converts. In a short time, the well-known civil rights activist became a favorite of the founder and leader of the Nation, Elijah Muhammad. The latter promoted Malcolm X to minister before dispatching him to Philadelphia and Boston to build more mosques there. Malcolm X spent the following ten years chairing the Harlem mosque. At the same time, he launched the newspaper “Muhammad Speaks,” delivered speeches in various colleges all over the country, took part in dozens of debates with many leaders of the civil rights movement, as well as participated in meetings with the heads of the other countries.
Elijah Muhammad also allowed Malcolm to establish new mosques in cities such as Detroit, Michigan, and Harlem, New York. Malcolm used the newspapers, television, and word of mouth to spread the Muslim message to others. The man had much controversy surrounding him. Even FBI agents posed as Malcolm’s bodyguard to monitor the Nation of Islam’s activities. Everywhere, Malcolm X spoke out against white racism, claiming that, “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, my brothers, and sisters – Plymouth Rock landed on us!” In 1955, the number of members in the Nation of Islam went from a few hundred to 6,000, resulting from his activities. In the early 1960s, the membership grew to 75,000.
In 1956, Malcolm met Betty Shabaz, the civil rights advocate. Malcolm X proposed to his beloved woman from a gas station payphone, and the couple married in 1958, just two days after the proposal. They had six daughters. However, his twin daughters, Malikah, and Malaak were born after Malcolm’s death.
Malcolm felt betrayed when he found out that Elijah Muhammad was secretly having love affairs with up to six different women and illegitimate children with some of them. As a result, Malcolm decided to split from the Islam Nation. Around the same time, he founded the Muslim Mosque INC. After breaking away from the Islam Nation, Malcolm went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. This trip changed Malcolm’s views of the world. He quoted, “Blonde-haired, blue-eyed men I could call my brother.” When Malcolm was still with the Nation of Islam, he truly believed that the white people and their society always tried to keep blacks from making themselves more powerful and achieving political power, economic and social success. When he returned to the United States, he taught all the races, not just African Americans.
The nation of Islam wasn’t very pleased with Malcolm splitting from Elijah Muhammad and criticizing him for fake religious views. What is more, Malcolm X even announced that they had a plan to kill him. They tried many times but failed. On February 14, 1965, someone firebombed his house with Molotov cocktails. This forced his pregnant wife and four children to escape to the backyard with mild injuries.
Exactly a week later, on February 21, 1965, some of the members of the Nation of Islam shot Malcolm X dead at the Audubon Ballroom. Three gunmen rushed Malcolm onstage and shot his fifteen times at a short distance. Malcolm was pronounced dead.
1500 people attended Malcolm’s funeral. Later that year, his wife had his twin daughters. The three men who murdered Malcolm were all associated with the Islam Nation and were convicted for the first-degree murder. Malcolm was buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.