Malcolm X was an influential American advocate of Black Nationalism, and, as a
pioneer in articulating a vigorous self-defense against white violence, a
precursor of the black power movement of the late 1960s. Born as Malcolm Little
in Omaha, he became a rebellious youth after the death of his father in 1931,
who the family believed was murdered for advocating the ideas of Marcus Garvey.
Malcolm spent a few years in a foster home but became an excellent student and
was voted class president. Nevertheless, at the age of 16, he moved east with
relatives and drifted to New York City, where he became involved in Harlem's
underworld of drugs, prostitution, and confidence games.|
In prison for burglary from 1946 to 1952, he read widely and was converted
to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. On his release, he embraced the Black
Muslim movement and changed his name to Malcolm X. Following his initial
training, Malcolm became the leading spokesman for the Black Muslims to the
An ideological split developed between Malcolm and the more conservative
Elijah Muhammad, and in 1963 Malcolm was suspended as a minister of the Black
Muslims. After a pilgrimage to Mecca, he announced in 1964 that he had become an
orthodox Muslim and founded the rival Organization for Afro-American Unity. His
travel in the Middle East and Africa gave him a more optimistic view regarding
potential brotherhood between black and white Americans; he no longer preached
racial separation, but rather a socialist revolution.
His career ended abruptly when he was shot and killed in New York City on
Feb. 21, 1965, by assassins thought to be connected with the Black Muslims. The
Autobiography OF Malcolm X publicized Malcolm's ideas and became something of a
classic in contemporary American literature.