Malcolm X

Born:     May 19, 1925
Place of Birth:   Omaha, NE
Died:  February 21, 1965  
Zodiac Sign:  Taurus

Career

Malcolm X (1925–1965) was an American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a popular figure during the civil rights movement. He is best known for his controversial advocacy for the rights of blacks; some consider him a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans, while others accused him of preaching racism and violence.

Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, he relocated to New York City's Harlem neighborhood in 1943, after spending his teenage years in a series of foster homes following his father's murder and his mother's placement in a mental hospital. In New York, he engaged in several illicit activities, and was sentenced to ten years in prison in 1946 for larceny and breaking and entering. In prison he joined the Nation of Islam‍—‌changing his name to Malcolm X because, he later wrote, Little was the name that "the white slavemaster ... had imposed upon my paternal forebears"‍—‌and quickly became one of its most influential and visible leaders after his parole in 1952.

During the civil rights movement, Malcolm X served as the public face of the controversial group for a dozen years, where he advocated for black supremacy, the separation of black and white Americans, and rejected the notion of the civil rights movement for its emphasis on racial integration. He also expressed pride in some of the Nation's social achievements, particularly its free drug rehabilitation program. In the 1950s he came under surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation because of the Nation's alleged links to communism.

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In the 1960s, Malcolm X grew disillusioned with the Nation of Islam, particularly with its leader Elijah Muhammad. Expressing regret about his time with them, which he had come to regard as largely wasted, he instead embraced Sunni Islam. He began to advocate for racial integration and disavowed racism after completing Hajj, after which he became known as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. After a brief period of travel across Africa, he repudiated the Nation of Islam, and founded Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) to emphasize Pan-Africanism.

Throughout 1964, Malcolm X's conflict with the Nation of Islam intensified and he received repeated death threats. On February 21, 1965 he was assassinated by three members of the Nation of Islam as he prepared to deliver an address at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. Conspiracy theories regarding the assassination persist, particularly accusations that Nation of Islam leaders or law enforcement officials were involved. 

Hundreds of streets and schools in the United States are named for Malcolm X, and Malcolm X Day is commemorated in many U.S. cities and a number of countries.

Personal Life and Family

Malcolm Little was born May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, the fourth of seven children of Grenada-born Louise Helen Little (née Norton) and Georgia-born Earl Little. Earl was an outspoken Baptist lay speaker, and he and Louise were admirers of Pan-African activist Marcus Garvey. Earl was a local leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and Louise served as secretary and "branch reporter", sending news of local UNIA activities to Negro World; they inculcated self-reliance and black pride in their children. Malcolm X later said that white violence killed four of his father's brothers.

Because of Ku Klux Klan threats‍—‌Earl's UNIA activities were said to be "spreading trouble"—‌the family relocated in 1926 to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and shortly thereafter to Lansing, Michigan. There the family was frequently harassed by the Black Legion, a white racist group. When the family home burned in 1929, Earl accused the Black Legion.

When Malcolm was six, his father died in what was officially ruled a streetcar accident, though his mother Louise believed Earl had been murdered by the Black Legion. Rumors that white racists were responsible for his father's death were widely circulated and were very disturbing to Malcolm X as a child. As an adult, he expressed conflicting beliefs on the question. After a dispute with creditors, Louise received a life insurance benefit (nominally $1,000‍—‌about $16,000 in 2018 dollars) in payments of $18 per month; the issuer of another, larger policy refused to pay, claiming her husband Earl had committed suicide. To make ends meet Louise rented out part of her garden, and her sons hunted game.

In 1937 a man Louise had been dating‍—‌marriage had seemed a possibility‍—‌vanished from her life when she became pregnant with his child. In late 1938 she had a nervous breakdown and was committed to Kalamazoo State Hospital. The children were separated and sent to foster homes. Malcolm and his siblings secured her release 24 years later.

Malcolm Little excelled in junior high school but dropped out after a white teacher told him that practicing law, his aspiration at the time, was "no realistic goal for a nigger". Later Malcolm X recalled feeling that the white world offered no place for a career-oriented black man, regardless of talent.

From age 14 to 21, Little held a variety of jobs while living with his half-sister Ella Little-Collins in Roxbury, a largely African-American neighborhood of Boston.

After a short time in Flint, Michigan, he moved to New York City's Harlem neighborhood in 1943, where he engaged in drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, and pimping. According to recent biographies, Little also occasionally had sex with other men, usually for money. He befriended John Elroy Sanford, a fellow dishwasher at Jimmy's Chicken Shack in Harlem who aspired to be a professional comedian. Both men had reddish hair, so Sanford was called "Chicago Red" after his hometown and Little was known as "Detroit Red". Years later, Sanford became famous as Redd Foxx.

Summoned by the local draft board for military service in World War II, he feigned mental disturbance by rambling and declaring: "I want to be sent down South. Organize them nigger soldiers ... steal us some guns, and kill us [some] crackers". He was declared "mentally disqualified for military service".

In late 1945, Little returned to Boston, where he and four accomplices committed a series of burglaries targeting wealthy white families. In 1946, he was arrested while picking up a stolen watch he had left at a shop for repairs, and in February began serving an eight-to-ten-year sentence at Charlestown State Prison for larceny and breaking and entering.

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