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Malcolm X

Photo of Malcolm X
Malcolm X by Ed Ford

Where did Malcolm X grow up?

Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1925. His family moved around often while he was a kid, but he spent much of his childhood in East Lansing, Michigan.

His Dad Dies

Malcolm's father, Earl Little, was a leader in an African-American group called the UNIA. This caused the family to be harassed by white supremacists. They even had their house burnt down once. When Malcolm was six, his father was found dead on the tracks of the local streetcar. While the police said the death was an accident, many thought his dad was murdered.

Living Poor

With his father gone, Malcolm's mother was left to raise seven children on her own. To make matters worse, this happened during the Great Depression. Although his mom worked hard, Malcolm and his family were constantly hungry. He went to live with a foster family at the age of 13, dropped out of school altogether at the age of 15, and moved to Boston.

A Tough Life

As a young black man in the 1940s, Malcolm felt he had no real opportunities. He worked odd jobs, but felt he would never succeed despite how hard he worked. In order to make ends meet, he eventually turned to crime. In 1945, he was caught with stolen goods and was sent to prison.

How did he get the name Malcolm X?

While in prison, Malcolm's brother sent him a letter about a new religion he had joined called the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam believed that Islam was the true religion of black people. This made sense to Malcolm. He decided to join the Nation of Islam. He also changed his last name to "X." He said the "X" represented his real African name that was taken from him by white people.

Nation of Islam

After getting out of prison, Malcolm became a minister for the Nation of Islam. He worked at several temples around the country and became the leader of Temple Number 7 in Harlem.

Malcolm was an impressive man, a powerful speaker, and a born leader. The Nation of Islam grew rapidly wherever he went. It wasn't long before Malcolm X was the second most influential member of the Nation of Islam after their leader, Elijah Muhammad.

Becoming Famous

As the Nation of Islam grew from hundreds of members to thousands, Malcolm became more well known. He really became famous, however, when he was featured on the Mike Wallace TV documentary on black nationalism called "The Hate that Hate Produced."

Civil Rights Movement

When the African-American Civil Rights Movement began to gain momentum in the 1960s, Malcolm was skeptical. He did not believe in the peaceful protests of Martin Luther King, Jr. Malcolm didn't want a nation where blacks and whites were integrated, he wanted a separate nation just for black people.

Leaving the Nation of Islam

As Malcolm's fame grew, other leaders of the Nation of Islam became jealous. Malcolm also had some concerns about the behavior of their leader Elijah Muhammad. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Malcolm was told by Elijah Muhammad not to discuss the subject in public. However, Malcolm spoke out anyway, saying that it was a case of "chickens coming home to roost." This created bad publicity for the Nation of Islam and Malcolm was ordered to remain silent for 90 days. In the end, he left the Nation of Islam.

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964
by Marion S. Trikosko
Change of Heart

Malcolm may have left the Nation of Islam, but he was still a Muslim. He made a pilgrimage to Mecca where he had a change of heart over the beliefs of the Nation of Islam. Upon his return he began to work with other civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. on ways to peacefully achieve equal rights.


Malcolm had made many enemies within the Nation of Islam. Many leaders spoke out against him and said that he was "worthy of death." On February 14, 1965 his house was burned down. A few days later on February 15th as Malcolm began a speech in New York City, he was gunned down by three members of the Nation of Islam.

Interesting Facts about Malcolm X

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