Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1925. His father, Earl, was a Baptist minister who was very open about his opinions and strongly supported Marcus Garvey, the leader of the Black Nationalist Party. His mother, Louis Norton, was a homemaker.
During his childhood, the family received a number of death threats and had to move several times. In 1929, the Black Legion, a white supremacy organization, burned their home to the ground. Two years later, his father was found dead on the trolley tracks and badly mutilated. His mother later had a nervous breakdown and was committed to an institution, forcing Malcolm and his siblings to live in foster homes.
During school, Malcolm made it very obvious to his teachers and peers that he had a strong future ahead of him. He graduated at the top of his class in junior high, but began to lose interest in school. On one occasion, he told his teacher that he had ambitions to be a lawyer and she replied that being a lawyer was not a realistic occupation for a nigger. It is likely that his inability to pursue his dreams was the primary factor that motivated him to drop out of school.
Malcolm moved to Boston, where he worked a number of different jobs, all of which he hated. He later moved to New York, where he became involved in criminal activities. By the early 1940s he was involved in numerous gambling, prostitution, and narcotics organizations in Harlem.
In 1946, he returned to Boston with his friend Malcolm Jarvis after getting into trouble with powerful underworld figures in New York. The two did not want to get regular day jobs, so they began robbing homes and businesses all over the city. They were arrested that same year for the burglary and Malcolm received a seven year prison term. In spite of the circumstances, Malcolm used the opportunity to change his life around and educate himself.
At one point, his brother Reginald came to the prison to visit and told Malcolm of his recent conversion to the Muslim faith. Malcolm began studying the religion, largely focusing on the works of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. Among the tenets of the Nation of Islam's faith was the conviction that the white race worked actively to keep African Americans from empowering themselves and achieving success in America.
Malcolm left the prison in 1952 with a new direction. He declared his new name to be Malcolm X, describing his previous last name as a slave name. He was soon given a prestigious position within the Nation of Islam as a spokesman and minister. He worked to establish mosques throughout the United States and send the message of the organization through television, radio, and journals. Over the next decade, the membership of the Nation of Islam increased from 500 to over 30,000, largely based on his charismatic recruiting efforts.
Malcolm began to become famous, known as a hero among supporters of civil rights and hated by those who wanted to keep the African American race oppressed. In 1959, he was given a week long television spot with news reporter Mike Wallace. The show was called "The Hate that Hate Produced" and explored the civil rights struggle and the Nation of Islam. All of the attention brought him under the eye of the FBI, who infiltrated the Nation of Islam and planted bugs in Malcolm's home.
In 1963, Malcolm found out that Elijah Muhammad was having sexual relations with numerous women simultaneously. Such acts violated the rules of the Nation of Islam, which included celibacy until marriage. Malcolm became very disappointed in Elijah and lost a lot of faith in the organization as a result. In 1964, he was "silenced" by Elijah for 90 days after making a controversial comment about John F. Kennedy's assassination. He left the organization to form Muslim Mosque Inc.
In 1964, Malcolm journeyed to Mecca, Saudi Arabia on a holy pilgrimage. There he met white people who were also Muslims and respected him, forever changing his perspectives on life. He began spreading his message to all races in order to bring unity instead of separation.He also publicly renounced his association with the Nation of Islam, resulting in a number of attempts on his life by members of the organization.
Malcolm's statements against the Nation of Islam made him a target of both verbal and physical attacks. He started traveling with bodyguards everywhere that he went in order to help prevent any further attacks. On February 14, 1965, his house was firebombed, but luckily his family survived without injury.
On February 21, 1965, Malcolm was speaking in Manhattan at the Audubon Ballroom when three men with guns ran onto the stage and shot him fifteen times. He died before reaching the hospital as a result of massive blood loss. His funeral was attended by over 1500 people and he was personally buried by his closest friends.
The assassins were arrested and convicted of first degree. Their names were Talmadge Hayer, Norman Butler, and Thomas Johnson, all members of Nation of Islam.
Malcolm X was portrayed by Denzel Washington in Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" in 1992.
Today, Malcolm X is remembered as a powerful speaker and one of the greatest leaders of the civil rights movement. He also helped to introduce people in the United States to the Muslim religion and promote greater acceptance of individuals.