An African American leader, a prominent leader in the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist, and civil rights leader. Malcolm X was not silent. Making an impact on everything he did, Malcolm had an agenda and used his platform in every way possible.

Malcolm X was born as Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska to Louise Little and Earl Little. Malcolm was 4th out of 8 children. Malcolm has always been front and center in the fight for civil rights. In fact, Malcolm’s father, Earl, was a prominent civil rights leader. Earl Little was a minister and an outspoken supporter of black nationalist Marcus Garvey, because of his reputation, Earl and his family encountered numerous death threats from white supremacist group “black legion”. Due to these death threats, Earl was forced to move his family twice before Malcolm’s 4th birthday.

After numerous moves, their house being burned down by White supremacists, and rebuilding their house, Earl Little’s body was found lying across a streetcar track. Louise and the rest of the family were convinced Earl was murdered by the Black Legion, but the police decided his death was an accident. After Earl’s death, Malcolm’s mother Louise never quite recovered and regularly encountered breakdowns. She was eventually emitted into a mental institute where she would stay for the next 26 years.

Due to his mother’s absence and his father’s death, Malcolm and his siblings were cycled through foster care. Malcolm struggled through his childhood and school. From being kicked out of school to being sent to a juvenile detention home in Mason, Michigan. Malcolm dropped out of school when he was 15 and moved in with his half-sister Ella. Malcolm recalled that Ella was the first proud black woman he has ever had in his life. Ella helped Malcolm get on his feet and landed him a job shining shoes. Although in his free time Malcolm picked up work in the city’s criminal underground selling drugs. In 1946, Malcolm was arrested and sentenced to 10 years.

While in jail, Malcolm turned back to education. He read constantly, trying to make up for the years of high school he missed due to dropping out. It was during his years in jail, Malcolm’s brother Reginald visited him and introduced him to Islam by telling Malcolm about his recent conversion to the Muslims religion. Malcolm was intrigued and did his own research on the Muslim religion. Soon after Malcolm was granted parole, he was a devoted Muslim and had changed his surname to X.

Malcolm was a prominent spokesman for the Nation of Islam and created quite the reputation for himself. The organizations head, Elijah Muhammad took Malcolm under his wing. Malcolm was credited with opening multiple mosques, utilizing newspaper columns, as well as radio and television, to communicate the Nation of Islam’s message throughout the united states. Malcolm spoke out regularly and because of his charismatic and driven personality he drew quite the following and attracted an impressive number of new members. Malcolm is said to have increased the organizations’ membership from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963.

Not all of Malcolm’s reputation was good, he became quite the media magnet. With Malcolm’s growing popularity and the Nation of Islam’s growing membership, everything seemed great. But Malcolm’s faith and organization hit a wall at the height of the civil rights movement in 1963 when he learned that his mentor, Elijah Muhammad, was secretly having an affair with 6 women. He was heartbroken, especially when he found out these affairs resulted in children. After learning about the affairs Malcolm felt guilty for all the people he head lead to membership in the Nation of Islam. Malcolm decided to terminate his membership with the Nation of Islam and create his own religious organization called “Muslim Mosque, Inc.”. Malcolm also decided to take a pilgrimage to Mecca. This trip completely changed Malcolm’s point of view and life-changing. He returned home with a new outlook on everything, he now had a message for all races.

However, because of Malcolm’s termination of his membership from the Nation of Islam, he became a target. The FBI warned officials that Malcolm had been marked for assassination. After many attempted assassinations, Malcolm very rarely traveled without bodyguards. On Feb. 14, 1965, Malcolm’s home with his wife and 4 daughters was fired bombed, they all escaped without injury. Unfortunately a week later Malcolm was rushed onstage by gunmen at a speaking engagement and shot 15 times at close range. He died, just 39 years old, at New York’s Colombia Presbyterian Hospital. 1500 people attended his funeral and friends personally buried him, his wife later that year gave birth to their twin daughters.

Malcolm left by a legacy like no other. He taught African Americans from all backgrounds to cast aside the shackles of racism by any means necessary. He contributed immensely to the Muslim religion and the normalization of it here in the united states. Malcolm X will be remembered for all the strides he took to highlight the value of a truly free populace by demonstrating the great lengths to which human beings will go to secure their freedom.

“Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression,” he said. “Because power, real power, comes from our conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.”

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Lauren Thomas
Written by Lauren Thomas
Creative Director of the Yearbook and Blog