Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. His mother, Louise Norton Little, was a homemaker occupied with the family’s eight children. His father, Earl Little, was an outspoken Baptist minister and avid supporter of black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. Earl’s civil rights activism prompted death threats from the white supremacist organization Black Legion, forcing the family to relocate twice before Malcolm’s fourth birthday.
Malcolm’s siblings: (in order of birth) Ella, Earl and Mary (half-siblings from Earl’s previous marriage); Wilfred, Hilda, Philbert, Reginald and Yvonne.
Rev. Little was found dead in 1931 after being beaten and left on the train tracks, where he was run over by a streetcar. Malcolm was 6 at the time. No one was ever convicted of the crime but his death is widely attributed to the Black Legion. Malcolm’s mother spent the next 26 years in a Kalamazoo mental institution because of the uncertainty and paranoia around her husband’s murder, as well as the stress from her failure to provide for her 6 children at the height of the Great Depression.
Malcolm X was with the Nation of Islam during the 1950s and ’60s, where he worked under NOI leader, Elijah Muhammad expanding the group’s membership among black Americans nationwide. Due largely to his efforts, the NOI grew from 400 members at the time he was released from prison in 1952 to 40,000 members by 1960.
Malcolm X became the minister of Temple No. 7 in Harlem and Temple No. 11 in Boston, while also founding temples in Hartford and Philadelphia. In 1960, he established the national newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, in order to further promote the message of the NOI.
In 1963, Malcolm X became disillusioned when he learned that Muhammad had violated his own teachings by carrying on many extramarital affairs. Malcolm’s feelings of betrayal, combined with Muhammad’s anger over Malcolm’s comments regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, led Malcolm leaving the NOI in 1964.
That same year, Malcolm X went on a trip through North Africa and the Middle East. The trip was a turning point in his life. He learned to place the American Civil Rights Movement within the context of a global anti-colonial struggle, embracing socialism and Pan-Africanism. Malcolm X also made the Hajj, the traditional Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, during which he converted to traditional Islam and changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
Malcolm X announced the establishment of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) at a the Audubon Ballroom on June 28, 1964. He had written the group’s charter with John Henrik Clarke, Albert Cleage, Jesse Gray, and Gloria Richardson, among others.
Malcolm X, along with Clarke, wrote the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) Basic Unity Program:
- Restoration: “In order to release ourselves from the oppression of our enslavers then, it is absolutely necessary for the Afro-American to restore communication with Africa.”
- Reorientation: “We can learn much about Africa by reading informative books.”
- Education: “The Organization of Afro-American Unity will devise original educational methods and procedures which will liberate the minds of our children. We will … encourage qualified Afro-Americans to write and publish the textbooks needed to liberate our minds … educating them [our children] at home.”
- Economic Security: “After the Emancipation Proclamation … it was realized that the Afro-American constituted the largest homogeneous ethnic group with a common origin and common group experience in the United States and, if allowed to exercise economic or political freedom, would in a short period of time own this country. We must establish a technician bank. We must do this so that the newly independent nations of Africa can turn to us who are their brothers for the technicians they will need now and in the future.”
At a speaking engagement in the Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 three gunmen rushed Malcolm onstage. They shot him 15 times at close range. The 39-year-old was pronounced dead on arrival at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
Fifteen hundred people attended Malcolm’s funeral in Harlem on February 27, 1965 at the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ (now Child’s Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ). After the ceremony, friends took the shovels away from the waiting gravediggers and buried Malcolm themselves.
Later that year, Betty gave birth to their twin daughters Malikah & Malaak.
Malcolm’s murderers, Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler (Muhammad Abdul Aziz) and Thomas 15X Johnson (Khalil Islam) were convicted of first-degree murder in March 1966. The three men were all members of the Nation of Islam. Aziz was paroled in 1985; Islam was freed in 1987. Hayer (the only murderer that confessed), now known as Thomas Hagan, was freed in 2010.
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published in 1965, the result of a collaboration between human rights activist Malcolm X and journalist Alex Haley. Haley coauthored the autobiography based on a series of in-depth interviews he conducted between 1963 and Malcolm X’s 1965 assassination. The Autobiography is a spiritual conversion narrative that outlines Malcolm X’s philosophy of black pride, black nationalism and Pan-Africanism. After the death of his subject Haley authored the book’s epilogue, which describes their collaboration and summarizes the end of Malcolm X’s life.
While Malcolm X and scholars contemporary to the book’s publication regarded Haley as the book’s ghostwriter, modern scholars tend to regard him as an essential collaborator who intentionally muted his authorial voice to allow readers to feel as though Malcolm X were speaking directly to them. Haley also influenced some of Malcolm X’s literary choices; for example, when Malcolm X left the Nation Of Islam during the composition of the book, Haley persuaded him to favor a style of “suspense and drama” rather than rewriting earlier chapters into a polemic against the Nation. Furthermore, Haley’s proactive censorship of the manuscript’s antisemitic material significantly influenced the ideological tone of the Autobiography, increasing its commercial success and popularity although distorting Malcolm X’s public persona.”