Malcolm’s Early Years/Criminal Past
Born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, to parents Earl Little and Louise Norton. His father was a Baptist minister, and Malcolm had stated that his father’s support for Pan-African activist Marcus Garvey and insistence on black equality led to an arson attack on the family home by the Ku Klux Klan.
Shortly after Malcolm’s family moved to Lansing, Michigan, racists murdered his father. His mother suffered a mental breakdown because of poverty and stress, and declared legally insane. The state formally committed Louise Little to the state mental hospital, and her children including Malcolm Little were split up and sent to different foster homes.
After living in a series of foster homes, Malcolm Little soon dropped out of junior high school and moved to Boston and then to Harlem, where he became involved in crime. He was a street hustler, dope fiend, and pimp. The street life caught up with Malcolm Little In 1946. The judge sentenced him to eight to ten years in prison for burglary.
While in prison, Malcolm became a member of the Nation of Islam and took the name Malcolm X. After his parole in 1952, Malcolm X became one of the Nation of Islam’s best-known ministers and leaders. Elijah Muhammad appointed him head of Temple # 7 in Harlem, and became a familiar sight on the streets of Harlem. There he stood in Harlem, articulate, handsome, and he preached the message of Black love and self-respect, which Black men needed to hear.
A powerful and charismatic speaker, Malcolm X developed a nationwide reputation. Many African-Americans living in the ghettos of America wanted to be knowledgeable, sober, and articulate like him. They felt secure following Malcolm X, because of his any means necessary approach. However, many people felt Malcolm X was controversial and violent. There were never images or videos of him being violent even though he defended violence as a means of African-American self-defense. He denounced white people, and rejected the non-violence approach of his civil rights counterpart Martin Luther King, Jr.
Tension in the Nation of Islam
Malcolm X’s growing popularity caused jealously within the Nation of Islam, and tension grew between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, head of the Nation of Islam, when Malcolm learned of Muhammad’s sexual misbehavior with young secretaries.
After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, Malcolm X expressed his feeling by saying the assassination of President Kennedy was a case of “chickens coming home to roost.” His comments prompted a widespread public outcry. As a result, Elijah Muhammad punished Malcolm X by silencing him from public speaking for three months.
On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X publicly announced his split from the Nation of Islam. He made a pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca, and traveled through Africa and the Middle East. Malcolm X learned the true meaning of Islam and saw that Muslims came in all shades of color. He also came to believe that Islam could be the tool to solve racial problems in the United States.
A New Malcolm X/Assasination
After his pilgrimage, Malcolm X returned to the United States a new man. He expressed his ideas on how to handle the racial problems in the United States and debated against college students in Harvard and Oxford University. Malcolm X established the Muslim Mosque in Harlem and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Now a Sunni Muslim, he denounced Elijah Muhammad as a “religious faker.” His remarks angered the hierarchy in the Nation of Islam, and on February 14, 1965, Malcolm X’s residence in Queens, New York, was firebombed. Luckily, Malcolm X and his family survived. No one was charged with the crime.
A week later, on February 21, 1965, members of the Nation of Islam assassinated Malcolm X as he spoke at the Audubon Ballroom in New York.
Malcolm X’s Legacy
Since his death, Malcolm X has grown into iconic status. Throughout the black communities in America, images of Malcolm X are display in hundreds of thousands of homes, barbershops, offices, and schools. The 1992 film Malcolm X, directed by Spike Lee, and starring Denzel Washington as the titular character, was a great tool for the young generation to learn about Malcolm X. Many cities have renamed streets after him, former New York mayor Ed Koch proclaimed Lenox Avenue in Harlem to be Malcolm X Boulevard in 1987. In addition, schools in the United States have been named after Malcolm X.
Recently, TV One profiled Malcolm X in their Celebrity Crime Files Season 3 on martyrs who defied the law to break new ground for civil rights.