Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. His mother, Grenadian-born Louise Norton Little, was a homemaker occupied with the family’s eight children.
According to an abridged biography, Malcolm X’s father, Earl Little, was an outspoken Baptist minister and avid supporter of Black Nationalist leader Jamaican Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jamaica’s first national hero.
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, the biography states.
It says that regardless of the Little’s efforts to elude the Legion, in 1929, their Lansing, Michigan home was burned to the ground.
Two years later, Earl’s body was found lying across the town’s trolley tracks. Police ruled both incidents as accidents, but the Littles were certain that members of the Black Legion were responsible, the biography says.
It says Mrs. Little suffered emotional breakdown several years after the death of her husband and was committed to a mental institution, while her children were split up among various foster homes and orphanages.
Eventually, Malcolm and his long-time friend, Malcolm “Shorty” Jarvis, moved back to Boston. In 1946, they were arrested and convicted on burglary charges, and Malcolm was sentenced to 10 years in prison, although he was granted parole after serving seven years.
Recalling his days in school, the biography says Malcolm X used the time to further his education. It was during this period of self-enlightenment that Malcolm’s brother Reginald would visit and discuss his recent conversion to the Muslim religion. Reginald belonged to the religious organization the Nation of Islam (NOI).
Intrigued, Malcolm began to study the teachings of NOI leader Elijah Muhammad, the biography says, adding that Muhammad taught that white society actively worked to keep African-Americans from empowering themselves and achieving political, economic and social success.
Among other goals, the NOI fought for a state of their own, separate from one inhabited by white people, the biography says.
By the time he was paroled in 1952, Malcolm was a devoted follower with the new surname “X”. He considered “Little” a slave name and chose the “X” to signify his lost tribal name, according to the biography.
Intelligent and articulate, Malcolm was appointed as a minister and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad also charged him with establishing new mosques in cities such as Detroit, Michigan, and Harlem.
Malcolm utilized newspaper columns, as well as radio and television, to communicate the NOI’s message across the United States.
“His charisma, drive, and conviction attracted an astounding number of new members,” the biography says. “Malcolm was largely credited with increasing membership in the NOI from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963.
“The crowds and controversy surrounding Malcolm made him a media magnet,” it adds, stating that Malcolm X was featured in a weeklong television special with Mike Wallace in 1959, called “The Hate That Hate Produced.”
The program explored the fundamentals of the NOI, and tracked Malcolm X’s emergence as one of its most important leaders.
After the special, the biography says Malcolm X was faced with the uncomfortable reality that his fame had eclipsed that of his mentor Elijah Muhammad.
In addition to the media, Malcolm X’s vivid personality had captured the government’s attention, the biography says.
It says that, as membership in the NOI continued to grow, FBI agents infiltrated the organization — one even acted as Malcolm X’s bodyguard — and secretly placed bugs, wiretaps, cameras and other surveillance equipment to monitor the group’s activities. But the biography says, Malcolm X’s faith was dealt a crushing blow at the height of the civil rights movement in 1963.
He learned that his mentor and leader, Elijah Muhammad, was secretly having relations with as many as six women within the Nation of Islam organization, according to the abridged biography.
“As if that were not enough, Malcolm found out that some of these relationships had resulted in children,” it says.
Since joining the NOI, Malcolm X had strictly adhered to the teachings of Muhammad, which included remaining celibate until his marriage to Betty Shabazz in 1958.
Malcolm refused Muhammad’s request to help cover up the affairs and subsequent children, according to the biography, and was “deeply hurt by Muhammad’s actions, because he had previously considered him a living prophet.
“Malcolm also felt guilty about the masses he had led to join the NOI, which he now felt was a fraudulent organization built on too many lies to ignore,” it adds.
Shortly after his shocking discovery, Malcolm X received criticism for a comment he made regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“[Kennedy] never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon,” said Malcolm.
After the statement, the biography says Elijah Muhammad “silenced” Malcolm for 90 days.
Malcolm, however, suspected he was silenced for another reason, the biography says, adding that, in March 1964, Malcolm X terminated his relationship with the NOI.
Unable to look past Muhammad’s deception, Malcolm decided to found his own religious organization, the Muslim Mosque, Inc.
That same year, Malcolm X went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, which proved to be life-altering for him, the biography says.
It says that, for the first time, Malcolm X shared his thoughts and beliefs with different cultures and found the response to be overwhelmingly positive.
When he returned, Malcolm X said he had met “blonde-haired, blued-eyed men I could call my brothers,” according to the biography.
“He returned to the United States with a new outlook on integration and a new hope for the future,” it says. “This time when Malcolm spoke, instead of just preaching to African-Americans, he had a message for all races.”
After Malcolm resigned his position in the Nation of Islam and renounced Elijah Muhammad, relations between the two had become increasingly volatile.
FBI informants, working undercover in the NOI, warned officials that Malcolm had been marked for assassination–one undercover officer had even been ordered to help plant a bomb in Malcolm’s car, the biography says.
After repeated attempts on his life, Malcolm rarely traveled anywhere without bodyguards. On Feb. 14, 1965 the home where Malcolm, Betty, and their four daughters lived in East Elmhurst, New York was firebombed. Luckily, the family escaped physical injury.
One week later, however, Malcolm’s enemies were successful in their ruthless attempt, the biography says.
At a speaking engagement in the Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965, three gunmen rushed Malcolm X onstage. They shot him 15 times at close range, the biography says. 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 Feb. 27, 1965 at the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ (now Child’s Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ), according to the biography.
“After the ceremony, friends took the shovels away from the waiting gravediggers and buried Malcolm themselves,” it says.
Later that year, Betty gave birth to their twin daughters.
Malcolm’s assassins, Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler, and Thomas 15X Johnson, were convicted of first-degree murder in March 1966.
The three men were all members of the Nation of Islam, the biography says.
“Malcolm X’s legacy has moved through generations as the subject of numerous documentaries, books and movies,” it says. “A tremendous resurgence of interest occurred in 1992 when director Spike Lee released the acclaimed movie, ‘Malcolm X.’”
The film received Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Denzel Washington) and Best Costume Design.
Malcolm X is buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.