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Malcolm X

Malcolm X: Social & Racial Activist

Born May 19, 1925, Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.
Died February 21, 1965, New York, New York

Black militant leader who articulated concepts of race pride and blacknationalism in the early 1960s. After his assassination, the widespread distribution of his life story—The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)—made him an ideological hero, especially among black youth.

Growing up in Lansing, Michigan, Malcolm saw his house burned down at the hands of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan. Two years later his father was murdered, and Malcolm's mother was subsequently placed in a mental institution. Malcolm spent the following years in detention homes, and in his early teens he moved to Boston to live with his sister. In 1946, while in prison for burglary, he was converted to the Black Muslim faith. He changed his last name to “X,” a custom among Nation of Islam followers who considered their family names to have originated with white slaveholders.

Malcolm X was sent on speaking tours around the country and soon became the most effective speaker and organizer for the Nation of Islam. He founded many new mosques and greatly increased the movement's membership.

Speaking with bitter eloquence against the white exploitation of black people, Malcolm developed a brilliant platform style, which soon won him a large and dedicated following. He derided the civil-rights movement and rejected both integration and racial equality, calling instead for black separatism, black pride, and black self-dependence. Because he advocated the use of violence (for self-protection) and appeared to many to be a fanatic, his leadership was rejected by most civil-rights leaders, who emphasized nonviolent resistance to racial injustice.

Malcolm's success had by this time aroused jealousy within the Black Muslim hierarchy, and, and in response to his controversial comments on the Kennedy assassination, Elijah Muhammad suspended Malcolm from the movement. In March 1964 Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam and announced the formation of his own religious organization. As a result of a pilgrimage he took to Mecca in April 1964, he modified his views of black separatism, declaring that he no longer believed whites to be innately evil and acknowledging his vision of the possibility of world brotherhood. In October 1964 he reaffirmed his conversion to orthodox Islam.

Growing hostility between Malcolm's followers and the rival Black Muslims manifested itself in violence and threats against his life. He was shot to death at a rally of his followers at a Harlem ballroom. Three Black Muslims were convicted of the murder.

Edited from Encyclopedia Britanica Online -