Malcolm X (1925-1965)
Malcolm Little was born on May 19, 1925, the son of Louise and Earl Little of Omaha, Nebraska. Louise Little was a mulatto born in Grenada in the British West Indies, and Earl Little, a six-foot, very dark skinned man from Reynolds, Ga., was a Baptist minister and organizer for Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association.
In 1929 the family house was burned down, allegedly by white supremacists. After Earl Little died in 1931 in a streetcar accident, Malcolm's mother eventually had a mental breakdown and entered an inside asylum. The siblings were dispersed to other families. Malcolm lived with a foster family before moving to Roxbury, Mass., in 1941 to live with a half sister, Ella Collins.
A few months after his arrival in Roxbury, a predominantly black section of Boston, Malcolm dropped out of school (having completed eight grade) and took a job as a shoeshine boy at the Roseland Ballroom in Boston's Back Bay section. A career as a hustler seemed a more tempting option, and he was soon peddling narcotics. Roxbury proved to be too small for him, and in 1942 he took a job as a railroad dining-car porter, working out of Roxbury and Harlem. Settling in Harlem, he became involved in criminal activities (robbery, prostitution, and narcotics).
Malcolm soon learned to survive in hustler society, which was composed of fleeting social arrangements constantly threatened by internal wars that rendered every man potentially every other man's enemy. He lived up to his nickname== "Red" (in the more urban-conscious New York "Detroit Red"); red headed black men to the superstitious were literally sons of the devil, quick tempered and capable of cruel violence. After a year in Harlem Malcolm was officially initiated into hustler society. He returned to Boston in 1945 after a falling out with another hustler, and continued a life of crime, forming his own house robbing gang. Arrested for robbery in February 1946, he was convicted and sentenced to the Charlestown, Mass., prison for seven years.
While in prison, Malcolm became a follower of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of a small, urban prophet-cult, the Nation of Islam, with branches in Detroit, Chicago, and New York. Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad corresponded by mail. Malcolm's brother Reginald and half sister Ella, visiting him in prison, urged him to join Muhammad's cult, and while still in prison he did. He discarded his "slave name," Little, and was assigned the new name "X". His conversion let him to greater literacy, immersion in the Qur'an (Koran), strict adherence to the Nation of Islam's dietary laws, and what was to be a lifelong interest in ideas.
Malcolm X went on his obligatory (for orthodox Muslims) pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964 and there began to consider changing his views toward integration. Afterward he was, if anything, more ambiguous about the outcome of the race struggle in the United States, and he left open the possibility that some whites could contribute to the struggle. After the pilgrimage he adopted the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
The Queens, N.Y., home Malcolm X shared with his wife, Betty (whom he had married in January 1958) and his six children was fire bombed in early February 1965, as he addressed 400 supporters at the Audubon Ballroom in the Washington Heights section of upper Manhattan. The reason for the assassination has not yet been definitely established. Three men were convicted in March 1966 of first degree murder: Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson.