World renowned minister and human rights activist, Malcolm X, was born Malcolm Little, in 1925. His family was tormented by white supremacists, who were rumored to have been responsible for the burning of the Little home, as well as the death of Malcolm's father, Earl Little. Subsequent to his father's death, Malcom's mother suffered an emotional breakdown and was committed to a mental institution. Malcolm and his siblings were separated amongst different foster homes and orphanages.
Though an excellent student, Malcolm lost interest in school when one of his favorite teachers advised him that his dream of being a lawyer was unrealistic; and that he should pursue a career more suitable for a "nigger," such as that of a carpenter. Malcolm eventually dropped out of school and became involved in a life of crime. In 1946, he was arrested for burglary, ultimately convicted, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
During his imprisonment, Malcolm was introduced to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of a Muslim organization called the Nation of Islam (NOI). Elijah Muhammad's teachings encouraged the liberation and empowerment of blacks, in a society where whites ruled with an oppressive hand. A victim of white racism against blacks for much of his young life, Elijah Muhammad's teachings appealed to Malcolm. He became a devout follower of Muhammad, and, upon his parole from prison in 1954, an active member of the NOI. It wasn't long before Malcolm's capacity as a leader became apparent, and he was appointed minister and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. His intellect, charm and eloquence would soon prove to be a great asset to the Nation, contributing to its growth from 500 members in 1954, to 30,000 by 1963.
It wasn't long before Elijah Muhammad's message of black empowerment, as articulated by Malcolm X, was being broadcast to millions across the U.S. via television, radio and newspaper.
The more the NOI grew, the more law enforcement agencies began to view it as a threat. By the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the FBI had infiltrated the organization with undercover operatives and were keeping it's key members under strict surveillance; especially Malcolm.
In 1963, Malcolm X was"silenced" for 90 days by Elijah Muhammad, following a statement he'd made about President Kennedy's assassination that Mr. Muhammad deemed inappropriate. Tension related to other internal NOI matters seemed to have already been mounting between the two and Elijah's silencing of his protegee did nothing to alleviate it. In March, 1964, Malcolm X ended his relationship with the Nation of Islam altogether and founded his own organization, Muslim Mosque, Inc (MMI).
That same year, Malcolm went on a Pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, leaving Abdullah Abdur-Razzaq - then James 67X Shabazz - in charge of MMI. He returned to the United States with a more global outlook and a new sense of purpose. Distancing himself from the separatist teachings of the NOI, he expressed a willingness to work with other civil rights leaders and a commitment to sharing his message with all races, not just blacks. Along with Abdullah, he founded a second organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), dedicated to fighting for the human rights of African Americans - and to promoting cooperation among people of African descent - on a global scale.
Unfortunately, the further he distanced himself from them and moved forward with his own agenda, the more NOI leadership encouraged its members to perceive Malcolm X as a traitor to Elijah Muhammad. In addition to receiving constant death threats, his home was fire-bombed on February 14, 1965. Neither he nor any other member of his family were injured in the attack. However, on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was gunned down at a speaking engagement at the Audobon Ballroom. He was pronounced dead on arrival at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley during a series of interviews with Malcolm between 1963 and 1965, was published that same year. It was hailed as "brilliant" and "important" by the New York Times, a classic American biography by historian John William Ward, and ultimately listed as one of ten "required reading" works by Time. Since the publication of The Autobiography, Malcolm X has been the subject of numerous other books, documentaries and films - including a major motion picture, starring Denzel Washington and directed by Spike Lee.