Born in the American Midwest in 1925, Malcolm Little had a very troubled childhood. When he was six his father died after a streetcar had run over him. At the age of 12 his mother was put into a mental hospital after a nervous breakdown. Malcolm spent the rest of his childhood with foster parents. In his youth he thought that white racists were responsible for everything that had gone wrong in his early life.
Image : Herman Hiller, World Telegram staff photographer,
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
As a student Malcolm dreamed of becoming a lawyer. However, he soon became involved in criminal activities. At the age of 21 Malcolm was sent to prison where he joined the Nation of Islam, or Black Muslims, as they were often called. They hated white people and referred to them as devils. In contrast to the non-violent teachings of Martin Luther King, the Black Muslims thought they could fight whites through violence. In prison Malcolm changed his last name to X, which stands for the unknown name of Malcolm’s African ancestors.
Malcolm X quickly rose up the ranks of the Nation of Islam and supported the group’s leader Elijah Muhammed. In his passionate speeches he tried to convince black supporters that they should be proud of their black ancestry and should live separately, apart from the white population.
After quarrelling with important members of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X left the movement in 1964. During his stay in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where he met many different people, Malcolm X slowly started changing his opinion of whites and gave up his violent attitudes towards them. After returning to the United States he formed his own group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
In his later life Malcolm X worked together with Martin Luther King, even though he did not share his ideas. In 1965 the black leader was shot during a speech he was giving in New York. It was thought that members of the Nation of Islam were responsible for the murder.