a.k.a Malcolm Little, later El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (1925-1965).
Malcolm X is probably second only to Martin Luther King Jr. as the most influencial leader in the African American struggle for Civil Rights.
Malcolm's early experiences with racism shaped his thinking over his lifetime. As a child growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm was witness to the near lynching of his father and the burning of his family home by Klansmen. Later his father was killed under mysterious circumstances and his mother was committed to a mental health asylum. Malcolm and his siblings were split up by child welfare advocates and for awhile he was forced to live in a group home run by a racist white couple.
Malcolm moved to Boston in his early teens and soon found himself in trouble with the law. In 1946 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for burglary. It was in prision that Malcolm educated himself. Malcolm quickly became a gifted orator and his charisma was evident by everyone around him. He organized a prision debate team which beat MIT's debate society arguing the morality of capital punishment. He also became involved with the Lost-Found Nation of Islam (NOI) which was then led by Elijah Muhammad.
After his release from prison, Malcolm quickly rose within the ranks of NOI. He served as minister to temples in Harlem, Detroit and Philadelphia. Through frequent speaking engagements and establishing the NOI's only paper Muhammed Speaks!, Malcolm gained national noteriety for the NOI movement. He criticized other Black civil rights leaders for advocating integration instead of self-reliance and self-defense from racist attacks. He once said, "It is not integration that Negroes in America want, it is human dignity." He was often called a racist and hate-monger in the media as well as an advocate of violence.
As time went on and Malcolm's fame increased, he began to question some teaching of Elijah Muhammed that he believed contradicted the Holy Koran. He seemed uncomfortable with EM's notion that white people were made by the devil. He was careful to preface his sermons, "The honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches. . . ." in order to distance himself from EM words. Malcolm also disagreed with the NOI anti-political stance and thought that Black Americans needed to have a voice in American politics to effect change.
According to Africana.com, "In 1962, before he split with the NOI, Malcolm shared the podium with black, white, and Puerto Rican labor organizers in the left-wing, multiracial hospital workers' union in New York." Malcolm also began to show an interest in international issues such as Vietnam.
Tensions arose between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammed. EM was bothered by Malcolm's popularity and Malcolm became disenchanted with his once mentor when he found that EM had fathered several children with various young women. After the assasination of JFK Jr., Malcolm made his infamous comment about "chickens coming home to roost"--referring to the racial violence of the American public suddenly turning inward and attacking their own. EM officially "silenced" Malcolm and secretly plotted to have him murdered. Malcolm found out about the assasination order and on March 8, 1964, he reisgned from the NOI.
After his resignation, Malcolm made a haaj or pilgramage to Mecca and became a Sunni Muslim. Seeing people of all races worshipping together in peace made Malcom reconsider his racist beliefs. Upon his return to the US he publicly acknowledged that whites were not devils and espoused the "True Brotherhood of Man." He remained a Black Nationalist and a strong believer in black self-determination and self-organization.
Malcolm organized the Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1965 and planned to speak at the United Nations about the treatment of African Americans in the United State. During a speech at the Audobon Ballroom in New York, Malcolm was assasinated by gunmen associated with the NOI. He left behind an incomplete legacy , a wife Betty Shabazz and six daughters.
The assasination of Malcom, coupled with the murder of MLK changed the tone of the Black struggle for civil right. Many groups such as SNCC and the Black Panthers were no longer content to wait for peaceful measures to take their toll and relied instead on stronger self-defense and exclusionary tactics to achieve their goals.
Malcom's story was immortalized in the posthumous release of The Autobiography of Malcom X and the eponymous Spike Lee film.