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Updated: Feb 13, 2019

Malcolm X (1925–1965) fought for Black rights both as an individual and as an American Muslim minister. Malcom X (born Malcolm Little) was a fiery preacher, who was often accused of  preaching racism and violence.

Inarguably a human rights activist, he railed against White America stridently for its crimes against black Americans. Even some in the Black community accused him of going too far, though understandably his strongest criticism arose within the White community, and from politicians who saw him as a threat to the status quo. Putting his record together, pro and con, history has cited him as being one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history.

Malcolm’s father was killed when Malcolm was six, and when he was just 13, his mother was assigned to live in a mental hospital. In 1946, at age 20, after having lived in a series of foster homes, Malcolm was convicted of breaking and entering and larceny, and was sent  to prison. It was while he was in prison that he became a member of the Nation of Islam and changed his name, explaining that “Little” was the name that “the white slavemaster had imposed upon my paternal forebears.” Paroled in 1952, he quickly rose to a leadership role, and a most influential one at that, for the Nation of Islam.

Although the Nation of Islam was radical, promoted Black supremacy, and believed in the separation of Blacks and Whites, and decried the civil rights movement because it promoted integration, the organization inarguably made some bold social moves including its free drug rehabilitation program.

By March 1964, however, Malcolm’s sentiments took a turn. Disillusioned with the Nation of Islam and its leader, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm renounced the Nation of Islam and his association with it, turning to Sunni Islam as his new religion of choice.

There followed travels in Africa and the Middle East, during which time he completed the Hajj. He also changed his name again, rebranding himself as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. While continuing to emphasize Pan-Africanism, black self-determination, and black self-defense, he now disavowed racism. It was during this period of his life that he founded Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

But his new beliefs, coupled with his actions, didn’t sit well with his former compatriots. On February 21, 1965, he was assassinated by three members of the Nation of Islam. The Black community surely lost a strong if sometimes divisive leader with the death of Malcolm X.

"Malcolm X" by JBrazito is licensed under CC by 2.0

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