Born Malcolm Little, Malcolm X was one of the most prominent activists in the America’s black civil rights movement. Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska. At the time, blacks were still heavily discriminated against in the United States. Malcolm’s parents were part of a black civil rights movement. In 1931, Malcolm’s father was killed by racists. His mother had a nervous breakdown and was locked away in a mental asylum. Malcolm, just 16, found himself alone and abandoned school.
He survived by resorting to illegal activities like robbery and gambling.
In 1946 he was arrested. In jail he came into contact with the Nation of Islam: a religious movement whose members fought for black rights. Malcolm was released from jail, where he had converted to Islam, in 1952. He became the Nation of Islam’s official spokesman. He attracted many new members to the organization, including world-famous boxer Cassius Clay. Unlike Martin Luther King, who advocated non-violent protest, Malcolm X was convinced that black Americans’ fight for civil rights should be carried forward “by any means necessary.” Malcolm changed his surname from “Little” to “X” in order to remind everyone that black Americans descended from African slaves, and had inherited their surnames from white masters. Thanks to his determination and enormous charisma, Malcolm became very popular among blacks, but also attracted envy and rivalry. In the 1960’s he came into conflict with the leadership of the Nation of Islam. In 1964 he abandoned the movement. On April 13 of the same year he left the United States for a pilgrimage to Mecca, the holy city in Saudi Arabia that every good Muslim is required to visit at least once in his lifetime.
The experience allowed him time for thought. He came to understand that Islam could help overcome racial differences. He became convinced that blacks’ future did not lie in violence, but in peaceful cohabitation with whites. He returned to America and began to preach his new message of harmony. His former co-members of the Nation of Islam considered him a traitor. Malcolm even received death threats. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was shot and killed by black men while holding a public speech in New York. He was 39. By then, Malcolm X was already a legend. Today he is considered a symbol of black Americans’ fight for equality.