Malcolm X

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Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 - February 21, 1965)

Militant black leader in the US.

Born Malcolm Little in Nebraska. His father, Earl, was an outspoken Baptist minister and supporter of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. Earl was killed in Lansing, Michigan in 1931.

Malcolm dropped outof school after Junior High and became involved in petty crime in Boston, Massachusetts and eventually Harlem, New York. He was arrested for burglary in 1946 and sentenced to seven years. While in prison he was converted and joined the Muslim religious organization the Nation of Islam. By the time he was released in 1952, Malcolm was a devoted follower. In keeping with Nation of Islam doctrine that the true family names of African-Americans had been lost during the era of slavery, he changed his surname to "X" to signify his lost African family name.

Malcolm was soon appointed a minister and spokesman for the Nation of Islam by its founder, Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm concentrated on the black urban population of the north and rejected Martin Luther King Jr.'s message of non-violence in favour of militant black nationalsim. He was largely credited with increasing membership of the Nation of Islam from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963. He married to Betty X in 1958. In addition to the media, Malcolm had attracted the attention of the FBI. Agents infiltrated the organization and used bugs, wiretaps and other surveillance equipment to monitor the group's activities.

Malcolm was criticised for his ill-advised remarks after the assassination of President Kennedy, including "[Kennedy] never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon,". This and the revelations regarding the private behaviour of Elijah Muhammad led Malcolm to split with the Nation of Islam. He left in March 1964 and founded the Muslim Mosque, Inc.

Also in the spring of 1964 Malcolm went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. The trip proved life altering - eroding his belief in a separate nation for blacks and that all whites were "devils". He returned to the United States as a convert to orthodox Islam (and a new name - El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, with a new message on integration, preaching to all races but still with a strong belief in black nationalism.

Relations between Malcolm and the Nation of Islam had become volatile after he renounced Elijah Muhammad and declared him a "faker" and a "racist". On February 14, 1965 his home in New York was firebombed by followers of the Nation of Islam. A week later in the Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom on February 21 three gunmen killed Malcolm, shooting him 15 times at close range. He was buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. The assassins, all probably members of the Nation of Islam, were convicted of first-degree murder in March 1966.

Despite his change of view he was most remembered for his anti-White speeches and he was picked up by other separatist organizations such as the Black Panthers.