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  1. Malcolm X
    American human rights activist

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    Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little, later el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz; May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965) was an American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a prominent figure during the civil rights movement.

    • Overview
    • Early years and conversion to Islam
    • Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam

    Malcolm X was one of the most significant figures within the American Black nationalist movement. Many of the ideas he articulated, like race pride and self-defense, became ideological mainstays of the Black Power movement that emerged in the 1960s and ’70s. He first rose to prominence in the late 1940s, as a member of the Nation of Islam, a religious organization that mixes elements of traditional Islam and Black nationalism. He continued his activism after leaving the Nation. His iconic status, if not solidified during his lifetime, was certainly achieved shortly after his death with the publication of the acclaimed The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

    What was Malcolm X’s early life like?

    Malcolm X was born in 1925 as Malcolm Little. His father was killed while Malcolm was still very young, possibly by white supremacists. His mother was institutionalized for mental health issues, and the children of the family were dispersed among foster homes or the homes of relatives. Though an excellent student, Malcolm dropped out of school in the eighth grade because of the racial discrimination he faced from teachers. He was incarcerated in 1946 on charges of burglary. His time in prison would be an inflection point for the philosophical and political trajectory of his life.

    When did Malcolm X convert to Islam?

    After hearing about the Nation of Islam from his brother, who was already a member, Malcolm converted to the religion while serving prison time for burglary charges. Born in 20th-century America, the Nation combines elements from Black nationalism and traditional Islam. Malcolm X parted ways from the organization in 1964 and undertook the hajj—the traditional Islamic pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. It was then that he adopted Sunni Islam, along with the name el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.

    What was Malcolm X’s relationship with the civil rights movement?

    Born in Nebraska, while an infant Malcolm moved with his family to Lansing, Michigan. When Malcolm was six years old, his father, the Rev. Earl Little, a Baptist minister and former supporter of the early Black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey, died after being hit by a streetcar, quite possibly the victim of murder by whites. The surviving family was so poor that Malcolm’s mother, Louise Little, resorted to cooking dandelion greens from the street to feed her children. After she was committed to an insane asylum in 1939, Malcolm and his siblings were sent to foster homes or to live with family members.

    Malcolm excelled in school, but after one of his eighth-grade teachers told him that he should become a carpenter instead of a lawyer, he lost interest and soon ended his formal education. As a rebellious youngster, Malcolm moved from the Michigan State Detention Home, a juvenile home in Mason, Michigan, to the Roxbury section of Boston to live with an older half sister, Ella, from his father’s first marriage. There he became involved in petty criminal activities in his teenage years. Known as “Detroit Red” for the reddish tinge in his hair, he developed into a street hustler, drug dealer, and leader of a gang of thieves in Roxbury and Harlem (in New York City).

    While in prison for robbery from 1946 to 1952, he underwent a conversion that eventually led him to join the Nation of Islam, an African American movement that combined elements of Islam with Black nationalism. His decision to join the Nation also was influenced by discussions with his brother Reginald, who had become a member in Detroit and who was incarcerated with Malcolm in the Norfolk Prison Colony in Massachusetts in 1948. Malcolm quit smoking and gambling and refused to eat pork in keeping with the Nation’s dietary restrictions. In order to educate himself, he spent long hours reading books in the prison library, even memorizing a dictionary. He also sharpened his forensic skills by participating in debate classes. Following Nation tradition, he replaced his surname, “Little,” with an “X,” a custom among Nation of Islam followers who considered their family names to have originated with white slaveholders.

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    After his release from prison Malcolm helped to lead the Nation of Islam during the period of its greatest growth and influence. He met Elijah Muhammad in Chicago in 1952 and then began organizing temples for the Nation in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston and in cities in the South. He founded the Nation’s newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, which he printed in the basement of his home, and initiated the practice of requiring every male member of the Nation to sell an assigned number of newspapers on the street as a recruiting and fund-raising technique. He also articulated the Nation’s racial doctrines on the inherent evil of whites and the natural superiority of Blacks.

    Malcolm rose rapidly to become the minister of Boston Temple No. 11, which he founded; he was later rewarded with the post of minister of Temple No. 7 in Harlem, the largest and most prestigious temple in the Nation after the Chicago headquarters. Recognizing his talent and ability, Elijah Muhammad, who had a special affection for Malcolm, named him the National Representative of the Nation of Islam, second in rank to Muhammad himself. Under Malcolm’s lieutenancy, the Nation claimed a membership of 500,000. The actual number of members fluctuated, however, and the influence of the organization, refracted through the public persona of Malcolm X, always greatly exceeded its size.

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  2. Oct 29, 2009 · Learn about Malcolm X, a minister, civil rights leader and Black nationalist who advocated self-defense and inspired the Black Power movement. Explore his life, achievements, controversies and legacy through his autobiography and speeches.

  3. May 19, 2023 · Learn about the life and legacy of Malcolm X, a prominent leader in the Nation of Islam who supported Black nationalism and fought against racism. Find out his early life, education, time in prison, conversion to Islam, assassination, and more.

    • Ballantine Books
    • 4 min
  4. Learn about the life and legacy of Malcolm X, from his childhood in Omaha to his conversion to the Nation of Islam, his ministerial and political roles, his assassination and legacy. Explore his views on race, religion, politics and social justice, and how he influenced the civil rights movement and the Muslim community.

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  6. Nov 17, 2021 · Malcolm X was an African American religious leader and civil rights activist who spoke about the need for Black empowerment and advocated for the adoption of Islam within the Black community as a...

  7. A biography of Malcolm X, the most visible proponent of Black Nationalism in the 1960s, who challenged King's nonviolent approach and advocated racial separatism. Learn about his life, his conversion to Islam, his assassination, and his relationship with King.

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