Malcolm X is an American icon. He was born Malcolm Little, later to become arguably the most famous black, Muslim minister and a staunch human rights activist. Malcolm X was born into a family of activists, but was left orphaned as a result of his father’s murder and his mother’s subsequent mental challenges. 

Malcolm X spent several years in jail as a young adult after an arrest for burglary. During this time of self-reflection and learning, Malcolm X discovered Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm X was absorbed in learning about Muhammad’s beliefs that white society purposely and dutifully worked to limit the empowerment and social/political/economic success of African-American citizens.

Malcolm X converted soon after, following in his brother’s footsteps. He was soon appointed minister and national spokesperson for the Nation of Islam.

He was responsible for a dramatic spike in membership during this time.

Malcolm X held strong and radical views and shared the teachings of the Nation of Islam. This included ideas of black superiority and the black race as the world’s original people. He was loyal to the teachings that proclaimed white people “devils” and argued the end of the white race would be near. Malcolm X was critical of the civil rights movement and of Martin Luther King Jr. His beliefs angered many Americans, who accused him of racism and violence. 

The Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad “silenced” Malcolm X for a period of three months following Malcolm X’s comments after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The tension led to Malcolm X leaving the Nation of Islam and founding his own religious organization called Muslim Mosque, as well as converting to Sunni Islam. Malcolm X continued to travel (at this time also to international locations) and speak out against the oppression of African Americans and the restrictions barring them from full freedom, autonomy and civil and social rights.

ON February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated in front of several hundred people in the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. He was getting ready to speak to the Organization of Afro-American United when he was shot by three gunmen. Malcolm X was reportedly hit by 21 bullets. It was later revealed that his assassins were Nation of Islam members, led by Talmadge Hayer.