Malcolm X is one of the foremost figures of the Black Nationalist movement. A proponent of race pride and self-defense, he helped stoke the fires of the Black Power movement. Learn more about the icon by reading these marvelous facts about Malcolm X, born in 1925 as Malcolm Little.
Malcolm X Facts
1. He had a rough childhood.
Malcolm X’s activism is somehow rooted in the racism he encountered at a young age. It has started way before he was born – his mother was pregnant with him when the Ku Klux Klan threatened the family in their home in Omaha, Nebraska. They called out to his Reverend father, who was an early supporter of the black nationalist Marcus Garvey.
Malcolm X’s family moved to Milwaukee – then to Lansing – following an event where Klan members smashed the windows of his childhood home. This proved futile as the racism in Michigan was worse; a mob set their house on fire as the all-white responders watched and did nothing.
In 1931, the family suffered a big blow when the patriarch Earl was found dead along the streetcar tracks. It was believed that the white supremacists who threatened to kill Earl were responsible, but the police downplayed the death as an accident. This forfeited the hefty insurance claim that Earl took out for the family.
The heartbreak was too much to bear for his mother Louise; later on, she was admitted to a mental institution where she stayed for 7 years. Malcolm and his siblings ended up growing in foster homes.
2. Malcolm X was a brilliant student.
An interesting fact about Malcolm X is that he studied at Mason High School where he was one of just a few black students. Here he excelled academically and was even elected class president. However, his dream of being a lawyer was shot down by his English teacher, who suggested that he be ‘realistic’ and try out carpentry instead. Having been told that there were no good career opportunities for a black child, Malcolm X decided to drop out of school at age 15.
3. He had several brush-ins with the law.
In 1938, Malcolm X was sent to juvenile detention. As he grew older he moved to Boston, where he sold drugs for an underground syndicate. Under the moniker Detroid Red, he lived a lavish lifestyle, and to finance his vices he had to embrace a life of crime.
Malcolm X was arrested in 1946; he spent 10 years in jail for larceny. Here he decided to make a change for the better. He read books voraciously to make up for the education that he was not able to attain.
His visitors introduced to the Nation of Muslims, a sect that espoused the ideology of Black Nationalism. Before he was released in 1952, he changed his name from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X. He also converted to the Nation of Islam.
4. Malcolm X helped expand the Nation of Islam.
Upon his release, Malcolm X worked with Elijah Muhammad to expand the reach of the Nation of Islam, an interesting fact about Malcolm X. He became the minister of the temples in Harlem and Boston and found new churches in Philadelphia and Hartford. He founded the newspaper “Muhammad Speaks” to further promote the religion. His works, while controversial for most, helped increase the Nation’s membership from 400 to a whopping 40,000.
His work at Nation of Islam also helped in revising the derogatory term “Negro” to the currently acceptable ones: “colored,” “Afro-American,” or “Black.”
Though he was a devout member of the Nation of Islam, he decided to leave the sect upon learning of Muhammad’s infidelities, which is against the Muslim faith. The rift further broke apart when Muhammad ordered Malcolm X a 90-day period of silence. This was after the latter made crude remarks against the death of President John F. Kennedy.
5. He openly challenged the notions of Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) is a civil rights activist whose principles were the opposite of Malcolm X’s. MLK rallied for nonviolence and integration, while Malcolm X criticized such – he believed that there were more pressing issues, and those were independence and black identity.
6. He initially advocated for a violent revolution – but changed his stance after a visit to Mecca.
A convincing public speaker, Malcolm X inspired the black population to break free from racism ‘by any means necessary.’ Because he advocated for a violent revolution for an independent black nation, he drew some flak from critics, an interesting Malcolm X fact.
His change of heart came after his pilgrimage to the Mecca (also known as the Hajj.) Apart from converting to traditional Islam – for which he was given the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz – he returned to the United States a changed, more peaceful man. He was even quoted as saying that “America is the first country … that can have a bloodless revolution.”
7. Malcolm X was killed on February 21, 1965.
Malcolm X was about to deliver a speech at Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom when he was shot at close range. Unfortunately, this came at a time when his renewed beliefs could have changed the course of the Civil Rights Movement.
Malcolm X was rushed to a nearby hospital but was declared dead on arrival. Three men from the Nation of Islam were convicted for his murder.
8. He worked on an autobiographical book that was released after his death.
In the early 1960s, Malcolm X started working with author Alex Haley. The book, which chronicled the subject’s beliefs on black nationalism, race pride, and pan-Africanism, was published right after his death, an interesting Malcolm X fact.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X was a hit bestseller, and Time Magazine has dubbed it as one of the top 10 most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century. The New York Times, on the other hand, called the book “brilliant, painful, and important.”
His autobiography inspired the namesake film “Malcolm X.” Directed by Spike Lee and starred by Denzel Washington, the blockbuster hit gained two Academy Award nominations.
Malcolm X has lived a life of hardship and racism, factors that helped inspire his cause. Though he advocated for violence at first, he eventually saw a peaceful revolution as the better answer. Although he passed away prematurely, his legacy remains as a beacon of racial pride and black nationalism.
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