Malcolm X: Life and Death

While his influence cannot be denied, Malcolm X is also considered a controversial figure in the history of African American rights. In opposition to the peaceful tactics of the Civil Rights Movement and their goal of racial integration, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam were using any means necessary to defend themselves and to profess African Americans as the superior race. These attitudes spawned the Black Power movement. Malcolm X eventually mellowed and broke away from the Nation of Islam; however he was assassinated before he was able to work within the Civil Rights Movement. In this video, learns more about the life, accomplishments and assassination of Malcolm X.

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The Life and Death of Malcolm X

Born Malcolm Little on May 19th, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, he was taught early on about black pride as his father was involved in the Universal Negro Improvement Association. He and his family were forced to move around in his youth due to the menace of various white supremacist groups. In 1931, his father was killed by a streetcar, and seven years later his mother was committed to an asylum.

Early Years and Arrest

By the time he was 20, Malcolm X was living in Boston, and engaging in various criminal activities. It was there he was arrested for burglary and sentenced to eight-to-ten years in jail. While in prison, he educated himself and became interested in the Nation of Islam religious movement. He began conversing with the group’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, and decided to join. Finally in 1952, he was paroled.

The Nation of Islam

He then changed his family name to “X” like other members of the group, and this represented his unknown African name. Malcolm X quickly moved through the ranks of the Nation of Islam, and was instrumental in the group’s growth. He is credited with encouraging boxer Cassius Clay – better known as Muhammad Ali – to join. In 1959, Malcolm X expanded his audience by appearing on television to discuss the Nation of Islam. He relished any chance he had to speak, especially to college students.

Malcolm X vs. the Civil Rights Movement

Malcolm X was working in direct contrast to members of the Civil Rights Movement, who were aiming for racial integration and nonviolent protest. Malcolm X preached that African Americans should be completely separated from whites, that blacks were the superior race, and that they should use any means necessary to defend themselves. This resulted in a tense relationship between civil rights activists and Malcolm X.

Fall From Grace

In 1963, he began working on his autobiography with Alex Haley. Soon after, his reputation in the Nation of Islam was tarnished when he made disparaging remarks following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Leaving the Nation of Islam

On March 8th of 1964, the former star of the group announced he was leaving the Nation of Islam amid ongoing death threats and tensions with its leader. He quickly formed his own religious organization called Muslim Mosque Inc., and converted to Sunni Islam. This was also when he decided to make his pilgrimage to Mecca, which was one of many trips he made around the world that he credited with expanding his global outlook. His personal beliefs began to evolve, and he chose to reach out to other civil rights leaders to work together toward the same goal.


However, on February 21st, 1965, Malcolm X was speaking at Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom when he was shot and killed. The three men convicted of the crime were all members of the Nation of Islam, though two of the three maintain their innocence.


Even after his death, Malcolm X’s ideas influenced African Americans. Groups like the Black Power movement can be traced back to him. Malcolm X is both revered and reviled; however he is remembered for being a brilliant activist for African American rights by even his sharpest critics.

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