Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, was an African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist. To his admirers he was a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans; detractors accused him of preaching racism and violence. He has been called one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. Malcolm X's father died—killed by white supremacists, it was rumored—when he was young, and at least one of his uncles was lynched. After his mother was placed in a mental hospital when he was 13, he lived in a series of foster homes. In 1946, at age 20, he went to prison for breaking and entering. While in prison Malcolm X became a member of the Nation of Islam, and after his parole in 1952 quickly rose to become one of its leaders. For a dozen years he was the public face of the controversial group; in keeping with the Nation's teachings he espoused black supremacy, advocated the separation of black and white Americans and scoffed at the civil rights movement's emphasis on integration. By March 1964 Malcolm X had grown disillusioned with the Nation of Islam and its head Elijah Muhammad, and ultimately repudiated the Nation and its teachings. He embraced Sunni Islam and, after a period of travel in Africa and the Middle East, returned to the United States to found Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Though continuing to emphasize Pan-Africanism, black self-determination, and black self-defense, he disavowed racism, saying, "I did many things as a Muslim that I'm sorry for now. I was a zombie then... pointed in a certain direction and told to march". Malcolm X later said that violence by whites killed three of his father's brothers, including one who was lynched. Because of Ku Klux Klan threats—Earl Little's UNIA activities were "spreading trouble"—the family relocated in 1926 to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and shortly thereafter to Lansing, Michigan. In Lansing the family was frequently harassed by the Black Legion, a white supremacist group; when the family home burned in 1929, Earl Little accused the Black Legion. When Little was six, his father was killed by a streetcar.
Though police said the dying man declared he had slipped,
at the funeral someone told one of the children their father had been pushed onto the tracks; some blacks suspected the Black Legion.
After a dispute with creditors, a life insurance benefit
was paid to Louise Little in payments of $18 per month; the issuer of another, larger policy refused to pay, claiming suicide. To make ends meet Louise Little rented out part of her garden, and her sons hunted game. In 1937 a man Louise Little had been dating—marriage had seemed a possibility—vanished from her life when she became pregnant with his child. In late 1938 she had a nervous breakdown and was committed to Kalamazoo State Hospital, where she remained until Malcolm and his siblings secured her release 24 years later. The children were separated and sent to various foster homes. Malcolm Little excelled in junior high school but dropped out after a white teacher told him that practicing law, his aspiration at the time, was "no realistic goal for a nigger". It made Malcolm feel that the white world offered no place for a career-oriented black man, regardless of his talent. After a short time in Flint, Michigan, Little moved to Harlem, New York, in 1943, where he engaged in drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, and pimping; according to recent biographies, he also occasionally had sex with other men, usually for money. He was called "Detroit Red" because of the reddish hair he inherited from his Scottish maternal grandfather. Little was declared "mentally disqualified for military service" after he told draft board officials he was eager to "steal us some guns, and kill us crackers".
In late 1945, Little returned to...
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