Yes! Yes, that raping, red-headed devil was my grandfather! . . . . I hate every drop of the rapist’s blood that’s in me!
In August 1952, the prison releases Malcolm on parole into the custody of his brother Wilfred. Malcolm buys a wristwatch, a suitcase, and a pair of eyeglasses. In Detroit, Malcolm instantly appreciates the warmth and order of Wilfred’s strictly Muslim household. The solidarity and austerity of his first Nation of Islam temple meeting excites Malcolm. In Chicago Elijah Muhammad publicly likens Malcolm to the biblical figure Job, inviting everyone to watch the strength of Malcolm’s faith now that the safety of prison is gone and he is back out among the temptations of the real world. At dinner that night, Malcolm asks Elijah Muhammad about recruitment techniques, as he is eager to work to attract new members in Detroit. Elijah Muhammad advises Malcolm to court young people.
In Detroit Malcolm has little luck at first, persuading only a few neighborhood youth to visit the temple. Over several months, however, membership triples. During this period, Malcolm replaces his last name with “X” to represent the unknown African name he would have had if his ancestors not been kidnapped and enslaved. Malcolm begins to speak at temple meetings and gains confidence as an orator. He is surprised, humbled, and flattered when Elijah Muhammad appoints him as the assistant minister at the Detroit temple.
Malcolm soon learns Elijah Muhammad’s life story. Born in Georgia in 1897, Elijah Muhammad was small of stature but bold, especially when it came to issues of race. He mediated fights between his siblings and was frank but nonconfrontational with white employers. In 1931, in Detroit, Elijah Muhammad met Wallace D. Fard, a peddler and self-proclaimed prophet who converted him to his version of Islam. By the time Fard disappeared in 1934, Elijah Muhammad was at the helm of the Nation of Islam. Death threats from jealous rivals, however, compelled Elijah Muhammad to move himself and his family from city to city for seven years. He spent time in prison, supposedly for draft evasion, although he was in fact too old to serve in the military. Only in the 1940s did he reclaim his position as the head of the Nation of Islam.
Elijah Muhammad needs ministers for his growing nation, so Malcolm X quits his job at the Ford Motor Company and begins extensive training. During this time, Malcolm fully develops his rhetorical style. When Malcolm is ready, Elijah Muhammad sends him to Boston to aid in the founding of a temple there. Malcolm visits his old haunts and tries to convert Shorty, who loves white women and pork too much to be persuaded. Ella is amazed at Malcolm, and although she does not convert, she is happy to see he has changed. Once the Boston temple is up and running, Elijah Muhammad sends Malcolm to Philadelphia. Early in the summer of 1954, Muhammad appoints Malcolm to found the small New York Temple. As in Boston, Malcolm seeks out his old crowd. He discovers that Sammy the Pimp is dead and that West Indian Archie is dying. The lack of response to his initial teachings frustrates Malcolm, but he continues, and the temple grows. Malcolm and his followers develop techniques for drawing blacks from black nationalist rallies and churches that advocate a return to Africa. Malcolm has so much luck winning over Christians that he refines his speaking style with them in mind, emphasizing Christianity’s role in the oppression of blacks.
In 1956 a woman named Betty joins the New York temple. For ten years, Malcolm has been celibate and fully devoted to his work. He hardly courts Betty, but he approves of her from a distance. Malcolm introduces Betty to Elijah Muhammad, and then proposes marriage abruptly from a payphone in Detroit. They marry and settle in Queens, New York, and have four children while Malcolm is alive; a fifth child is born after Malcolm’s death.
In 1958, Malcolm’s half-sister, Ella, converts to the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam gets public recognition when police attack one of its members. The “Fruit of Islam,” the Nation’s elite youth group, leads a mass demonstration, standing ominously before the precinct house where the bleeding victim is being held and then before the hospital to which Malcolm has demanded the victim be taken. Later, the Nation of Islam wins $70,000 in a lawsuit against the city. Malcolm is so busy that the Nation buys him a car to use for his travel between cities. Having taken a vow of poverty, Malcolm has access to the Nation’s substantial resources but personally owns almost nothing. By 1965, there are sizable temples in Chicago, Detroit, and New York.