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Malcolm X is born Malcolm Little in
Omaha, Nebraska. The Midwest, during this period, is full of discrimination
and racial violence. Malcolm’s family moves to Michigan where they
continue to experience persecution and violence. White people murder
Malcolm’s father and force his mother into a mental hospital. After
living in a Michigan detention home and completing the eighth grade,
Malcolm moves to Boston, Massachusetts, to live with his half-sister,
Ella. In Boston Malcolm quickly becomes involved in urban nightlife.
He passes for being much older than he is, wearing flashy clothes,
gambling, drinking, doing drugs, and dating an older white woman,
Sophia. Malcolm eventually takes a job as a railway porter. He then
moves to New York, where he begins working as a hustler in Harlem.
Malcolm’s various jobs there include running numbers, selling drugs,
and steering white people to black brothels. He also commits armed
When life in Harlem becomes too dangerous, Malcolm returns
to Boston, where he becomes a house burglar and is eventually arrested.
In prison, Malcolm transforms himself, converting to the branch
of Islam promoted by the Nation of Islam, which has already converted
a number of Malcolm’s siblings. Inspired by the faith, Malcolm stops
using drugs; he reads voraciously, prays, studies English and Latin,
and joins the prison debate team.
The prison releases Malcolm on parole. Malcolm moves in
with his brother Wilfred and becomes very active in the Detroit
temple of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm receives permission to drop
his last name, which a white slave owner gave to one of his ancestors.
He adopts the placeholder “X” as his last name, using the letter
to represent the lost name of his African ancestors. Malcolm X soon
meets the Nation of Islam’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, and rises quickly from
the rank of temple assistant in Detroit to the Nation’s first national
minister. Malcolm X becomes known throughout the United States,
even outside of Muslim circles, as a fiery advocate for black unity
and militancy. The Nation of Islam’s leaders resent and fear Malcolm
despite his allegiance to their cause, and they suspend him from
The Nation of Islam’s frustration with Malcolm intensifies,
and Malcolm begins receiving death threats. After a divisive argument with
Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm leaves the Nation of Islam. He uses his
fame to found his own organization, Muslim Mosque, Inc. He sees
his organization as more politically active than the Nation of Islam.
On a trip to the Middle East and Africa, Malcolm discovers what
he sees as true Islam. This version of Islam contrasts with the
version of Islam he has been teaching. By the end of his life, Malcolm
X is an international figure, welcomed by foreign leaders and committed
to Islam as a religion that can alleviate the racial problems of
the United States. He is assassinated in 1965.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Autobiography of Malcolm X!