18 Facts About Malcolm X

Updated on June 6, 2018
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Since graduating university, Paul has worked as a librarian and bookseller. Born in the UK, he now works as a freelance writer in Florida.

Malcolm X was a controversial African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist.  To some he was a courageous advocate for black rights who spoke the truth.  To others, he was a racist who used his charisma to promote violence.
Malcolm X was a controversial African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist. To some he was a courageous advocate for black rights who spoke the truth. To others, he was a racist who used his charisma to promote violence. | Source

Malcolm X was a Muslim minister, a black political activist, and public speaker. He sparked controversy because of his beliefs.

Some people saw him as a civil rights advocate who expressed the depth of the crimes against African Americans and advocated radical solutions.

Others saw him as a racist who openly advocated violence.

Below are 18 facts about Malcolm X.

I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it's for or against. I'm a human being first and foremost, and as such I am for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.

— Malcolm X

1. Malcolm X's birth name was Malcolm Little. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 19, 1925 to Earl and Louise Little. Both his parents were admirers of the Black nationalist, Marcus Garvey.

2. Earl Little was a Baptist lay speaker, who was also a leader of the local Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Both Earl and Louise taught their children self-reliance and black pride.

The image shows a Ku Klux Klan night rally in Chicago in around 1920.  It was threats from the KKK that resulted in Malcolm X's family moving  in 1926, first to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and not long afterwards to Lansing, Michigan.
The image shows a Ku Klux Klan night rally in Chicago in around 1920. It was threats from the KKK that resulted in Malcolm X's family moving in 1926, first to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and not long afterwards to Lansing, Michigan. | Source

3. Due to harrassment from Klansmen over Earl's UNIA activities, the family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1926, and not long after that to Lansing, Michigan. There the family received threats from a white racist group known as the Black Legion. When the family home was set alight in 1929, Earl blamed the Black Legion.

Education is an important element in the struggle for human rights. It is the means to help our children and our people rediscover their identity and thereby increase their self respect. Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs only to the people who prepare for it today.

— Malcolm X

4. Malcolm was three years old when his father, Earl died. Earl's cause of death was officially that it was a streetcar accident, but there were widely circulated rumors that Earl had been killed by white racists, because of his involvement with the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). When Malcolm X was 13, his mother suffered a nervous breakdown and entered a psychiatric hospital, she remained there for the next 24 years. Split apart from his siblings, Malcolm X spent the rest of his childhood in foster homes.

5. He was very focused in school and very smart. He graduated junior high, but then dropped out, mainly because a white teacher told him that that practicing law, his aim at the time, was "no realistic goal for a nigger".

He lived in the New York neighborhood of Harlem from 1943 until late 1945.  Here he lived a life of crime.  He was referred to during this period as "Detroit Red", due to the reddish hair he'd inherited from his Scots grandfather.
He lived in the New York neighborhood of Harlem from 1943 until late 1945. Here he lived a life of crime. He was referred to during this period as "Detroit Red", due to the reddish hair he'd inherited from his Scots grandfather. | Source

6. After a spell in Boston, Malcolm X moved to Harlem, New York City In 1943. There he lived a life of drug dealing, gambling, pimping, robbery, and racketeering. He returned to Boston where his criminal lifestyle continued. In 1946, Malcolm was sentenced to prison for breaking and entering and stealing property.

Between Mr. Muhammad's teachings, my cor­re­spond­ence, my vis­i­tors ... and my reading of books, months passed without my even thinking about being impris­oned. In fact, up to then, I had never been so truly free in my life.

— Malcolm X

7. He spent much of his time in prison reading. He became interested in the Nation of Islam and struck up a correspondence with the group's leader, Elijah Mohammed. The Nation of Islam preached preached black self-reliance and empowerment, and that white people were “blue-eyed devils”.

8. He began signing his name "X" rather than "Little" in 1950. His explanation for this was that the name "Little" was forced upon his ancestor by white slave owners, whereas the "X" represented his true, unknown, African family name.

Time is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. Truth is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. You don't need anything else.

— Malcolm X

9. After getting out of prison, Malcolm X quickly became a very effective advocate for the Nation of Islam. He actively seeking out new converts, whenever and wherever he could. He quickly became a favorite of Elijah Mohammed and gained a higher public profile.

Malcolm X photographing Cassius Clay after Clay became the world heavyweight champion (1964).  Clay would be one of the most famous converts to Nation of Islam, changing his name to Mohammed Ali.
Malcolm X photographing Cassius Clay after Clay became the world heavyweight champion (1964). Clay would be one of the most famous converts to Nation of Islam, changing his name to Mohammed Ali. | Source

10. He was widely credited with increasing the Nation of Islam's membership. Numbers went from 500 to 25,000 members between the early 1950s and early 1960s (some estimates are even higher, estimating membership at 75,000 by the early 60's).

11. In 1958, he married Betty X, a civil rights activist. They had six daughters together. Two of the children, a set of twins, were born after Malcolm X's death.

Malcolm X's and Martin Luther King Jr met together only once.  The meeting took place on March 26, 1964 and was very brief, barely long enough for photos to be taken.  It occurred in Washington during the Senate's debate on the Civil Rights bill.
Malcolm X's and Martin Luther King Jr met together only once. The meeting took place on March 26, 1964 and was very brief, barely long enough for photos to be taken. It occurred in Washington during the Senate's debate on the Civil Rights bill. | Source

12. During his time in the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X opposed racial integration. He was disparaging of the mainstream civil rights movement and Martin Luther King's philosophy of nonviolent resistance to gain equality and acceptance. Malcolm X instead believed in the strict separation of the races.

The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro's friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool...

— Malcolm X

13. In 1964, Malcolm X split from the Nation of Islam. His relationship with Elijah Mohammed had soured over the leader fathering illegitimate children and what Malcolm X described as his "religious fakery". Not long after leaving, Malcolm X became a Sunni Muslim.

14. Shortly after his conversion, he made a pilgrimage to Mecca. The trip changed him. Malcolm X would later say that seeing Muslims of "all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans," coming together as equals persuaded him that racial problems could be overcome through Islam.

Malcolm X in 1964, shortly after his conversion to Sunni Islam and pilgrimage to Mecca.  The trip altered his views. He changed his ideas on political violence, and decided that the differences between races could be resolved through Islam
Malcolm X in 1964, shortly after his conversion to Sunni Islam and pilgrimage to Mecca. The trip altered his views. He changed his ideas on political violence, and decided that the differences between races could be resolved through Islam | Source

15. During 1964, he received death threats and intimidation from the Nation of Islam. He was considered a traitor by the organization's leadership for his criticisms of Elijah Mohammed.

Islam is my religion, but I believe my religion is my personal business. It governs my personal life, my personal morals. And my religious philosophy is personal between me and the God in whom I believe; just as the religious philosophy of these others is between them and the God in whom they believe. And this is best this way. Were we to come out here discussing religion, we’d have too many differences from the outstart and we could never get together.

— Malcolm X

16. On February 21, 1965, he was shot dead at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. During a disturbance in the crowd, one man shot at him with a sawed off shotgun, while two others rushed the stage firing semi-automatic weapons.

17. Three Nation of Islam members were identified by witnesses as the killers: Talmadge Hayer; Norman 3X Butler; and Thomas 15X Johnson. All three were convicted of murder in March 1966 and sentenced to life in prison, despite Butler and Johnson protested their innocence.

The stage of the Audubon Ballroom after the assassination. Circles on backdrop mark bullet holes.  During a crowd disturbance, a man with a sawed off shotgun opened fire on him, followed by two men with semi-automatics rushing the stage.
The stage of the Audubon Ballroom after the assassination. Circles on backdrop mark bullet holes. During a crowd disturbance, a man with a sawed off shotgun opened fire on him, followed by two men with semi-automatics rushing the stage. | Source

18. He was buried on February 27, 1965. Civil rights leaders who attended included: John Lewis, James Forman, Jesse Gray, and Andrew Young. The eulogy was read by actor and activist Ossie Davis.

I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I'm sorry for now ... Well, I guess a man's entitled to make a fool of himself if he's ready to pay the cost. It cost me 12 years.

— Malcolm X

Sources

  • Goldman, Peter (1979). The Death and Life of Malcolm X (2nd ed.). Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-00774-3.
  • Roberts, Randy; Smith, Johnny (2016). Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-07970-4.
  • Waldschmidt-Nelson, Britta (2012). Dreams and Nightmares: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and the Struggle for Black Equality. Gainesville, Fla.: University Press of Florida. ISBN 978-0-8130-3723-3.

Questions & Answers

  • Did Malcolm X have any siblings?

    Malcolm X had ten siblings. He had four sisters: Ella Collins, Mary Little, Hilda Florice Little, and Yvonne Little Woodward. He had six brothers: Wesley Little, Philbert X, Ear Little Jr., Wilfred X, Reginald Little, and Robert Little.

  • Did Malcolm X have children?

    Yes, he had six daughters with his wife, Betty Shabazz: Attallah Shabazz, Qubilah Shabazz, Ilyasah Shabazz, Gamilah Lumumba Shabazz, and twins Malikah Shabazz and Malaak Shabazz born after their father's assassination.

  • When did Malcolm X become a civil rights activist?

    Malcolm X's parents were advocates for self-reliance and black pride, so he was brought up in a civil rights environment. He drifted into a life of drugs and crime, however, after dropping out of school. In the mid-1940's, during a spell in prison, he came under the influence of fellow convict John Bembry and began reading a lot to self-educate himself. He was sent letters from siblings that suggested he take an interest in the Nation of Islam, a recently formed religious group that preached black self-reliance and the eventual return of the African diaspora to Africa. In 1948, aged 23, Malcolm X stopped eating pork and smoking cigarettes and wrote to Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. Muhammad told him to renounce his criminal life and pray to Allah. Malcolm X did so, and soon after became a member of the Nation of Islam.

© 2017 Paul Goodman

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    • profile image

      big boy 

      3 weeks ago

      nice

    • profile image

      mablue@gmail.com 

      3 months ago

      my school are doing a project on famous african civil rights leader and im going to do my best to look and act just like him its sad that he died at age 39.

    • profile image

      izeaha 

      5 months ago

      malcolmx inspired me so much

    • profile image

      jeff 

      5 months ago

      I like it

    • profile image

      Aiyana 

      6 months ago

      this is a good website to look on to find out about Malcom X

    • Fullerman5000 profile image

      Ryan Fuller 

      13 months ago from Louisiana, USA

      A lot of great information I was not aware of. Thank you for sharing such a historical figure with us. So much powerful movements and speech about this man. Great educational piece.

    • Angel Guzman profile image

      Angel Guzman 

      13 months ago from Joliet, Illinois

      Oh what could have been :( an informative great read.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      13 months ago from Auburn, WA

      Nice work. His assassination, like those of JFK, RFK and MLK, cost this country a lot. Malcolm's death gets lost in the other tragedies. But he was at a crossroads in belief and that might have helped society ease into the post Civil Rights era. Sharing.

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