How Did Malcolm X Become Famous?

by Cynthia Tucker
Late in his life, Malcolm X began to promote the equality of races.

Late in his life, Malcolm X began to promote the equality of races.

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Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was a popular African American leader who began his life with early exposure to racism. The Klu Klux Klan frequently targeted his family because his father supported Marcus Garvey, a man who encouraged African Americans to return to Africa. After his father was killed, Malcolm became a street hustler and was eventually sent to prison for robbery in 1946. Nevertheless, he evolved into a powerful and influential speaker.

Minister of the Nation of Islam

After an early career of petty crime, Malcolm Little was sentenced to prison, where he changed his last name to "X," converted to Islam and became a member of the Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad. After his parole in 1952, Malcolm became one of the movement's most powerful spokespersons. His controversial views that the white man was evil rallied many African Americans as he founded various mosques in Harlem, Philadelphia and Boston. He advocated self-defense "by any means necessary." After Malcolm X exposed Muhammad's impregnation of several teenagers, Muhammad became concerned about Malcolm's popularity. Muhammad used Malcolm's positive comments about John F. Kennedy's assassination to silence him for 90 days.

Founder of Organizations

Malcolm X was not content to remain with the Nation of Islam during his time of silence. He left the movement and started Muslim Mosque, Inc. His popularity continued to rise as he traveled throughout Africa and Europe. He founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity and encouraged African Americans to vote and to exert more power in the political arena.

Advocate for Equality

During his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, Malcolm X encountered Muslims of different races who did not allow race to divide them. Malcolm changed his view of integration and began to embrace the equality of races. The Muslims there taught him that not all white people were corrupt. Malcolm began focusing his hatred on racism rather than on the white race. He took on the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz instead of Malcolm X.

Assassination and Legacy

Members of the Nation of Islam never forgave Malcolm for his disloyalty, so they threatened to kill him and his family. Malcolm's house was firebombed on February 14, 1965. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm gave a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. Members of the Nation of Islam made good on their threat and shot and killed Malcolm X at age 39. Louis Farrakhan, whom Malcolm once mentored when part of the Nation of Islam, admitted that his inflammatory words played a role in Malcolm's assassination. As a martyr, Malcolm X became even more famous, and his work directly helped inspire the "Black Power" and "Black Is Beautiful" movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Spike Lee's highly acclaimed 1992 film "Malcolm X," with Denzel Washington in the title role, helped keep Malcolm's legacy before the American public.

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