The assassination of African American Muslim minister and civil rights activist Malcolm X took place on February 21, 1965.
Malcolm X was born as Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1925. His family suffered severe harassment from white supremacist groups who were threatened by his father Earl’s civil rights activism. Constant threats from groups like the Ku Klux Klan caused the Little family to move to East Lansing, Michigan.
Shortly after moving to Michigan, Malcolm’s father was killed. It is speculated that he was murdered by white supremacists, but no investigation was ever opened. Unable to deal with her husband’s death, Malcolm’s mother was committed to a mental institution while her eight children spread out over several orphanages and foster homes.
Even though he excelled in school, Malcolm dropped out at the age of 15 after a teacher told him that there was no point in pursuing his education because of his race. He moved toBoston,Massachusettsto live with his sister and turned to a life of crime. Malcolm was sent to prison in 1946 to serve a 10-year sentence for larceny.
While incarcerated, Malcolm read the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and converted to the Nation of Islam. He decided to drop his last name “Little” and adopted the surname “X” as homage to his unknown black ancestors. Upon his release, Malcolm’s charismatic nature and commanding presence led him to become the spokesperson for the Nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammad’s right hand man.
The teachings of the Nation of Islam differed from the civil rights movement in that it emphasized complete separation of the races and change through violence rather than peaceful integration. In 1964, Malcolm became disenchanted with the Nation of Islam and decided to convert to Sunni Islam after making the Muslim pilgrimage toMecca.
After his trip, Malcolm was more positive about the civil rights movement than ever and sought to collaborate with other civil rights leaders for constructive change. On February 21, 1965 he was supposed to give a speech at the Audubon Ballroom inManhattanbut was shot several times at point blank range. At the age of 39, he was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Malcolm X will always be remembered as one of the most influential African Americans in history, and a charismatic civil rights figure that was taken too soon.