It is my opinion that native intelligence, personal drive, curiosity, and a strong moral compass are the primary personal qualities that led Malcolm X to become a successful reader and learner.
As an African American growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, received little formal education and faced a lot of discrimination. At that time in America—and, largely, still to this day—a deep divide separated white people, especially WASPs (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants), from everyone else. White people ran the show, and they made everyone clearly aware of this.
Since Malcolm had little education and no marketable skills, he took to the streets and started hustling for a living. He was involved with petty crimes, probably a few large crimes, drugs, anything from which he could derive enough money to live from day to day. This life on the street is difficult, but Malcolm survived and even thrived at times due to his intelligence and drive. The weak don't survive long on the streets.
Malcolm had several stints in jail and finally ended up in prison. That's where he started to read books and discover the greater world. It is also where he ran across a community of American Black Muslims who introduced him to the religion and philosophy. Malcolm was obviously eager for the change this brought to his life, and he threw himself into reading and studying all about the religion, its history, and how it could help him interpret the world he lived in. This included his prison life, his life of crime before prison, and lives of those around him, other prisoners and criminals, street people, and Black people in America.
Malcolm must have had a strong moral nature. He knew life on the streets was not a good way to live, but he didn't know how to change his ways. It was the only world he knew. The Muslim religion gave him a larger view of history and human relationships, and it helped foster the growth of his moral nature so that he could interpret the meaning of his life through a moral purpose.
Becoming a Black Muslim was the beginning of Malcolm's real education. It exposed the political and social system that he lived in as racist and unfair, and he could not tolerate this. His strong moral code and intellectual reasoning combined to turn him into a potent educator for other prisoners.
When Malcolm was released from prison, he continued his Muslim studies, and over time he found his charismatic nature made him an excellent educator. As he succeeded in his chosen career as a moral educator in the American Black Muslim church, he began to run into resistance from the white community as well as other American Blacks who did not subscribe to the Muslim religion. Malcolm was never free from oppression and resistance to his own personal growth, even from members of his own church.
The role of Malcolm X in American history is usually viewed as a force distinct from other American Black leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., who advocated peaceful resistance and gradual change. Malcolm argued for a more forceful approach. Some historians say Martin Luther King Jr. would not have been successful with his peaceful approach without the example of Malcolm standing behind Martin. It was as if to say, if you don't accept Martin's peaceful approach, violence will be the next step.
As social tensions rose from the Civil Rights movement in the mid-1960s, and the white power structure resisted calls for integration, Malcolm stood out as the loudest voice calling for change. He was shot in February of 1965 while giving a speech in New York City. Several members of a competing Black Muslim church were arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for his murder, but the root cause of Malcolm's assassination is still controversial.