Malcolm X Additional Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111204676-MalcolmX.jpg Malcolm X (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Born Malcolm Little to parents who were followers of the Jamaican black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey, Malcolm learned early about the tribulations of being an outspoken black man. His father, an ardent opponent of white racism, was killed in 1931 by—his family believed—the Ku Klux Klan. The death of his father precipitated the breakup of his family, and Malcolm grew up with relatives and in foster homes. In his early twenties he was arrested for burglary and sent to prison, where he discovered the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam. During the 1950’s he became a minister of the sect and began speaking out publicly in favor of black separatism.

Many people consider that the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) activities amounted to an abridgment of Malcolm’s First Amendment rights and that they helped to “demonize” him via mass media. A special FBI Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) was established in order to disrupt black nationalist organizations. As a leading spokesperson of the Nation of Islam (NOI), Malcolm was a prime target of FBI attempts to destroy African American leadership. Most vocal African American groups and individuals had come under FBI scrutiny and harassment long before the establishment of COINTELPRO, and mass media were often used by the FBI to carry out its activities.

One element of censorship was that the mass media often focused on Malcolm’s self-defense rhetoric, obscuring his broader message of black self-determination and self-reliance, thereby depicting him as a hatemonger. He was fully aware of this, asserting in his posthumously published autobiography that he would be used, dead or alive, as a symbol of hatred so that white Americans could avoid accepting responsibility for racial discrimination. An editorial commenting on Malcolm’s 1965 assassination in a Wisconsin newspaper illustrated his point in declaring that Malcolm was one of the “most violent of racist leaders” of an “ultra-racist Organization of Afro- American Unity” and that “he died as he lived, in violence and bloodshed.”

Undoubtedly, Malcolm recognized the power of the media in forming public opinion. Throughout his public career, he used the podium, rallies, television, radio, and the press to spread the Nation of Islam’s message and—after his break with the NOI—the messages of his own Muslim Mosque and Organization of Afro-American Unity. In 1957 he founded Muhammad Speaks, a newspaper which was to be the positive voice of the Nation of Islam and a tribute to its spiritual leader, Elijah Muhammad. The paper’s circulation outside of NOI membership helped to gain support for the organization, and Malcolm, in the larger African American community.

Ironically, the newspaper was to be used later to censor Malcolm and, some suspect, lead to his death, the...

(The entire section is 1178 words.)


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Born Malcolm Little, Malcolm X rose from life as a criminal hustler to become the national minister of the Nation of Islam and a popularizer of black nationalism, which emphasized self-defense for African Americans and independence from white America. Malcolm X’s separatism served as a political alternative to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s advocacy of nonviolence and desegregation.

Early Life

In his best-seller The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1964), Malcolm described his father, Baptist preacher Earl Little, and his mother, Granada native M. Louise Norton, as dedicated followers of Marcus Garvey. Garvey, founder of the United Negro Improvement Association,...

(The entire section is 1977 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Malcolm X’s (born Malcolm Little) early years were marked by unsettling events: His family, threatened by the Ku Klux Klan in Omaha, moved to Lansing, Michigan, only to have their house burned down by a white hate group. Malcolm’s father died in 1931 under mysterious circumstances, leaving his mother with the task of raising eight children. Malcolm eventually moved to Boston in 1941 and to New York in 1943, where he first experienced the street life of the African American urban poor. After becoming a burglar, he received a six-year prison term for armed robbery. In prison, he converted to the Nation of Islam and read voraciously on philosophy, theology, and history. The Nation of Islam helped him to acquire self-respect and gave him a new worldview, one that celebrated African American history and culture and in which whites were seen as forces of evil. Two years after his release, Malcolm—who by then had changed his last name to “X” in order to shed any links to a past in which white slave masters gave African American slaves their last names—became minister of the New York Temple Number Seven and the national spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. He brought unprecedented attention to the Nation: At a time when much of the United States was still segregated, Malcolm X voiced fearlessly what others only thought and denounced white racist practices.

Advocating strong moral codes and behaviors, Malcolm X became disenchanted with the Nation, suspecting the covert immorality of some leaders. After leaving the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, where his warm reception by white Muslims (and his earlier contact in America with white students and journalists) led him to reject his earlier declarations that all whites were evil, and he accepted orthodox Islam as his faith. He adopted the name el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. Malcolm X traveled to Africa, meeting African leaders and recognizing the links between imperialist oppression of Africa and the situation of African Americans. Malcolm X was assassinated in New York after beginning to build Organization of Afro-American Unity, which featured cross-racial alliances and an international outlook.

Early Life

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was raised in poverty in the urban North unlike other civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr., who came from upper-middle-class southern families of professional standing. Malcolm’s father, Earl Little, died tragically when Malcolm was five years old, and his mother, Louise Little, suffered a nervous breakdown when Malcolm was fourteen. Malcolm and his seven siblings were separated and placed in foster homes or with family members across the country. Malcolm’s teenage years were spent between Boston, Massachusetts, and New York City. After working for a short period in a menial job in the service sector, he turned to street life and criminal pursuits. In 1946, Malcolm was convicted of burglary and sentenced to prison, where he converted to the Nation of Islam, a separatist black Muslim sect. During this period, Malcolm abandoned his family surname for the letter “X,” which he said represented the evils of slavery that stripped blacks of their African heritage. Upon his parole in 1952, Malcolm X worked as a minister for the Nation of Islam under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad. In 1958, he married Betty Sanders with whom he had six children.


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Appalled at the racial discrimination that was widely practiced in predominantly Christian America, Malcolm X chastised Christianity as unethically enslaving African Americans through its teaching that the oppressed should focus on Heaven, where they will reap rewards and their wrongs will be righted, instead of doing something about their deprivation here on Earth. He taught that Islam could bring about true brotherhood because of the “color-blindness” of Muslims. Distancing himself from the “turn-the-other-cheek” philosophy of Christianity, he advocated the “fair exchange” of an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a head for a head, and a life for a life,” if that was what it took to obtain human rights for African Americans and to create an egalitarian society of true human brotherhood. Just as love should be reciprocated, so should enmity. He believed that violent confrontation was necessary to defend the weak (women and children) against the strong (the Ku Klux Klan, or KKK) but saw it as ethically wrong to form an African American Ku Klux Klan, since it “threatens the brotherhood of man.” He was convinced that confrontation based on moral tactics succeeds only when the system one is dealing with is moral. He formed Muslim Mosque, Incorporated, to give a spiritual basis to the correcting of the vices that destroy the moral fiber of society, and founded the OAAU, a nonreligious, nonsectarian group intended to unite African Americans in the goal of attaining human rights.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Malcolm X helped to restore the pride that made the emergence of black consciousness in the twentieth century inevitable and then went beyond anger and hatred to make the reemergence of hope possible. He was born as Malcolm Little (his mother’s father was white) and grew up on the outskirts of East Lansing, Michigan, where his family raised their own food until their house was burned down by white people when he was four. His father, Earl Little, a Baptist minister who believed in Marcus Garvey’s ideas that black people had to return to Africa to attain true freedom, was murdered by two white men when Malcolm was six. His mother sought consolation in another religion and became a Seventh-day Adventist before suffering a mental...

(The entire section is 714 words.)


(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Since his father was both a minister and an activist for Marcus Garvey's Back-to-Africa movement and his mother had such light skin she could...

(The entire section is 554 words.)