On May 19, 1925, Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and given the name Malcolm Little. His father was a prominent member of Marcus Garvey’s Black Nationalist-oriented Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). For that reason, when Malcolm was a child, his family endured an enormous amount of harassment from white supremacist groups. In December 1926, Malcolm’s family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where his younger brother Reginald was born. The family lived in a small house on West Galena Street on Milwaukee’s North Side. Years later, the area was cleared for freeway construction. Malcolm’s family lived in Milwaukee until 1929 and then relocated to Lansing, Michigan.
In 1946, Malcolm was convicted of burglary and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. It was while incarcerated that he joined the Nation of Islam, a Black Muslim organization headed by Elijah Muhammad. Soon after his release, Malcolm dropped his last name “Little,” which he considered his slave name, and replaced it with an “X.” Malcolm quickly moved up the ranks within the Nation of Islam, but slowly became disheartened by the many contradictions and hypocrisies that he observed within the organization. Malcolm’s relationship with the Nation of Islam became very strained and by early 1964 he had parted ways with the organization to spearhead his Islamic group, Muslim Mosque, Inc., and his human rights organization called the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).
Initially, Malcolm was not an advocate of the nonviolent philosophy used by many civil rights organizations. He strongly believed that African Americans had the right to defend themselves against white violence and terrorism. Malcolm often lashed out at civil rights organizations as well as their leadership. In his opinion, the problem of inadequate civil rights for African Americans was created by the very government that civil rights advocates were appealing to for freedom. Eventually, Malcolm’s views on nonviolence changed and he made peace with many civil rights leaders whom he had castigated, most notably Martin Luther King Jr. He moved towards placing his focus on building strong coalitions with other civil rights activists and organizations. During Milwaukee’s civil rights movement, many members of the Milwaukee NAACP Youth Council were more inspired by Malcolm X than by Martin Luther King, Jr. They admired Malcolm’s boldness and belief in self-defense.
Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965, during a speaking engagement at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, New York City. He was 39 years old at the time of his death. EM