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Malcolm: The Journey from ‘Little’ to ‘X’

It was during the early 1960s that Malcolm confirmed rumors about Muhammad’s adulterous affairs with women and girls in the Nation. Although he respected the order, the deception was painful. Malcolm soon announced his separation from the Nation and spent time on a pilgrimage to Mecca. The experience changed him. After the pilgrimage, Malcolm X developed a new energy and vision: he directed his work toward all races and ethnicities, speaking about human rights, freedom, action, and community building. But soon, rumors of his assassination spread.

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Malcolm X. Library of Congress photo.
Malcolm X. Library of Congress photo.

By Tamara Shiloh

Although brief, Malcolm Little’s (1925-1965) life has a storied history.

He was born in Omaha, Neb., the fourth of Earl and Louise Little’s seven children. Earl was a Baptist minister, and Louise, a secretary. The year after Malcolm was born, the family relocated to Milwaukee, Wis., and then the following year to Lansing, Mich. It was then that Malcolm began to live with the pressures of racism.

The Littles settled in an all-white neighborhood and were sued for eviction on the basis that a “restrictive covenant” prevented their home from being purchased by non-whites. The house was torched and, suspiciously, no fire wagon was dispatched. The family then built a new home in East Lansing.

In 1931, Earl was run over by a streetcar. It was murder to Malcolm, who suspected the Klan’s involvement. After, the Littles fell on hard times, forcing Louise to apply for public assistance. In 1938, she was diagnosed with a mental illness and would spend the next 26 years in a state hospital. The Little children were separated and placed in foster homes.

By age 15, Malcolm moved to Boston to live with his half-sister Ella Collins. Never having seen such a large number of Blacks in one place, he would lose himself in the rush.

Malcolm took on odd jobs including shoeshining, cooking, and bartending. But that wasn’t enough. He became a hustler, drug dealer, and a burglar in Boston, New York, and Detroit.

In 1946, he was sentenced to jail in Charlestown, Mass., for larceny. That was his home until 1952. There he was introduced to the Nation of Islam through his studies of Elijah Muhammad’s teachings on systemic oppression––a life of which Malcolm felt he’d already lived. He was also drawn to Muhammad’s position on another world: one without white people.

It was then that Malcolm Little converted to the Muslim faith, stripped away his “slave” name, and became Malcolm X. On his release, he met Muhammad, began working for the Nation of Islam, and was soon appointed a minister and national spokesperson. But Malcolm’s admiration for Muhammad would eventually crumble.

It was during the early 1960s that Malcolm confirmed rumors about Muhammad’s adulterous affairs with women and girls in the Nation. Although he respected the order, the deception was painful. Malcolm soon announced his separation from the Nation and spent time on a pilgrimage to Mecca. The experience changed him.

After the pilgrimage, Malcolm X developed a new energy and vision: he directed his work toward all races and ethnicities, speaking about human rights, freedom, action, and community building. But soon, rumors of his assassination spread.

The rumors became reality on Feb. 21, 1965, when Malcolm X was gunned down in the Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom in front of his wife, Betty, who was pregnant, and their children. Although three men were convicted of his murder the following year, Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam, were exonerated last month.

Malcolm X’s legacy has long since inspired many in the fight for equality and social justice. His amazing story is detailed in “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

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