On this day, 47 years ago, African American human rights activist Malcolm X was shot dead while preparing to give a speech at a rally. He sustained 21 gunshot wounds. While the iconoclast died prematurely at age 39, his legacy still remains intact today. Read more about one of the most influential African Americans in history after the jump.
Malcolm Little, who later on became known as Malcolm X, was the son of a Baptist preacher named James Earl Little – a supporter of Marcus Garvey’s black nationalist ideals. When his father was brutally killed by rumored white supremacists, for his controversial sermons, Malcolm was taken into custody by welfare case workers. By the time he was in high school, however, Malcolm stopped his schooling and went to Boston where he became involved in criminal activities. At age 21, he was jailed for burglary.
During his stint in prison he became exposed to the teachings of the Nation of Islam, and then leader, Elijah Muhammad. The ‘Black Muslims’, as the group’s members came to be known, advocated racial separatism and black nationalism. Following this revelation, Malcolm entered into a self-education program and adopted the last name “X”, as a symbol of his true African identity, as opposed to what he called the “white slavemaster name of ‘Little’ which some blue-eyed devil named Little had imposed upon my paternal forebears.”
After his release from prison in 1952, Malcolm X paid Elijah Muhammad (seen in the 3rd photo above) a visit in Chicago and was, soon after, appointed as one of the Nation of Islam’s loyal ministers in New York. Unlike Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, Malcolm X’s key belief was that African Americans should liberate and defend themselves by any means necessary. New York’s African American community soon caught wind of Malcom X and his intense orations, gaining him a large group of admirers and supporters in the Big Apple which soon spread throughout the country.
Because of his increasingly opinionated and outspoken supporters, Elijah Muhammad became convinced that Malcolm X had become “too powerful,” and suspended him from the religious movement. Following this incident, Malcolm X formally cut all ties from the organization and traveled to Mecca for pilgrimage. It was there that he had another significant revelation. Upon witnessing that there was no racial discord among traditional Muslims, he was enlightened and came to believe that it wasn’t the “white race” but racism in general that was the oppressor. Malcolm X went on to found the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which carried his newfound belief, bringing together black identity and anti-racism.
While an increase in support for the group was welcomed, it came an increase in unwanted attention. As a result, Malcom X’s home was firebombed in mid-February 1965. A week after the first attack came a fatal one. On this fateful day, in 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated by some Nation of Islam members as he prepared to give a speech in New York City, at his group’s rally.