X, Malcolm 
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Time Period
5/19/1925  - 2/21/1965
Malcolm Little, later renamed "Malcolm X," had a turbulent upbringing. Night riders burned down his family’s house and white supremacists murdered his father. Later in 1949, he was convicted and imprisoned for organizing a burglary ring. In prison, he learned about Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam (NOI), a black militant religious group who believed that whites were evil and that blacks needed to establish their own country. He left prison as a dedicated observant of Islam in 1952.

In the mid-1950s until 1964, he became an active minister and spokesman for the Nation of Islam. He received national criticism from whites for calling them the "devil" and from blacks for referring to the civil rights movement as the "integration of mad negroes." In 1964, disputes with NOI leader Elijah Muhammad led Malcolm to leave the NOI, and he was later assassinated by NOI members.
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Prominent Religious Events and People in American History
Race/Ethnicity and Religion
Religious Minorities (Non-Christian)
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Prominent Religious Events and People in American History
Race/Ethnicity and Religion in American History
Religious Minorities (Non-Christian) in American History
Malcolm Little, later renamed "Malcolm X," had a turbulent upbringing. He encountered racism as a child, experiencing night riders burn down his family’s house (1929) and members of a white supremacist group known as the Black Legion murder his father. Later, his mother had a nervous breakdown and was committed to a state hospital. Malcolm and his siblings were placed in foster homes. In his later teen years, he became involved in drug dealing and pimping. He was arrested and convicted of organizing a burglary ring in 1946 and received the maximum sentence of 10 years despite no previous convictions.

Malcolm experienced an intellectual and religious transformation while in prison. He witnessed one black prisoner command the respect of prisoners and guards of all races due to his intellect and way with words. This influenced him to take correspondence courses and read books from the library.

He became interested in the Nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammad in 1948 when family members wrote to him regarding their teachings. Although he came into prison as a foul-mouthed individual who ridiculed religion, he left prison as a dedicated observant of Islam in 1952.

Receiving an "X" to replace his former slave name of Little, Malcolm joined Nation of Islam’s Detroit Temple where, under the guidance and advice of Elijah Muhammad, he tripled the size of the congregation. He became a national media figure and spokesman of the Nation of Islam from the mid-1950s until 1964. Unlike the civil rights movement, the Nation of Islam believed in militant defense instead of nonviolence. Believing that whites were the "devil" and African Americans needed to establish their own country, Malcolm X received criticism from both whites and blacks.

In 1963, Malcolm X started to conflict with Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad officially silenced him after Malcolm publicly declared that President Kennedy’s assassination meant that "the chickens had come home to roost." Malcolm also was perturbed by Elijah Muhammad’s extramarital affairs. In 1964, he officially left the Nation of Islam, although he maintained his devotion to Islam. On February 21, 1965, Nation of Islam members assassinated Malcolm X at a meeting for the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

Shortly before his death, Malcolm rejected his earlier position on militant defense, in favor of nonviolence, after experiencing the racial peace among Muslims he encountered on trips across the globe. His revised racial perspective likely would have impacted his role on race relations in America had he lived longer.
Religious Groups
Timeline Entries for the same religious group Islamic

Muhammad Ali Converts to Islam
Black Muslim Movement

Malcolm X portrait 3- Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-112133

Malcolm X holding newspaper- Library of Congress, LC-USZC2-5832

Malcolm X pointing- Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-111167

Malcolm X and MLK- Library of Congress, LC-USZ6-1847
Book/Journal Source(s)
Queen, Edward, Stephen Prothero and Gardiner Shattuck, 1996. The Encyclopedia of American Religious History. New York: Facts on File.
Web Page Contributor
Benjamin T. Gurrentz
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in Sociology

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