A black militant, Malcolm X championed the rights of African Americans and urged them to develop racial unity. He was known for his association first with the Nation of Islam, sometimes known as the Black Muslims, and later with the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which he founded after breaking with the Nation of Islam. Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Neb., on May 19, 1925, the seventh of eleven children. The family soon moved to Lansing, Mich.
There they were harassed by whites who resented the black nationalist views of the father, Earl Little, an organizer for Marcus Garvey's "back-to-Africa" movement. When Malcolm was 6 his father was murdered. His mother later suffered a nervous breakdown, and the family was separated by welfare agencies. Later in his life Malcolm came to believe that white people had destroyed his family. Placed in a series of schools and boardinghouses, Malcolm became a fine student and dreamed of becoming a lawyer.
A teacher, however, told him that because he was black he should learn carpentry instead. Discouraged, he left school after the eighth grade to live with a relative in Boston, Mass.Malcolm shined shoes and worked at a soda fountain, in a restaurant, and on a railroad kitchen crew. In 1942 he moved to the black Harlem section of New York City. He lived as a hustler, cheating to make money. He was wary of the police.
A pusher, he sold drugs and became an addict himself. Pursued by a rival hustler, he went back to Boston, where he organized a burglary ring. In 1946 he was sent to prison for burglary. While serving in prison Malcolm adopted the Islamic religion as practiced by a group that later became known as the Nation of Islam. They stressed ethical conduct with other African Americans but taught that white people were "devils." Released from prison in 1952, Malcolm joined his younger brother in Detroit, Mich., where, in Muslim fashion, he replaced his slave last name with an X to symbolize his lost "true African family name."Malcolm X soon became an active participant in the Nation of Islam. He assisted the national leader, Elijah Muhammad, by starting many new Muslim groups throughout the United States.
His success as a recruiter was a result of his skill as a speaker, as he worked to instill racial pride in his...