Malcolm Little was born on May 19, 1925
in Omaha, Nebraska to Louise
(Norton) and Earl Little. Louise and Earl met in Canada but Louise was raised in
Grenada in the British West Indies. Earl was a Baptist minister from Reynolds, GA.
and became an organizer for Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association.
Louise was Earl's second wife and together they raised seven children. Wilfred,
Hilda, Philbert, Malcolm, Reginald, Yvonne, and Wesley. Earl Little also had three
children by a first wife: Ella, Earl, and Mary. The Littles moved several times,
trying to find a better world for the family before settling in Lansing, Michigan. Lansing
was also a violent world for the Littles and in September 1931, Earl was found dead beside
the local trolley tracks, apparently crushed by the trolley.
In the years that followed, Louise
deteriorated emotionally and mentally and in 1939 was committed to a mental institution in
Kalamazoo, Michigan and the younger children were placed in foster homes. Malcolm
had already been removed from his mother's home and was in foster care for juvenile
delinquency. He was eventually made a ward of the state and sent to a county
juvenile home in Mason, Michigan. Malcolm did well in Mason and graduated from
junior high at the top of his class academically and athletically. Malcolm was
discouraged from continuing academically past the eighth grade due to his race and
accepted an offer from his sister, Ella and her husband to move to Roxbury, Massachusetts. A
few months after his arrival in Roxbury, a predominantly Black section of Boston, Malcolm
took a job as a shoe shine boy at the Roseland Ballroom in Boston's Back Bay section and
learned the role of a hustler. Roxbury proved to be too small for him, and in 1942,
he took a job as a railroad dining porter, working out of Roxbury and Harlem.
Settling in Harlem, he became involved in several
criminal activities including robbery, prostitution, and narcotics. After a year in
Harlem, he returned to Boston and continued a life of crime, forming his own house-robbing
gang. Arrested for robbery in February 1946, he was convicted and sentenced to the Charlestown, Massachusetts prison
for seven years. While in prison, Malcolm became a follower of Elijah Muhammad, the
leader of the Nation of Islam, with branches in Detroit, Chicago, and New York.
Malcolm's brother, Reginald, and sister, Ella, visiting him in prison, urged him to join
Muhammad's groups, and while still in prison he did. He discarded his "slave
name," Little, and was assigned the new name "X". After his parole in
1952, Malcolm X joined the Nation of Islam under the guidance of Elijah Muhammad and
eventually was made a minister and top administrator of the Muslim movement. Malcolm
founded mosques in Boston, Philadelphia, and Harlem and was credited with the national
expansion of the movement, which included a membership of approximately 30,000 by 1963.
Malcolm X came to broad public notice as a result of a July 13-17, 1959 television special
with Mike Wallace called The "Hate That
Hate Produced," which told the story of Malcolm X's emergence as one of the most
important leaders in the Nation of Islam.