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MALCOLM X / EL HAJJ MALIK EL-SHABAZZ

RELIGIOUS LEADER AND REVOLUTIONARY (1925-1965)

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. 

Revised: July 18, 2013.