Malcolm X

Malcolm X

This handout should give an overview on Malcolm X's life and doctrines. It is based on Malcolm's Autobiography ('The Autobiography of Malcolm X' Malcolm X, Alex Haley) and on some information gathered from the Internet.

The authors: Alex Haley who assisted to write the book is a black journalist and novelist. The book was written with the agreement of Elijah Muhammad, whose organisation also got the money earned by this book (as wished by Malcolm X). The book was first published in 1965, after Malcolm's death.

His Life: Malcolm Little was born on 19th May 1925 in an hospital in Omaha. Soon after his birth little Malcolm went with his family to the village of Lansing, Michigan. His father - Reverend Earl Little - was a Baptist preacher and a member of one of the early Negro organisisations, the U.N.I.A. (Universal Negro Improvement Association) founded by Marcus Aurelius Garvey. Malcolm's mother - Louise Little - was born in Grenada, Caribbean Sea, and was a coloured woman, thus Malcolm did not have a shiny black skin, but a reddish brown skin. Malcolm was the 7th child of his father, he had got two half sisters, Ella and Mary, and one half brother, Earl, and his full brothers and sisters Wilfred, Hilda, Philbert (who were all older than him) and Reginald, Yvonne, Wesley and Robert (who all were born after him).

His father often was disriminated against by members of the Ku Klux Klan and was 'found dead' when Malcolm was only six. After this, his mother and his oldest brother Wilfred tried to earn the family´s living, but didn´t suceed, especially in the time of the great depression (the years after 1929/1930).

Around this time Malcolm's mother started going mad and the state´s welfare agents began to visit the Littles. Finally, Malcolm was sent to another black family, and later to the Swelins a white living family in Mason, six miles from Lansing. At the age of fifteen Malcolm, who never finished any school, was visited by his half-sister Ella and not long after he moved to Roxbury, the black district of Boston, to stay with her.

In Boston Malcolm earned his living on dirty jobs like shoe shining. Here he also met his best friends for the following years, named Shorty. Soon Malcolm dropped into the criminal scene. After a year and a half he moved to Harlem, New York. Malcolm here gor his money from small robberies and from working for pimps.

At the age of 21, in the year 1946 Malcolm and Shorty were caught by the police after commiting a robbery. Both of them were sentenced to ten years in prison.

Malcolm was jailed in Charlestown State Prison, a dull building from 1805. While he was in there, his brothers and sisters, especially Philbert and Reginald discovered the world of Islam, preached by Elijah Muhammad. They brought their new knowledge to Malcolm, who, at first, strongly disagreed with the new religion, but after a time converted. In prison he had lots of time, so he read some of the holy writtings and also wrote every day a letter to Mr. Muhammad. After Malcolm was paroled in 1952,  he started to preach in the buildings of Muhammad's Islamic church, and soon became famous for his open-minded, direct speeches which often were misunderstood as offense against the whites. Malcolm helped the Black Muslim Movement to establish in New York, Los Angeles and Detroit and soon was seen as a threat by the white population. Under the influence of Elijah Muhammad he also changed his surname from Little to 'X'. In 1958 Malcolm met and soon married another member of the Black Muslim Movement, Betty X. Even after the dismiss of his brother Reginald he stayed with the teachings of Muhammad.

After the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Muhammad ordered all brothers and sisters of the movement not to give any comments, but Malcolm X unwillingly was quoted in a newspaper the next day. Muhammad suspended him for 90 days.

Malcolm X decided, under the influence of Cassius Clay alias Muhammed Ali, to leave the Black Muslim Movement and to found his own protest group, the Organisation of Afro-American Unity.

In 1964 Malcolm pilgrimated to Mecca and took the name Al Hajj Malik al-Shabazz.

In 1965 Malcolm was murdered by a fantatic Black Muslims who felt endangered by his leaving the Black Muslim Movement. Malcolm Little alias Malcolm X alias Al Hajj Malik al-Shabazz left a wife (Betty X alias Betty Shabazz) and four children (Attilah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, Amilah).

Malcolm X's methods:

Malcolm, in his autobiography, often describes the wish he had in his youth: He wanted to be white. His first thoughts introduce us that Malcolm was not hit that much by his father, due to his brighter skin (in comparison with his sisters and brothers). After his move to Boston, he coloured his hair, just because he saw that you have got more possibilities in life if you are white. After his formative years in jail, Malcolm considered things different: From now on he was proud of being a black man.

Malcolm's methods were very militant, he called for unity among the black population and he blamed the white population for the problems of his race, and in general he was right.

Malcolm studied the differences between white and black people and their aversion and affection towards each other. For example he discovered that white prostitutes in Harlem have more black customers and the other way round.

One of his famous methods was the united resistance against racial segregation and discrimination: Once a black brother of the Black Muslim Movement was hit hart by a white policeman. He was arrested and put into jail. Malcolm and about 100 members of the Movement protested in front of the police department until the brother was put free.

Historical background and political settings:

Around the year 1960 the American society was trippled in a way: The peaceful movements around Martin Luther King and other movements were opposed by the whites, who in general treated African-Americans like pieces of dirt, and by the Black Muslims. This movement was lead by 'The Messenger of Allah' Elijah Muhammad and was in contrast to the peaceful movements radical and racistic (The white man is the devil). The members of this movement denied their surnames, given to them by the white slavemasters centuries ago.

Instead of their names they put a X as their surname, standing as a symbol for their lost African names.


The autobiography is not an autobiography in the usual style. It is a help to understand Malcolm X and the Black Muslim Movement. You may not share Malcolm's radical way of see the problem, but the book helps to understand his way of thinking.

The book - it was called 'a brilliant, painful and important book' by the New York Times - also shows a way of liberation for the black population. It is the story about a boy, who made mistakes, but then found a way to deal with the problems of racism and finally considered it as a pride to be a black man.

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