Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965), born Malcolm Little and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Arabic: الحاجّ مالك الشباز), was an African-American Muslim minister, public speaker, and human rights activist. To his admirers, he was a courageous advocate for the rights of African Americans, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans. His detractors accused him of preaching racism, black supremacy, antisemitism, and violence. He has been called one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history, and in 1998, Time named The Autobiography of Malcolm X one of the ten most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century.
Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska. The events of his childhood, including his father's lessons concerning black pride and self-reliance, and his own experiences concerning race played a significant role in Malcolm X's adult life. By the time he was thirteen, his father had died and his mother had been committed to a mental hospital. After living in a series of foster homes, Malcolm X became involved in a number of criminal activities in Boston and New York City. In 1946, Malcolm X was sentenced to eight to ten years in prison.
While in prison, Malcolm X became a member of the Nation of Islam, and after his parole in 1952 he became one of the Nation's leaders and chief spokesmen. For nearly a dozen years he was the public face of the controversial group. Tension between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, head of the Nation of Islam, led to Malcolm X's quitting the organization in March 1964. He subsequently traveled extensively throughout Africa and the Middle East and founded Muslim Mosque, Inc., a religious organization, and the secular Pan-Africanist Organization of Afro-American Unity. Less than a year after he left the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X was assassinated by three members of the group while giving a speech in New York.
The beliefs expressed by Malcolm X changed during his lifetime. As a spokesman for the Nation of Islam, he taught black supremacy and deified the leaders of the organization. He also advocated the separation of black and white Americans, which put him at odds with the civil rights movement, which was working towards integration. After he left the Nation of Islam in 1964, Malcolm X became a Sunni Muslim, made the pilgrimage to Mecca and disavowed racism, while remaining a champion of black self-determination, self defense, and human rights. He expressed a willingness to work with civil rights leaders and described his previous position with the Nation of Islam as that of a "zombie".
"I think there are plenty of good people in America, but there are also plenty of bad people in America and the bad ones are the ones who seem to have all the power and be in these positions to block things that you and I need. Because this is the situation, you and I have to preserve the right to do what is necessary to bring an end to that situation, and it doesn't mean that I advocate violence, but at the same time I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don't even call it violence when it's self-defense, I call it intelligence."