Today on February 21, 1965, three rival Black Muslims assassinate Malcolm X while addressing a crowd in Manhattan.
Malcolm Little, commonly known as Malcolm X, was one of the most influential and outspoken advocates for the rights of African Americans. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, he had a challenging childhood. His father James Earl Little was a controversial Baptist preacher who promoted the black nationalist ideals of Marcus Garvey. As a result, the Little family received constant threats from the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). At the young age of 6, Malcolm X heard the news of his father’s brutal murder by a white supremacist. Making matters worse, local authorities refused to arrest the killer. A few years later, his mother was indefinitely placed in a psychiatric hospital. As a young boy, he spent many years in various foster homes. As his behavior continued to spiral out of control, he was ultimately convicted and imprisoned on charges of burglary.
While imprisoned at the age of 20, Malcolm X became a Black Muslim after joining the Nation of Islam. He subsequently changed his last name to X, symbolizing his stolen African identity. Upon being released on parole, he turned into a devout minister for the Nation of Islam in Harlem. Malcolm X harshly indicted white Americans for centuries of oppression and racism against its black population. Similar to Martin Luther King Jr, he was a fiery and captivating orator. But in stark contrast, he promoted self-defense and the liberation of African Americans “by any means necessary.” Malcolm X rejected the civil rights movement because it emphasized equality and societal integration. Many that opposed him believed that he encouraged violence as a means of restitution.
As time went on, Malcolm X became increasingly controversial. Even the Nation of Islam eventually expelled him from their organization. In response, he decided to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca — one of the five pillars of Islam. While on his journey, he realized first hand that he had not been following the humble teachings of Islam. After returning to America, Malcolm X started his own Organization of Afro-American Unity. His philosophical views fundamentally changed and softened his previously controversial behavior. As a civil rights activist, he now argued that racism, and not the white race, was the real enemy of African Americans. His new, more moderate movement quickly attracted new followers. At the age of 39, rival Black Muslims assassinated him while addressing followers at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights.