Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, also known as Detroit Red, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, and Omowale, (Omaha, Nebraska, May 19, 1925 - February 21, 1965 in New York City) was a Muslim Minister and National Spokesman for the Nation of Islam. He was also founder of the Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
During his life, Malcolm went from being a young street-wise Boston hoodlum to becoming one of the most prominent black nationalist leaders in the United States, and when murdered, became considered by some as a martyr of Islam, and a champion of equality. As a militant leader, Malcolm X advocated black pride, economic self-reliance, and identity politics. He ultimately rose to become a world renowned African American/Pan-Africanist and human rights activist.
A year before his death Malcolm became an orthodox Sunni Muslim following a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam in Washington Heights on the first day of National Brotherhood Week.
On March 20, 1964, Life magazine published a famous photograph of Malcolm X holding an M1 Carbine and pulling back the curtains to peer out of a window. The photo was taken in connection with Malcolm's declaration that he would defend himself from the daily death threats which he and his family were receiving. Undercover FBI informants warned officials that Malcolm X had been marked for assassination. One officer undercover with the Nation of Islam is said to have reported that he had been ordered to help plant a bomb in Malcolm's car.
Tensions increased between Malcolm and the Nation of Islam. It was alleged that orders were given by leaders of the Nation of Islam to kill Malcolm; in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, he says that as early as 1963, a member of the Seventh Temple confessed to him having received orders from the Nation of Islam to kill him. The NOI sued to reclaim Malcolm's home in Queens, which they claimed to have paid for, and won. He appealed, and was angry at the thought that his family might soon have no place to live. Then, on the night of February 14, 1965, the house was firebombed. Malcolm and his family survived, and no one was charged in the crime.
A week later on February 21 in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm had just begun delivering a speech when a disturbance broke out in the crowd of 400. A man yelled, "Get your hand outta my pocket! Don't be messin' with my pockets!" As Malcolm's bodyguards rushed forward to attend to the disturbance and Malcolm appealed for peace, a man rushed forward and shot Malcolm in the chest with a sawn-off shotgun. Two other men quickly charged towards the stage and fired handguns at Malcolm, who was shot 16 times. Angry onlookers in the crowd caught and beat the assassins as they attempted to flee the ballroom. The 39-year-old Malcolm was pronounced dead on arrival at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. He was killed by the shotgun blasts, the other bullets having been directed into his legs.
Although a police report once existed stating that two men were detained in connection with the shooting, that report disappeared, and the investigation was inconclusive. Two suspects were named by witnesses: Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson. However both were known as Nation of Islam agents and would have had difficulty entering the ballroom on that evening.
Three men were eventually charged in the case. Talmadge Hayer confessed to having fired shots into Malcolm's body, but he testified that Butler and Johnson were not present and were not involved in the shooting. All three were convicted.
A complete examination of the assassination and investigation is available in The Smoking Gun: The Malcolm X Files, a collection of primary sources relating to the assassination.
Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was influenced by many, including a fellow prison inmate named John Bembry whom Malcolm greatly respected and from whom he gained an appreciation for reading. He was close to his half-sister Ella as well as his wife, Betty, with whom he had six daughters. After converting to and later leaving the Nation of Islam and becoming Muslim, Malcolm X received death threats from Islamic sects and was eventually assassinated in 1965.
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