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Malcolm X (1925-1965)

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Malcolm X during a Harlem rally, 1963.

A street hustler who became a black nationalist leader, Malcolm X converted to Islam while in prison. Born Malcolm Little to parents active in Marcus Garvey's movement, Malcolm rejected "Little" as a family name given to him by an ancestral slave owner. After his 1952 release from prison, he joined the Nation of Islam (NOI) in Detroit, trained personally under its leader Elijah Muhammad, and became a minister. Malcolm X organized NOI temples, developed the organization's newspaper, and was named its national spokesman. Malcolm X offered an alternative to Martin Luther King, Jr., refusing to endorse non-violence and telling black audiences their goal should be separation from white society, not integration into it.

Malcolm's fiery comments and growing popularity led to an estrangement from the NOI leadership. Increasingly, Malcolm X rethought his politics, becoming attuned to the black freedom movement and liberation movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Towards the end of his life, Malcolm became involved with a militant wing of the U.S. freedom movement, including leaders like Fannie Lou Hamer and Gloria Richardson; and he insisted the fight for equality was a human rights struggle. He called for a united front with leaders such as James Farmer of CORE and Martin Luther King Jr., and journeyed to Selma, Alabama to speak in support of Dr. King in February 1965. Malcolm X was assassinated by members of the NOI in New York City just a few weeks later.

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