On February 21, 1965, one of the U.S.'s most important African-American voices was stilled.Â
Malcolm X was assassinated as he was giving a speech in Manhattan.
The assassination came about as a result of controversy that surrounded Malcolm X, following his split with the Nation of Islam, the militant Black Muslim organization he had joined in 1952.
Born as the fifth of eight children in Omaha, Nebraska,Â Malcolm Little's father was a preacher, who was killed in 1931.
Though Malcolm's mother claimed a streetcar killed his father, Malcolm claimed his father was killed by a white supremacist group, the Black Legion.
Within a few years after his father's death, Malcolm's mother was declared legally insane and the children were split up to live in foster homes.
In 1938, Malcolm's mother was committed to the state mental hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she remained until Malcolm and his siblings successfully fought for her release 26 years later.
Malcolm graduated from the top of his junior high class and aspired to be an attorney and was bitterly disappointed when a teacher tried to dash his hopes by saying that being a lawyer "was no realistic goal for a nigger."
After a series of foster homes and a stay in a juvenile detention center, Malcolm came to Boston to live with his half sister.
He worked at various jobs, including a shoeshine at a Lindy hop nightclub; in his autobiography "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" he claims to have shined the shoes of Duke Ellington, and other famous black musicians.
Malcolm then moved to Harlem, New York, where he reportedly became involved in gambling, drugs and racketeering, all of which Malcolm himself described as hustling.
During World War II, Malcolm X told the draft board that "he wanted to get his hands on a gun so he could kill some crackers" and received a designation of 4-F, due to his classification as "mentally unqualified" for military service, a designation he actively sought to receive.
Malcolm was arrested for a series of burglaries and received a sentence of 10 years.
While in prison, his brother, Reginald, awakened him to the Nation of Islam, to which he subsequently converted. Malcolm was also in contact with Elijah Muhammed, and, after release from prison, went to work for the Nation of Islam.
In 1952, after he was released from prison, Malcolm changed his last name from Little to ?, a designation that denotes "a certain mystery, a certain possibility of power in the eyes of one's peers and one's enemies ...The 'X'; announced what you had been and what you had become: Ex-smoker, Ex-drinker, Ex-Christian, Ex-slave."Â and is also intended as a rejection of slave names.
X is also a brand that many slaves received on their upper arms. Though likely the most famous Black Muslim to change his name to X, Malcolm was one of many who eventually adopted this practice.
In 1953, the FBI opened a file on Malcolm X, possibly in response to Malcolm?s assertion he was a Communist, possibly in response to his own activities.
The FBI concluded Malcolm had an "asocial personality with pre-paranoid trends", supported by a letter in which Malcolm described that "everyone has always said that Malcolm is crazyso it isn?t hard to convince people that I am."
Whether there is any reliable medical evidence for this, or whether the FBI report is mainly based on Malcolm's subversive activities, along with Malcolm's deliberate attempt to avoid military service, is unknown.
Malcolm's quick rise to power as a Black Muslim speaks to Malcolm's powerful personality. In 1953, Malcolm rose to power as Minister of the Nation of Islam's Temple Number Eleven, in Boston. In 1954, Malcolm lead Mosque #7 in New York.
He was a compelling public speaker, who was sought after by many media organizations around the world.
Malcolm was not always affiliated with the Black Muslims; he adopted its practices in 1952 and was prominent in its membership, until his split in 1964.Â
During the time Malcolm was affiliated with the Black Muslims, he preached the Nation of Islam's teachings, which included references to whites as "devils" who had been created "in a misguided breeding program by a black scientist"
Malcolm also predicted the return of blacks to the top of the social order.
Whatever the FBI findings and whatever medical evidence the FBI findings were based on, Malcolm's assertions, (though noble in their desire to see blacks on top of the social order), also reflected a certain kind of skew in his thinkingÂ not about the result, that blacks should attain full civil rightsÂ (that is admirable and worthy) but about the process in Malcolm's headÂ that created the scenarios he did.
Malcolm soon became the second most influential member of the Black Muslim movement, second only to Elija Muhammed himself.Â Malcolm himself is credited with expanding the membership in the Nation of Islam from 500 members in 1952 to 30,000 members, only 10 years later.
It was Malcolm's work that inspired heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay to join the Nation of Islam and to change his name to Muhammed Ali.
Both Malcolm and Ali later left the Nation of Islam and became mainstream Muslims.
Malcolm married Betty Sanders in 1953, and, together they had six daughters.
Rumors of adultery hounded Malcolm during this period; these rumors were particularly destructive, as adultery is forbidden within the Nation of Islam.
Politics within the Nation of Islam were not pleasant. Malcolm noticed that many leaders were lining their pockets with money, and also noticed that the prophet's Elijah Muhammed was jealous of Malcolm?s popularity.
Malcolm himself became quite controversial during this time, speaking out against the 1963 March on Washington, and stating that he did not understand why black people were so excited over the March that was "run by whites, in front of a statue of a president (Lincoln) who has been dead for a hundred years and who didn?t like us when he was alive."
Following JFK's assassination later in 1963, Malcolm is reported to have commented that JFK?s assassination was a case of "the chickens coming home to roost" that JFK had refused to stop violence, and it was this which claimed JFK's life.
These comments prompted public outcry and condemnation of Malcolm X, and the Nation of Islam publicly censured him. He was banned from public speaking for 90 days.
Together with Alex Haley, Malcolm began writing "The Autobiography of Malcolm X."Â Following his split with the Nation in 1964, he soon converted to conventional Muslim teachings.
During this time, Malcolm became a guest of Muhammed Faisal (son of then Prince Faisal), and Malcolm made a pilgrimage to Mecca, an event that changed his life. He believed, through Muslim teachings, that all racial barriers could be overcome. Â
Malcolm returned from Mecca a Sunni Muslim, a changed man. He also bore a new name, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.Â
Below is an excerpt of a powerful speech Malcolm gave upon his return:
"Human rights are something you were born with?.In the past, yes I have made sweeping indictments of all white people. I will never be guilty of that againÂ as I know now that some white people are truly sincere, that some truly are capable of being brotherly toward a black man...Since I learned the truth in Mecca, my dearest friends have come to include all kinds, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Agnostics, even Atheists My friends today are black, brown, red, yellow and white While in Mecca, for the first time in my life, I could call a man with blond hair and blue eyes my brother."
Malcolm soon formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity, a non-sectarian program for human rights for all people of African ancestry in the Western Hemisphere, and in Africa.
Â Malcolm's good works were not unnoticed, but the highly inflammatory times of racial injustice were difficult for a man of Malcolm's stature to escape unscathed.
Undercover FBI informants warned officials that Malcolm X was marked for assassination.Â Malcolm was receiving daily death threats against him and his family.
It was rumored that officials within the Nation of Islam had been ordered to kill Malcolm X.
On February 14, 1965, Malcolm's home was firebombed. No one was arrested.
One week later, on February 21, 1965, while delivering a speech in Manhattan, a disturbance erupted and a man yelled: "Get your hand outta my pocket! Don?t be messin? with my pockets!"
Malcolm?s bodyguards tried to subdue the man, but another man shot Malcolm in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun. Two others charged the stage, firing handguns.
Malcolm was shot 16 times.
Malcolm was rushed to New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
An initial police report stated that two men had been detained in connection with Malcolm's assassination. That report quickly disappeared.
Witnesses named two key suspects, both of whom were Nation of Islam agents. Eventually, three men were charged in Malcolm's death. Talmadge Hayer confessed, and he, along with the two Nation of Islam agents, was convicted.
1,600 people attended Malcolm's funeral on February 27, where he was described as "our shining black prince."
At the gravesite, friends and mourners took shovels away from the gravediggers; it was Malcolm's friends who buried him.