February 21, 1965 Malcolm X assassinated

In New York City, Malcolm X, an African American nationalist and
religious leader, is assassinated by rival Black Muslims while
addressing his Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon
Ballroom in Washington Heights.

Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925, Malcolm was the son
of James Earl Little, a Baptist preacher who advocated the black
nationalist ideals of Marcus Garvey. Threats from the Ku Klux Klan
forced the family to move to Lansing, Michigan, where his father
continued to preach his controversial sermons despite continuing
threats. In 1931, Malcolm's father was brutally murdered by the white
supremacist Black Legion, and Michigan authorities refused to
prosecute those responsible. In 1937, Malcolm was taken from his
family by welfare caseworkers. By the time he reached high school age,
he had dropped out of school and moved to Boston, where he became
increasingly involved in criminal activities.

In 1946, at the age of 21, Malcolm was sent to prison on a burglary
conviction. It was there he encountered the teachings of Elijah
Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, whose members are
popularly known as Black Muslims. The Nation of Islam advocated black
nationalism and racial separatism and condemned Americans of European
descent as immoral "devils." Muhammad's teachings had a strong effect
on Malcolm, who entered into an intense program of self-education and
took the last name "X" to symbolize his stolen African identity.

After six years, Malcolm was released from prison and became a loyal
and effective minister of the Nation of Islam in Harlem, New York. In
contrast with civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.,
Malcolm X advocated self-defense and the liberation of African
Americans "by any means necessary." A fiery orator, Malcolm was
admired by the African American community in New York and around the

In the early 1960s, he began to develop a more outspoken philosophy
than that of Elijah Muhammad, whom he felt did not sufficiently
support the civil rights movement. In late 1963, Malcolm's suggestion
that President John F. Kennedy's assassination was a matter of the
"chickens coming home to roost" provided Elijah Muhammad, who believed
that Malcolm had become too powerful, with a convenient opportunity to
suspend him from the Nation of Islam.

A few months later, Malcolm formally left the organization and made a
Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, where he was profoundly affected by the
lack of racial discord among orthodox Muslims. He returned to America
as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and in June 1964 founded the Organization
of Afro-American Unity, which advocated black identity and held that
racism, not the white race, was the greatest foe of the African
American. Malcolm's new movement steadily gained followers, and his
more moderate philosophy became increasingly influential in the civil
rights movement, especially among the leaders of the Student
Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

On February 21, 1965, one week after his home was firebombed, Malcolm
X was shot to death by Nation of Islam members while speaking at a
rally of his organization in New York City.

Vance Rowe
Crime Editor