Malcolm X: Symbol of Transformation and Defiance

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From Turbulent Beginnings: The Early Life of Malcolm X

It was 3:05, and Malcolm X stepped up to the microphone to deliver a speech. Someone bellowed out, “Get your hand out of my pocket!” Security guards bolted in. A series of shots rang throughout the Audubon Ballroom, engulfing the venue in chaos. Then, a boom! “There’s a bomb,” someone cried. Malcolm was enclosed with enemies. Enemies with pistols. Enemies with shotguns. Everyone escaped, and the room went stagnant. Malcolm X was dead.

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This scene was a front-row show for Malcolm’s pregnant wife and beloved children. This scene would culminate in a life that impacted the human rights movement. By overcoming his struggles of childhood, converting to Islam to become a devout spokesperson, and steering away from being a Black Muslim to initiate a regenerated religion, Malcolm X evolved into a dominant human rights activist.

Malcolm X came into this world as Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska (World Book 103). He was born to Louise Norton and Elder Little as the fourth child in their seven-child family. A few years after he was born, he moved to Lansing, Michigan (Britannica, 2005, p. 731). Due to threats from racists, the Little family moved several times. By the time he was four years old, his family moved to a farmhouse outside of Lansing (Myers 8-18).

His father sometimes beat his mother, and he whipped and beat all of the children except for Malcolm (Haley 4). Since his father took a great liking to Malcolm, he took him to his Garvey U.N.I.A. meetings for black rights. His father would speak his mind about black rights, which made his family’s white neighbors despise them. They went so far as to burn Malcolm’s house down, and when the fire department came, they wouldn’t put out the fire (Myers 8-18).

Trials and Transformation: Malcolm X’s Journey Through Adversity

The cruel actions didn’t stop there. One day, Malcolm’s mother had a terrible vision of his father’s death (Haley 9-10). Elder Little didn’t return home that night and was next seen by his family nearly cut in half. On September 28, 1931, Malcolm’s father’s body was brutally crushed on a trolley track, being thrown there, most likely by a white supremacist (Myers 18-26). Malcolm lost his father and largest inspiration at age six.

After his father’s scarring death, Malcolm’s family started spiraling downwards, becoming very poor. His mother turned to the Adventist religion, which put dietary strains on his mother, who was beginning to go insane (Haley 17-19). Malcolm had to go reside with some family friends, the Gohannases. Meanwhile, in January of 1939, his mother was declared legally insane, and she was put into a mental institution in Kalamazoo, Michigan (Myers 32-41).

Despite Malcolm’s rough home life in school, Malcolm was intelligent and popular. Due to his deportment record from bad behavior at school, he still ended up being transferred to a juvenile home or detention school around age thirteen (Haley 26-29). After joining Mason Junior High School, Malcolm experienced a life-changing event. Malcolm told his teacher he wanted to be a lawyer, but Mr. Ostrowski told him that it wasn’t realistic for someone like him (Haley 30). Malcolm claimed that when his teacher told him that, he gave up on the American dream.

In the summer of 1940, Malcolm traveled to Boston to meet his half-sister Ella. While he was there, he was astounded by the city life and different types of people, so he made the move to Boston (Myers 32-41). When World War I began, Malcolm got a job as a dishwasher on the railroad (Haley 74-75). At age 16, this job opportunity took Malcolm to New York City, Washington D.C., and Harlem, which he took a unique liking to (Myers 44-50). Eventually, Malcolm began showing up to work high on liquor, so of course, he was dismissed from his railroad job.

From Harlem’s Streets to Prison’s Depths: Malcolm X’s Path to Enlightenment

Being out of his railroad job, Malcolm took up a job at Small’s Paradise, where he discretely listened and picked up on the craft of hustling (Haley 85-86). By 1943, at age 18, Malcolm was an official street hustler, selling marijuana and assisting big-time mobsters. One night, he came home to discover his house searched by detectives, so he began carrying a .25 automatic. Malcolm was officially on the Harlem narcotics squad’s list (Haley 104-112).

Soon after, Malcolm introduced himself to the world of robberies. He teamed up with two girls and his friend Shorty, and they stole a fancy watch full of crystals (55-59). On his way into the jewelry store where his watch was being repaired, he saw a detective patiently waiting for him. Malcolm knew he was in for punishment. Seven years of jail time, to be exact (Haley 156). While in prison, Malcolm was nicknamed Satan because he religiously cursed God and the bible. He hated that Jesus was depicted as a blue-eyed, white person, so when his brother wrote him about a natural black religion, Malcolm avidly looked into it (Myers 65-68).

While in prison, Malcolm spent his time debating rights, extensively researching Islam, and reading about separatists (Myers 62-65). Malcolm wrote the leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad. Elijah wrote back, sending money and a message saying that whites were the criminals who forced Malcolm into acting up to get jail time (Myers 65-68). In August of 1952, Malcolm was released from prison with an enormous hate for whites.

Rising through the Ranks: Malcolm X’s Resurgence in the Nation of Islam

After being released from prison, Malcolm began attending Temple Number One in Detroit. He noticed the empty seats inside the temple and the illegal actions ensuing outside (Myers 78-81). Muhammad came to preach at Temple Two, and he called Malcolm by name and used him as a parable. Malcolm was challenged by the leader of the Nation of Islam himself to remain faithful to the Islamic faith (Haley 201-202). Immediately after, Malcolm met with Muhammad, and they devised a plan to recruit the delinquent young to fill the empty temple seats (Myers 78-81).

Malcolm was appointed an official member of the Nation of Islam, granting him the right to drop his last name and acquire the last name “X.” “X” stood for a forgotten heritage, like a lost language. Malcolm felt honored to have the right to drop his last name of Little, symbolizing a slavery background, and gain a last name to symbolize a break from his old life (Myers 82-85). He was born again into the Nation of Islam and was officially a serious member.

After quitting his job at Ford Motor Company, Malcolm became an active minister for the Nation of Islam. He utilized slavery to capture the attention of the audience and continued to attack Christianity to make Islam look superior (Haley 215-224). In June of 1954, Malcolm was appointed the minister of Temple Number Seven in New York City (Myers 88-89). Understanding the street language of the young, Malcolm went “fishing” on corners for new members, knowing they wanted value in a society that didn’t value them. At first, his efforts weren’t effective, but after preaching relatable and understandable lessons, the membership of the Detroit Temple tripled (Myers 82-86).

From Islamic Minister to Revolutionary: Malcolm’s Rising Voice for Black Empowerment

Around 1961, the Nation of Islam flourished. Malcolm organized mass rallies, making followers recognize their true enemy (white people) so that they couldn’t be brainwashed (Haley 256). He became impatient with his Islamic brothers, who were sitting back and allowing whites to beat them down. To share his efforts against whites and spread Muslim news, Malcolm started a paper called Muhammad Speaks (Myers 97). This paper and his achievements in rallying for blacks enabled Malcolm to begin traveling to locations such as Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, and Arabia (Haley 242).

A documentary was produced about the Nation of Islam called “The Hate That Hate Produced” in 1959 (Myers 100-101). It showed blacks denouncing the whites and made whites concerned that Islam was teaching young blacks to hate whites. Calls were being made by confused whites, and interviews were being set up with Malcolm. Malcolm became infuriated in interviews, and eventually, Muhammad gave Malcolm permission to fight the white supremacists with fire (Haley 244-247). Malcolm was asked to defend Islam in panels, stating that they wanted separation, not segregation.

After this ordeal, Malcolm gained his name of “most effective minister” and preached that he wanted blacks to live apart from the whites, winning their freedom by “any means necessary” (World Book 103). He sermonized on the thought that blacks wanted respect as human beings and ridiculed the movement for civil rights, repudiating integration (Haley 277-278). Malcolm’s speeches started to become more and more his own instead of being of the Islamic religion. “Revolution is bloody, revolution is hostile, revolution knows no compromise, revolution overturns and destroys everything that gets in its way.” This mindset caught the attention of young blacks and matched their ideas of freedom (Myers 106-107).

Malcolm X: Love, Leadership, and Conflict

The young blacks weren’t the only people who took a special liking to Malcolm. Sister Betty X, a very beautiful Islamic woman, was cut off by her parents for being a Muslim. In an attempt to assist Betty, Malcolm fell in love. They got married in January of 1958 (Myers 92-95). Soon after, they moved to a seven-room house in an all-black part of Queens (Haley 237).

Betty became one of the main supporters of Malcolm through the next fiery trials of his life. With Muhammad slowly dying because of illness, Malcolm was the representative of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm started speaking on the international level, while Muhammad stayed with a more traditional style. Malcolm became a larger figure in the Islamic community than Muhammad, and he began amplifying the Nation faster than it could handle at the time (Myers 134-140). In 1961, Malcolm became the Nation’s first National Minister, causing the Muslim officials to become envious. So envious, in fact, that there was a $10,000 reward for Malcolm’s death (Haley 298-300).

Muhammad was accused and was faced with two paternity suits, losing the trust of Malcolm (Haley 301). Soon after, Malcolm commented on Kennedy’s assassination, which was against Muhammad’s commands. Malcolm said, “Kennedy never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon.” He was implying that the violence within the United States was tolerated, and it took Kennedy’s life (Myers 140). These words earned Malcolm a ninety-day suspension from speaking, isolating him from his Islamic followers (Goldman 125-126).

Malcolm X’s Transformation: From Division to Unity

On March 8, 1964, with the combination of critique from officials and the lost trust in his leader, Malcolm split from the Nation of Islam (Myers 142). Two days after that, a letter was sent to Malcolm from some Islamic colleagues, evicting him from his house. Malcolm saw this as the start of war (Goldman 159-160). On March 12, 1964, Malcolm formed Muslim Mosque Incorporated, redefining what he stood for to include all faiths of black men (Myers 143).

Malcolm wanted to become a full Islam and experience the hajj rituals. He decided to make the journey for the Mecca Pilgrimage on April 13, 1964 (Myers 146-147). Through this spiritual voyage, Malcolm’s eyes were opened to a world of brotherhood, and he no longer believed that whites were innately evil (Britannica 731). He came to the realization that the world needed one religion because the belief in one God removed the “white” from the people around him. Despite Malcolm’s evolving views, he came home as a villain (Haley 359-367).

Upon returning to the United States on November 24, 1964, Malcolm stated that the U.S. violated the human rights of African Americans, gaining him the support of middle-class blacks (Myers 163-165). Malcolm claimed that his mind was altered by the view of whites and would work and cooperate with them if they genuinely wanted to help African Americans gain their freedom. Within the Muslim Mosque Inc., any blacks were allowed to join, not just Islams, and the goal was for blacks to get control over politics in their own communities. The Nation of Islam deemed him a hypocrite (Goldman 134-139).

Malcolm X’s Final Stand: A Legacy of Transformation and Sacrifice

The Nation of Islam was swinging full force against Malcolm with his new black nationalist views. Muhammad Speaks began to criticize Malcolm, and he started to receive death threats (Myers 160). To reject their accusations, Malcolm spoke of brotherhood in a way that was pro-black but not anti-white. Malcolm remained calm but in command (Goldman 12-13). Despite his efforts to reach new heights with fresh ideas, Malcolm was trapped in his past teachings against whites (Goldman 184).

Malcolm began to snap, saying his “mind felt completely paralyzed” and that death was near (Goldman 240). The first sign of death came on a brisk February morning when Malcolm’s house was set ablaze by angry Muslims. After this event, Malcolm was ready to face death head-on (Myers 167-168). On February 21, 1965, Malcolm made the bold decision to speak at the Audubon Ballroom (World Book 2015). He didn’t want the listeners to be checked at the door for fear of them feeling uncomfortable. This decision led to a fellow Muslim firing a seven-inch circle of holes, penetrating Malcolm’s microphone cord to enter the center of his chest. His hands flew up, his eyes rolled back, and his head hit the floor as he toppled over to his death in front of his pregnant wife and four daughters (Goldman 273-274).

“When I say by any means necessary, I mean it with all my heart, and my mind, and my soul. A black man should give his life to be free, but he should also be willing to take the life of those who want to take his. It’s reciprocal. And when you think like that, you don’t live long.” By overcoming his struggles of childhood, converting to Islam to become a devout spokesperson, and steering away from being a Black Muslim to initiate a regenerated religion, Malcolm X molded himself into an important advocate for human rights.


  1. “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X and Alex Haley.
  2. “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” by Manning Marable.
  3. “The Rhetoric of Malcolm X” by George Breitman.
  4. “Malcolm X” directed by Spike Lee.
  5. “Malcolm X’s Critique of the Education of Black People” in the Journal of Black Studies.


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Malcolm X: Symbol of Transformation and Defiance. (2023, Sep 02). Retrieved from