Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was an African American Muslim minister and civil rights activist who was assassinated in 1965. Malcolm's early life in Nebraska, his birthplace, was often recalled by his mother and other family members as shaping his later beliefs. His father, Earl Little, was a supporter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), a black nationalist fraternal organization dedicated to expanding the influence and raising the education and awareness of black men throughout the United States. Malcolm's father had been a Baptist layperson, a speaker on religious subjects but not officially in the clergy and had many run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan.
Within a year of Malcolm's birth, the family moved to Milwaukee, then Lansing, with Earl working to avoid more trouble with the KKK while pursuing a better life for his family. In 1931, Earl died after being hit by a streetcar, and police reported he had told them it was an accident before passing away. In spite of two insurance policies, the Little family had to make do on a so-called "widow's allowance" from one of the policies and the other policy refused to pay at all, claiming Earl Little committed suicide.
Through the tough years that followed, Malcolm's mother had a nervous breakdown and he dropped out of school after being told he had no chance of becoming a lawyer. As a young adult he moved to Roxbury (near Boston) with his older half-sister Ella Little Collins where he held a variety of jobs before eventually settling in Harlem and becoming involved in drug dealing and other criminal activities. His arrests on many charges finally brought him to Charlestown State Prison in Charlestown, Boston, where he first learned of the Nation of Islam. It was through his friend (another prisoner) John Elton Bembry that Malcolm decided to self-educate and reject his previous way of living.
By 1950, he had begun to use the name "X" in correspondence to his brother Philbert, saying that the white man's slave name for him no longer mattered; instead, he was now Malcolm X. From 1952, when he was released from prison, until December 1963, Malcolm became a part of the Nation of Islam, married Betty Sanders, had children and taught the Nation's teachings.
However, he began to criticize Elijah Muhammad (the leader of the Nation of Islam) and in March of 1964, he officially broke from the organization. He made a pilgrimage to Mecca the following month and spoke out to many groups preaching unity against oppression and calling attention to what he saw as hypocrisy, even as other leaders like Louis X (known as Louis Farrakhan today) called for his death.
On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated by Talmadge Hayer and two other Nation of Islam men.