According to Biography.com, Malcolm X is important because he was one of the most prominent and controversial black leaders during the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s, advocating black pride, a separate black community and violence as a means of self-defense. After his assassination in 1965, his book "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" became a bestseller and one of the most influential non-fiction books of modern times.
Incarcerated for larceny in 1946, Malcolm X self-educated himself in the prison library. While still in prison he converted to the Nation of Islam, a black Muslim movement, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. When he was released in 1952, he began to work with Elijah Muhammad, the Nation of Islam's leader. Malcolm X became a powerful and inspirational orator and one of the major black leaders opposing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of non-violent racial integration.
In 1963, Malcolm X broke with Elijah Muhammad, shocked by his mentor's hypocrisy and immorality in fathering several illegitimate children, according to Biography.com. In 1964, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam and journeyed to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform hajj. While travelling through Africa and the Middle East, he began to re-evaluate his beliefs. When he returned to the United States, he advocated a less violent approach to race relations and appeared close to reconciling with the mainstream civil rights movement. However, on Feb. 21, 1965, just as he was about to deliver a speech, three members of the Nation of Islam shot and killed him.