Malcolm X was a 1960’s era Afro-American firebrand, a man personally infuriated by the inequality in American race relations at the time.
He rejected his birth name “Little” and adopted the X to symbolize an African family name he would never know.
By all accounts Malcolm X was tall, handsome and charismatic but he knew little moderation and at first he preached separatism with a return to Africa. And he encouraged equality through self-protection “by any means necessary”, with all the violent unrest this implied.
He joined the Nation of Islam, embracing their beliefs and traveling to Mecca in 1964, the year before he died.
But he soon became disillusioned with the Nation’s racist beliefs and fell out with its leadership over a variety of divisive issues. He came to realize that racism, not the white race, was the greatest obstacle to African-American equality.
He eventually left the Nation and converted to Sunni Muslim as did boxer Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammed Ali.
For this the Nation had him killed.
On February 21st 1965, on the stage of the Audubon Ballroom at 165th Street and Broadway where Malcolm X was preparing to speak, three members of the Nation of Islam rushed forward and shot him 21 times with a sawed off shotgun and semi-automatic handguns.
He has been described as one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. Certainly few helped raise the self-esteem of black America as he did. In 1987, Mayor Ed Koch proclaimed Lenox Avenue in Harlem to be Malcolm X Boulevard.
Malcolm X was assassinated 48 years ago today.