Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965) was a minister, human rights activist and prominent Black nationalist leader who served as a spokesman for the Nation of Islam during the 1950s and 1960s. Malcolm was born Malcolm Little until he changed his named to Malcolm while in prison and converted to the Nation of Islam before his release from prison in 1952. Now a free man, Malcolm X traveled to Detroit, Michigan, where he worked with the leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, to expand the movement’s following among Black Americans nationwide. 

Malcolm X became the minister of Temple No. 7 in Harlem and Temple No. 11 in Boston, while also founding new temples in Hartford and Philadelphia. In 1960, he established a national newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, to further promote the message of the Nation of Islam. By the early 1960s, Malcolm X had emerged as a leading voice of a radicalized wing of the civil rights movement, presenting a dramatic alternative to Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a racially integrated society achieved by peaceful means. Dr. King was highly critical of what he viewed as Malcolm X’s destructive demagoguery. “I feel that Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice,” King once said. Just as Malcolm X appeared to be embarking on an ideological transformation with the potential to dramatically alter the course of the civil rights movement, he was assassinated.
On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X took the stage for a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. He had just begun addressing the room when multiple men rushed the stage and began firing guns. In the immediate aftermath of Malcolm X’s death, commentators largely ignored his recent spiritual and political transformation and criticized him as a violent rabble-rouser. But especially after the publication of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, he will be remembered for underscoring the value of a truly free populace by demonstrating the great lengths to which human beings will go to secure their freedom.