What Was Malcolm X Famous For?

Malcolm X with Martin Luther King Jr.
Malcolm X with Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Malcolm X was prominent figure of the civil rights movement.
  • In 1950 Malcolm X declared himself a communist in 1950 and changed his name from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X.
  • He was often accused of racism due to the controversial teachings.

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, best known as Malcolm X or Malcolm Little, was an African-American human rights activist and Muslim minister. He was one of the popular figures during the civil rights movement and is best known for advocating for the rights of the blacks and for harshly indicting white Americans for its crime against the blacks. Malcolm X was a member of the Nation of Islam which he joined while in prison. It is while in prison that he changed his name from Little to X, claiming that the former had been imposed by the white slavemasters.

Early Years

Malcolm X was born in 1925 as Malcolm Little in Omaha Nebraska. He was the fourth born in a family of seven children. His father Earl who was an outspoken church minister died while Malcolm X was only six years, possibly killed by white racists. His mother Louise was confined to a mental institution for about 24 years for mental health issues. Malcolm Little was a bright student in school but dropped out after one of his teachers told him to drop his ambition of becoming a lawyer and instead become a carpenter. In 1943, he moved to New York where he got involved in petty crimes such as drug dealing, robbery, and gambling. While in Harlem, he met and befriended Sanford (Redd Fox) and acquired the nickname “Detroit Red” because of the reddish hair. Little returned to Boston in 1945 where he was arrested and sentenced to 8-10 years imprisonment.

Involvement with the Nation of Islam

While in prison, Little received seral letters from his siblings about a new religious movement called Nation of Islam that was preaching about black self-reliance and their ultimate return to Africa. In 1948, he wrote to the movement’s leader, Elijah Muhammad who advised him to repent, pray to God, and never engage in destructive behaviors again. Known to be anti-religious, Little found it difficult to pray, but he eventually did. In 1950, he declared himself a Communist and changed his name to “Malcolm X. Muhammad had advised members of the Nation of Islam to abandon their family names and instead use “X.” In 1953, Malcolm X was named NOI’s assistant minister for the Nation’s Temple Number One. As a minister, he established temples across the US and successfully recruited more members to the NOI.

Teachings Associated with Malcolm X

Malcolm X propagated the Nation of Islam’s teachings that included the belief that the blacks were the original people of the world and that the whites were evil, less superior to the blacks, and their demise was imminent. He was often accused of racism because of his controversial teachings. He and other NOI leaders forbade members from taking part in any political process, including voting. Malcolm X also criticized the civil rights movement, accusing the movement’s leaders of colluding with the whites. He advocated for total separation while civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. fought against segregation.


Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam in 1964 and immediately became the group’s enemy. On February 19, 1965, he claimed that the group was trying to kill him. Two days later, Malcolm X was shot and killed by NOI member Talmadge Hayer. Elijah Muhammad said that Malcolm X got what he wanted but denied NOI’s involvement. He was buried in Ferncliff Cometary in New York.


More in Society