Malcolm Little's life began with little hope, and it ended in violence. But in the thirty-nine years between his birth into poverty in 1925, and his assassination in 1965, he packed lots of thinking and action. He was a major voice for Black Nationalism in the 1960s.
Racism was strong in Omaha, Nebraska, where Malcolm Little grew up. He had few opportunities and little education, and he ended in jail. He had plenty of time in jail to read and think about his life. Two of his brothers introduced him to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. He joined the Nation of Islam, and changed his name to Malcolm X. The "X" stood for his unknown African name.
As a Black Muslim (which is the name the followers of Elijah Muhammad took), Malcolm X preached violence as a solution to oppression. He told African Americans that they had waited long enough for their basic human rights; he told white Americans that blacks would wait no longer. He opposed the nonviolent, patient approach of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1963, Malcolm X went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, the birthplace of the Islamic faith. He completely changed his mind about religion, race relations, and violence on that journey. He converted to Islam, and abandoned his belief in violence and separation. Instead, he began to hope for a true brotherhood of all races. He changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz to mark what he said was his journey from darkness to the light.
Unfortunately, El-Shabazz fell victim to Black Muslims who still saw violence as the solution to racial problems. Three men shot him to death as he gave a speech in Manhattan in February 1965. His legacy, however, continues.