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Malcolm X 1925-1965 was one of the most influential black American leaders of the 1950s and 1960s He transformed himself from a petty criminal into an important defender of the rights of blacksMalcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha Nebr His father was a follower of Marcus Garvey a black leader who worked to establish close political and economic ties to Africa In 1931 Malcolms father was found dead after being run over by a streetcar Malcolm believed white racists were responsible for his fathers death When Malcolm was 12 years old his mother was committed to a mental hospital Malcolm spent the rest of his childhood in foster homes He also became discouraged by racial prejudice around himIn 1941 Malcolm moved to Boston The youth became involved in criminal activities In 1946 he was arrested for burglary and sent to prison In prison he joined the Nation of Islam commonly called the Black Muslims The Nation of Islam taught that white people were devils After Malcolm was released from prison in 1952 he adopted X as his last name The letter stood for the unknown African name of Malcolms slave ancestorsMalcolm X quickly became the Nation of Islams most effective minister He was a fiery orator urging blacks to live separately from whites and to win their freedom by any means necessary But he became dissatisfied with the Nation of Islam in part because the group avoided political activityIn 1964 Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam Soon afterward he traveled to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia He met Muslims of many ethnic backgrounds and rejected the view that all white people are devils Malcolm X adopted the Muslim name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabbazz After returning to the United States he formed his own group the Organization of Afro-American UnityMalcolm X rejected nonviolence as a principle but he sought cooperation with Martin Luther King Jr and other civil rights
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