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His philosophy of raising black consciousness and of direct action influenced the Black Power movement of the late 1960’s.
He grew up in Lansing, Michigan, the son of a Baptist minister, then moved to Boston and became involved in crime.
While in prison for burglary, he converted to the Nation of Islam, the Black Muslim faith, and on his release moved to Chicago and joined the sect.
Discarding his surname, which he regarded as a legacy of slavery, he became a spokesman for the Black Muslim movement, but was suspended for referring to John F Kennedy’s assassination as “the chickens coming home to roost”.
Founded by Elijah Muhammad, the Black Muslims proclaimed the supremacy of blacks and the evil of whites, and Malcolm X – a brilliant speaker and journalist – was their most effective organiser.
In 1964, after making a pilgrimage to Mecca, he decided that Elijah Muhammad’s version of Islam was wrong, left the movement and founded the Muslim Mosque Inc. and the Organisation of Afro-American Unity.
A violent feud ensued and he was shot and killed in Harlem on 21 February 1965 by three men, two of whom were Black Muslims. The three men, Talmadge Heyer, Norman Butler and Thomas Johnson were convicted of his murder.