Malcolm X was a civil rights leader, spokesman for black nationalism and leader of the Nation of Islam, and had a major influence on the political and social thinking of African Americans. His birth name was Malcolm Little and he was born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska to Louise and Earl Little. Earl was a Baptist preacher and member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The family often faced frequent racial discrimination and threats from radical groups such as Ku Klux Klan and the Black Legion. Malcolm recalls the men who used to come to his house in Omaha, brandishing their guns and rifles. In one particularly scary incident, they broke all the windows of the house, after which Earl decided to move with his family to East Lansing, Michigan.
However, the incidents and threats continued, even in Michigan. In 1929, a group of racist citizens burned the Little’s house down as they watched helplessly. They cried out for assistance but none was forthcoming from the fire fighters or emergency response team which only had white members. Two years later in 1931, a much bigger tragedy struck; Earl was murdered and his body was laid out on the railway tracks. Although it seemed quite likely that the act was committed by a white supremacy racist group, the local police ruled the cause of death as suicide, thereby depriving the family of the premium from the life insurance policy that Earl had purchased to provide for them in the event of his death.
The family struggled to make ends meet after Earl’s death, especially given that the Great Depression was in full swing in the 1930s. Louise became mentally ill and was committed to a mental institution, whereas Malcolm and his siblings were sent to live with foster families. He was a juvenile delinquent by the age of 13, and was sent to live in a detention home for young boys. By the age of 15, he dropped out of school. He continued to hold menial jobs and indulge in petty crime. At the age of 20, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for burglary. It