Earl Little's political activism provoked threats from the Ku Klux Klan.After the family moved to Lansing, Michigan, white terrorists burned the Littles' home.He became the chief spokesman and field recruiter for NOI leader Elijah Muhammad.
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He read voraciously while serving time and converted to the Black Muslim faith.
He joined the Nation of Islam (NOI) and changed his name to Malcolm X, eliminating that part of his identity he called a white-imposed slave name.
Malcolm X was a polarizing figure who both energized and divided African Americans, while frightening and alienating many whites.
He was an unrelenting truth-teller who declared that the mainstream civil rights movement was naïve in hoping to secure freedom through integration and nonviolence.
The blazing heat of Malcolm X's rhetoric sometimes overshadowed the complexity of his message, especially for those who found him threatening in the first place.
Malcolm X was assassinated at age 39, but his political and cultural influence grew far greater in the years after his death than when he was alive.Malcom X was released in 1952 after six years in prison.With his charisma and eloquence, Malcolm rose rapidly in the Nation of Islam.On April 12, 1964, one month after splitting with the NOI, Malcolm X gave his "Ballot or the Bullet" speech at King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit (he'd given the address nine days earlier in Cleveland, but the Detroit version is regarded by some scholars as definitive).It was the fullest declaration of his black nationalist philosophy.Malcolm X was one of the most dynamic, dramatic and influential figures of the civil rights era.He was an apostle of black nationalism, self respect, and uncompromising resistance to white oppression.Two thousand people – including some of his opponents -- turned out to hear him speak in Detroit..President Lyndon Johnson was running for reelection in 1964, and Malcolm X declared it "the year of the ballot or the bullet." He outlined a new, global sensibility in the fight for racial justice: "We intend to expand [the freedom struggle] from the level of civil rights to the level of human rights." Malcolm was now free of the NOI's ban on members participating in the mainstream civil rights movement.Mainstream black ministers in Detroit tried to block Malcolm X from using the church, saying "separatist ideas can do nothing but set back the colored man's cause." But the church hall had already been rented out for the event."The Ballot or the Bullet" became one of Malcolm X's most recognizable phrases, and the speech was one of his greatest orations.