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On September 28, 1939, I was awoken in the middle of the night by loud screaming. It wasnít the house being burnt down or an angry mob looking for trouble. I saw police trying to calm my mother down. They took her to Sparrow Hospital where my father lay dead. The train conductor who found his body told us that he was lying near a trolley track that ran through Lansing and East Lansing, Michigan. My mother thought it was a group of white men who killed him because they didnít like what he preached about Marcus Garvey, the founder of the U.N.I.A. I will never forget the night my father was murdered.
Following in my Father's Footsteps
My name is Malcolm X. Before his death my father went around fighting for equal rights for Blacks and Whites. He was also a big part of the U.N.I.A. (Universal Negro Improvement Association) He was the president. My mother also helped in the U.N.I.A. This influenced me because I knew I had to play a role in the fight for Civil Rights. My father was a great civil rights leader and was an influential guide not only to me, but to all Blacks who wanted their rights.
After my father died, I felt insecure. I was shocked that someone so big and strong could be dead just like that. I was afraid to go to sleep at night.
Learning about Discrimination
I started school soon after my fatherís death. However, I wasnít excited because almost all the children were white. I felt concerned because they would probably all would make fun of me because I was black and everybody else was white. Soon I learned to get along with them because most of them were nice to me.
During my school years, I knew I wouldnít see my mother as much as I would like because she was always at work or looking for work. My mother only made fifty cents for 8 to 10 hours of work. A white woman would have made 5 dollars for the same amount of time. White women were being paid more because owners and businessmen thought Whites were better than Blacks. While my mother was working, my older sister, Hilda, looked after us. There wasnít enough clothing, so we had to wear clothes that were passed down from our older siblings. Although my mother was intelligent and well educated, she would have done a lot better if she were white. Sometimes when my mother lost a job I could see her try to hold back the tears. It was hard to watch this. There is times when we did not have enough food and we had to pick dandelion greens to make soup. Sometimes I went to school without eating breakfast or having a lunch.
When I was nine my brother, Philbert, and I went rabbit hunting. We would shoot and sell them to neighbors and use the money to help our family. Years later, I would understand that they only bought the rabbits to help us.
My mother received welfare to help with raising our family. She refused to ask for any other help. When social workers visited our home they were always surprised that my mother was intelligent and educated.
Soon our family had to accept free food from the city. Children at my school saw me in line for the free food and at times some said mean things back at school. I couldnít do anything to stop them.
At age 13 I entered junior high school. I wasnít doing well in school at this time. People often suspected me of being the class clown. Investigators from the state of Michigan made plans to take me away from my family. I was put into a black foster home. Although I had enough to eat, I was saddened that I wasnít with my real family.
After my mother was committed to a hospital for the mentally insane in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1939, I started having more severe problems. I put a thumbtack on the teacherís chair. The school board expelled me. I thought that I would never go to school again. Instead, I was sent to a foster home in Mason.
Eventually I went to high school. I finally got my act together because I knew what I was doing was wrong. My grades improved greatly and I was elected president of my class. I played for the school basketball team. We had dances after the games, but I wasnít allowed to dance with the white girls and there were hardly any black girls at the dances.
During high school, I met my half sister, Ella, and she invited me to visit her in Boston. I returned from my visit with Ella and continued on in high school. One day my favorite teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told him I wanted to be a lawyer. He was not positive about this and told me I should be realistic because nobody thought that Blacks were worthy of being lawyers.
Moving to Boston
I continued to keep in touch with Ella. Eventually she invited me to come and live with her. I had never seen such well-dressed people in my life. Ella prepared to help me make the adjustments that I needed. I got a job shinning shoes and cleaning coats. I learned how to make the rag pop in rhythm and entertain my costumers.
In 1943 I was 18. I went from job to job. During all of this I was a street hustler. I gambled and
took bets. There were a lot of black men in Harlem that were tougher than me. The street hustle was the only way black men could use their intelligence. Many of the street hustles I was in werenít considered true crimes. I continued hustling until I ran into trouble with the organized mobs. When I ran into trouble with the New York gangs, I returned to Boston.
The Nation of Islam
In 1946 I was sentenced to 8 to 10 years in prison for burglary. There I received letters from my brother Reginald about the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam is a group of people who practice the Muslim religion, and it sounded like a great way for black people to fight to be treated equally. When I was released from prison I gathered up some things from my sister and headed for the Temple Number One. Elijah Muhammad was the minister there. In 1953 I was made assistant minister and was sent to Boston to start a new temple. In three months my temple was started, Temple Number Twelve.
The Fight for Equality
In 1958 I married Betty X and over the next six years we had four children. I began my ministry in the big cities in the north like Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. I became well known on the streets and the F.B.I. would attend all of my speeches because they didnít like what I preached about equality. I wanted things to be one hundred percent fair between Blacks and Whites. I wanted equal job opportunities, equal wages, equal educational opportunities, and day to day equality. I offended the FBI, because I often criticized them for interfering with my beliefs about equality. I felt so strongly about equality that I was quoted on many occasions saying, "By any means necessary." By this I meant that people should do whatever it takes to accomplish equality. It may have taken all of my heart, all of my mind, and all of my soul. The FBI feared this idea, though, because unlike Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesse Jackson who encouraged only peaceful protests to fight for equality, I encouraged black people to fight for their rights "by any means necessary" and that sometimes included violence.
I returned to New York to hear rumors of my betrayal to Elijah Muhammad. These rumors were going around because everybody thought that I was doing all of the work by myself and not doing it with Elijah Muhammad. Soon there were stories on the street that I was to be killed by people who didnít like me. At that time we had four children and my wife was pregnant with twins, later born in the fall.
On February 14, 1965, someone set fire to our home. We escaped out the back door unharmed. On February 21, 1965, I was scheduled to give a speech and didnít feel safe, but knew I had to do it. I had barely started the speech when the commotion started. Two men began a fight and gunfire broke out. The police tried to stop it. During the commotion I was shot and died there.
I was strong in my beliefs that black people should be equal to Whites in the United States and died for my cause.
Malcolm X Timeline
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