Malcolm X Biography, Death, Wife, Children And More

Malcolm X Bio

Malcolm X was an American Muslim minister and human rights activist best known for his controversial advocacy for the rights of blacks during the civil rights movement. He was born on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, the U.S. with the name Malcolm Little.

The human rights activist spent his teenage years in a series of foster homes following his father’s murder and his mother’s hospitalization. In 1943, Malcolm X relocated to New York City’s Harlem neighborhood where he engaged in several illicit activities and was eventually sentenced to ten years in prison in 1946 for larceny as well as breaking and entering.

He joined the Nation of Islam while in prison and changed his name to Malcolm X. In the 1960s, he grew apart with the movement expressing many regrets about his time with them.  Malcolm X instead embraced Sunni Islam and then began to advocate for racial integration and disavowed racism after completing Hajj, whereby he also became known as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.

The human rights activist was the fourth of seven children of Louise Helen and Earl Little. Earl was a local leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association as well as a Baptist preacher, while Louise served as secretary and “branch reporter”, sending news of local UNIA activities to Negro World. When Malcolm X was six, his father died in what was officially ruled a streetcar accident, though his mother believed Earl had been murdered by the Black Legion. Rumors that white racists were responsible for his father’s death were widely circulated and were very disturbing to Malcolm X as a child.

Malcolm excelled in junior high school but dropped out after a white teacher told him that practicing law, his aspiration at the time, was “no realistic goal for a nigger”. Later, he recalled feeling that the white world offered no place for a career-oriented black man, regardless of talent. While staying in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, Malcolm X engaged in drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, and pimping. According to recent biographies, the human rights activist also occasionally had sex with other men, usually for money.

It was while in prison that Malcolm began to take a more political/religious stance in life. He started following the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, The Black Muslims leader. After he was released from prison in 1952, he was accepted into The Black Muslims movement and took on the name of Malcolm X and that is when he started being a human rights activist.

Malcolm X, the human rights activist

Malcolm X Death

Throughout 1964, his conflict with the Nation of Islam intensified, and he was repeatedly sent death threats. On February 21, 1965, a week after his home was firebombed, Malcolm X was addressing his Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights. This is when he was shot to death by three members of the Nation of Islam who are Thomas Hagan, Thomas Johnson, and Norman Butler.

The trio who assassinated Malcolm X were sentenced to indeterminate life sentences and were required to serve a minimum of 20 years in prison. Conspiracy theories regarding the assassination, and whether it was conceived or aided by leading members of the Nation or with law enforcement agencies, have persisted for decades after the shooting.

Malcolm X was honored with Malcolm X Day, which commemorates him in various cities and countries worldwide. Hundreds of streets and schools in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, while the Audubon Ballroom, the site of his assassination, was in part redeveloped in 2005 to accommodate the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center. Malcolm passed away at the age of 39 as he was about to turn 40 years old.

Malcolm X Wife

In 1955, Betty Sanders met Malcolm X after one of his lectures, then again at a dinner party. Soon, she was regularly attending his lectures. She changed her name to Betty X in 1956 after joining the Nation of Islam. One-on-one dates were contrary to the Nation’s teachings, so the couple courted at social events with dozens or hundreds of others, and Malcolm X made a point of inviting her on the frequent group visits he led to New York City’s museums and libraries.

In January 1958, Malcolm X proposed during a telephone call from Detroit and they married two days later. The couple share six daughters: Attallah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, Gamilah Lumumba and twins Malikah and Malaak. Betty Sanders was an American educator and civil rights advocate. She attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where she had her first encounters with racism.

Unhappy with the situation in Alabama, Betty moved to New York City, where she became a nurse. After witnessing Malcolm’s assassination, Betty Sanders was left with the responsibility of raising six daughters as a single mother. She pursued higher education and went to work at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York.

Following the 1995 arrest of her daughter Qubilah for allegedly conspiring to murder Louis Farrakhan, Betty Sanders took in her ten-year-old grandson Malcolm. On June 1, 1997, Malcolm, then 12 years old, set a fire in her apartment. Betty suffered burns over 80 percent of her body, and remained in intensive care for three weeks, at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, New York.

She underwent five skin-replacement operations as doctors struggled to replace damaged skin and save her life. Malcolm X’s wife died of her injuries on June 23, 1997. Consequently, Malcolm was sentenced to 18 months in juvenile detention for manslaughter and arson.


Malcolm X and Betty Sanders had 6 daughters together. The firstborn is Attallah Shabazz, born in 1958, and named after Attila the Hun. She is an actress, author, ambassador, and motivational speaker. Betty gave birth to another daughter in 1960 and she was named Qubilah Shabazz, after Kublai Khan.  She was arrested in 1995 in connection with an alleged plot to kill Louis Farrakhan, by then the leader of the organization who she believed was responsible for the assassination of her father.

Their third daughter Ilyasah, born in 1962 and named after Elijah Muhammad, is an author, most notably of a memoir, Growing Up X, community organizer, social activist, and motivational speaker. Gamilah Lumumba was born in 1964, 2 years after Ilyasah. She is named after Gamal Abdel Nasser and Patrice Lumumba.

Malcolm X and Betty Sanders were also blessed with twins, Malikah and Malaak. They were born in 1965, seven months after their father’s death and were named in his honor.

Malcolm X Family

Spouse: Betty Shabazz

Siblings: Ella Collins, Wilfred X, Philbert X, Reginald Little, Mary Little, Earl Little, Jr., Yvonne Little Woodward, and Robert Little.

Children: Qubilah Shabazz, Attallah Shabazz, Ilyasah Shabazz, Gamilah Lumumba Shabazz, Malikah Shabazz, Malaak Shabazz

Parents: Louise Little, Earl Little

Real Name

Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, instructed his followers to leave their family names behind when they joined the Nation of Islam and use “X” instead. When the time was right, after they had proven their sincerity, he said, he would reveal the Muslim’s “original name”. In his autobiography, Malcolm X explained that the “X” symbolized the true African family name that he could never know.

Malcolm X Pictures

Nevertheless, the human rights activist was born with the real name  Malcolm Little. In addition, he used the name Malik Shabaz occasionally. As of his Muslim or religious name, Malcolm X was referred to as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, which he acquired after he disavowed racism and completing Hajj. Hajj is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey and can support their family during their absence.


» In December 1953, a little more than a year after he was paroled from prison, Malcolm was named the minister at the NOI’s Boston mosque, Temple No. 11. The following year he also became the minister at Temple No. 12 and Temple No. 7.
» Muhammad Speaks, the NOI newspaper, was founded by Malcolm in 1957.

» Beginning in the 1960s, Malcolm was invited to participate in numerous debates, including forums on radio stations, television programs, and universities.
» In 1963, the New York Times reported that Malcolm X was the second most sought after speaker in the United States.
» On June 29, 1963, Malcolm lead the Unity Rally in Harlem. It was one of the nations largest civil rights events.

» After befriending and ministering to boxer Cassius Clay, the boxer decides to convert to the Muslim religion and join the Nation of Islam. In February 1964, Clay announces he has changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
» In March 1964, after his split with the NOI, Malcolm forms the Muslim Mosque, Inc. Several months later, he also organizes the Organizations of Afro-American Unity.

» Malcolm’s autobiography, which he worked on for two years with writer Alex Haley, was published in November 1965.
» He contributed largely in gaining rights for black Muslims.
» He was a large contributor to increasing the Muslim population in America from 500 in 1952 to over 30,000 by 1963.


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