Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Cordarryl from Chicago, IL. Cordarryl Wonders, “who is malcom x” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Cordarryl!

What names come to mind when you think of the civil rights movement in the United States? Many brave people took part. Do you think of Rosa Parks? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? There’s one more name many think of: Malcolm X.

Have you ever heard of Malcolm X? If so, you may know he was both controversial and revolutionary. Many of his ideas still speak to people today.

The man who became Malcolm X wasn’t born with that name. Instead, he was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 19, 1925. He took on other names throughout his life to mark major changes he went through.

Malcolm’s father, Earl Little, was a preacher and a civil rights activist. Young Malcolm came face-to-face with much racism. This included harassment and threats from white supremacist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan.

After the family moved from Nebraska to Michigan, Malcolm’s father died. Malcolm did very well in junior high school, where he was the only black student. He was discouraged from further education, though. He left school when he was 15 years old.

After moving to Boston, young Malcolm got caught up in a life of crime and drugs. In 1946, he was arrested and sentenced to a decade in jail for larceny. His time in prison would change him greatly.

In prison, Malcolm spent a lot of time reading. He also joined the Nation of Islam. This was a group of black Muslims who believed in black nationalism. When he left prison, he took the name Malcolm X. This was because the name “Little” went back to the days of slavery. “X” represented the unknown name of whoever his true African ancestors were.

Malcolm X quickly became a leader within the Nation of Islam. With his help, the group grew from 400 to over 40,000 members by 1960. Malcolm X pushed for the creation of an independent black nation “by any means necessary,” including violence. This put him at odds with other civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1964, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam. He’d had many disputes with its leader, Elijah Muhammad. He traveled to the Middle East and North Africa. He also completed the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. During this trip, he turned to traditional Islam and changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.

This trip was life-changing for Malcolm X. He came back to the United States a different man. He had decided that anger and violence weren’t the answer. Instead, he wanted to solve the country’s race problems peacefully.

This new outlook could have been a turning point. But sadly, Malcolm X’s life was cut short. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was killed in Manhattan by three members of the Nation of Islam.

Later in 1965, The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley was published. It told Malcolm’s story in all its gritty detail. The book helped build his reputation as a great spiritual and civil rights leader. Malcolm X’s words and ideas continue to inspire people today, long after his death.

Standards: C3.D2.Civ.12, C3.D2.Civ.14, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1

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Tomorrow in Wonderopolis we’ll be blowing out some birthday candles!