Malcolm X Quotes, Facts, and Biography
Published September 11, 2019. Updated November 10, 2020.
One of the most prominent twentieth-century figures in the struggle for African-American civil rights, Malcolm X is best known for being a minister in the Nation of Islam and a fierce advocate of Black Nationalism. That being said, this cultural icon was nothing if not intellectually dynamic, and his ideology developed significantly over the course of his life.
If you’re doing research on this influential leader, you’re in the right place! On this page, you’ll find a brief biography, as well as Malcolm X quotes, facts, and more.
Malcolm X Biography
Early life and incarceration
Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1925. His father was a Baptist minister and an outspoken civil rights leader in his own right, and he died when his son was still a child. Though his death was officially ruled an accident, it’s likely that he was killed as a result of his civil rights work. Soon afterward, Malcolm’s mother was placed in a mental institution.
After spending the rest of his childhood in foster care, as a young man he was caught up in a life of crime. In his early twenties, he was sentenced to prison for burglary. During his incarceration (1946-1952) he began reading voraciously, and he was also introduced to the Nation of Islam.
Nation of Islam and civil rights leadership
Malcolm was quickly intrigued by the ideas of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam. Muhammad taught that white Americans consistently worked against the interests of African Americans, and that blacks could only succeed by developing themselves apart from wider American society.
Dropping his “slave name” and assuming the name “Malcolm X,” he was paroled in 1952. Upon leaving prison, he became a minister and spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. Many of the most iconic Malcolm X speeches were given during this period.
Disillusionment with the Nation of Islam and the Malcolm X assassination
By the early 1960s, Malcolm had become disillusioned with the Nation of Islam; he was disappointed by the moral failings of Elijah Muhammad and corruption within the organization’s ranks. Furthermore, while participating in the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca known as the Hajj, he met and interacted with white Muslims sympathetic to his ideas. This caused him to question his black separatist ideology.
Soon thereafter, the Malcolm X assassination occurred. Who killed Malcolm X is no mystery—they were Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler, and Thomas 15X Johnson, three members of the Nation of Islam.
Malcolm X Quotes
In this section, you’ll find some of the most famous Malcolm X quotes. We’ve broken them down by topic, so feel free to scroll until you’ve found the sort of quotes that you’re looking for!
Quotes on freedom
“When a person places the proper value on freedom, there is nothing under the sun that he will not do to acquire that freedom. Whenever you hear a man saying he wants freedom, but in the next breath he is going to tell you what he won’t do to get it, or what he doesn’t believe in doing in order to get it, he doesn’t believe in freedom. A man who believes in freedom will do anything under the sun to acquire…or preserve his freedom.”
“You don’t have to be a man to fight for freedom. All you have to do is to be an intelligent human being.”
“I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation.”
“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”
“If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.”
Quotes on growth
Understanding his philosophy toward personal growth is one of the keys to answering the question, “Who was Malcolm X?” The quotes included here should start you off in the right direction:
“Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.”
“My alma mater was books, a good library… I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.”
“Stumbling is not falling.”
“There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.”
“Without education, you’re not going anywhere in this world.”
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Quotes on violence
“We are nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us.”
“Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”
“There is nothing in our book, the Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone, but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That’s a good religion.”
“If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her. And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country.”
Quotes from the Autobiography of Malcolm X
Certainly the most famous Malcolm X book, this is a fantastic source for memorable quotes. We’ve included just a few of them here:
“Early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.”
“I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”
“The ability to read awoke inside of me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.”
“It is only after slavery and prison that the sweetest appreciation of freedom can come.”
Quotes on Elijah Muhammad and the National of Islam
“I feel like a man who has been asleep somewhat and under someone else’s control. I feel that what I’m thinking and saying is now for myself. Before it was for and by the guidance of Elijah Muhammad. Now I think with my own mind, sir!”
“The thing that you have to understand about those of us in the Black Muslim movement was that all of us believed one hundred percent in the divinity of Elijah Muhammad. We believed in him. We actually believed that God, in Detroit, by the way, that God had taught him and all of that. I always believed that he believed in himself. And I was shocked when I found out that he himself didn’t believe it.”
“…I shall never rest until I have undone the harm that I did to so many well-meaning, innocent Negroes who through my own evangelistic zeal now believe in him even more fanatically and more blindly than I did.”
Malcolm X death quotes
“It’s liberty or death. It’s freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody.”
“I want to be remembered as someone who was sincere. Even if I made mistakes, they were made in sincerity.”
“To me, the thing that is worse than death is betrayal.”
Quotes on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Dr. King wants the same thing I want. Freedom.”
“I want Dr. King to know that I didn’t come to Selma to make his job difficult. I really did come thinking I could make it easier. If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King.”
Quotes on beliefs
“A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”
“A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it can never fulfill itself.”
“Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner. You must be eating some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American.”
“The common goal of 22 million Afro-Americans is respect as human beings, the God-given right to be a human being. Our common goal is to obtain the human rights that America has been denying us. We can never get civil rights in America until our human rights are first restored. We will never be recognized as citizens there until we are first recognized as humans.”
“I am not a racist. I am against every form of racism and segregation, every form of discrimination. I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color.”
“I for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they’ll create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action.”
“We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us.”
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Malcolm X Facts
- Malcolm X real name: Malcolm Little
- Malcolm X birthday: May 19, 1925
- When did Malcolm X die? He died on February 21, 1965, at the young age of 39.
- How did Malcolm X die? He was assassinated, shot fifteen times at close range after gunmen stormed the stage during a speaking event in Manhattan.
- Who killed Malcolm X? He was killed by Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson. The three killers were members of the Nation of Islam, and they were convicted of Malcolm’s murder in March of 1966.
- Are there any Malcolm X books? The Malcolm X autobiography is certainly the most famous book on this man and his life. However, it isn’t technically an autobiography in the strictest sense of the word! This work was actually a collaboration between the man himself and writer Alex Haley, who is perhaps best known for his later work Roots: The Saga of an American Family.
- What was the most famous Malcolm X speech? Arguably, the most famous of his speeches is “The Ballot or the Bullet,” in which he argued that African Americans must fight to obtain their freedom by whatever means necessary. More excerpts of his speeches are available online.
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Malcolm X’s wife was named Betty Shabazz. The two were married in 1958. In accordance with the strict teachings of the Nation of Islam, he was celibate prior to the marriage.
Malcolm X’s children included six daughters. Four of Malcolm X’s daughters were born prior to his assassination, while the final two were twins born shortly after their father’s death.
Legacy and controversy
Although Malcolm X was influential and widely known during his time, he became a true cultural icon after his assassination in 1965. This includes not only his ideas, but also his image. The glasses that he wore are often referred to as Malcolm X glasses, and it is by no means uncommon to see someone walking down the street in a Malcolm X shirt still today. In case you were curious, Malcolm X glasses are technically called “browline glasses!”
Simply put, this man was and will likely remain a controversial figure. Whereas Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared a more widely palatable message of nonviolence and envisioned a future of racial integration, for most of his life Malcolm preached a message of black separatism and encouraged a fight for freedom by any means necessary.
Toward the end of his life, Malcolm was transitioning away from his longtime vision of hardline Black Nationalism. Tragically, we’ll never know how exactly his ideas would have continued to develop.
If you came to this page wondering, “who is Malcolm X?” we hope that you found your answer! Click here for more information on his life and legacy, as well as the controversy surrounding this figure still today.
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More Topic Guides
If you’ve found this information useful, you might be happy to hear that we offer a variety of similar guides on other notable people from history! You can find them at the following links:
- Muhammad Ali
- Winston Churchill
- Albert Einstein
- Martin Luther King
- Abraham Lincoln
- Marilyn Monroe
- Dr. Seuss
- Mother Teresa
- Mark Twain
“Biography.” Malcolm X, www.malcolmx.com/biography/.
“Malcolm X Biography.” Biography, A&E Networks Television, 12 Feb. 2015, www.biography.com/activist/malcolm-x.
History.com Editors. “Malcolm X.” History.com, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/malcolm-x.
“Malcolm X.” The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, Stanford University, kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/malcolm-x.
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