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Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture > Malcolm X: A Search for Truth

Being Minister Malcolm X: Growing the Nation, 1953–63

“The black man in the ghettoes, for instance, has to start self-correcting his own material, moral, and spiritual defects and evils. The black man needs to start his own program to get rid of drunkenness, drug addiction, prostitution. The black man in America has to lift up his own sense of values.”
The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Malcolm who emerged from imprisonment became Malcolm X in September 1952. Within twelve years, the Nation of Islam had mosques all over the United States and sympathizers in every segment of the black population. Malcolm X’s dynamism as a minister, teacher, and organizer spurred this phenomenal spread of what had been a tiny organization into a major force in black life.

Through the 1950s, Elijah Muhammad’s vision of a separate black nation guided by Islam reached the hearts and minds of those living with the most limited possibilities. It offered a worldview that put them at the center, one that separated them from and placed them above the society that despised them. It offered them a set of well-defined rules by which to live. The Nation bought land, ran farms, opened businesses, held mass gatherings in small and large cities, and provided a training ground for manhood and womanhood in a new kind of society. Malcolm X organized and ministered in service to this vision.

The minister had married Betty X (Sanders) in 1958, and in 1962 they were living in East Elmhurst, Queens, with their daughters Attallah, Qubilah, and Ilyasah. Family life gave him the base from which to take his Nation mission to an ever wider world. First the broader black community and then mainstream America took increasing note of the bold message and leadership of the Nation—as did various local and national government intelligence agencies. Malcolm X traveled at a frenetic pace, speaking on college campuses and debating civil rights leaders on radio and television. He founded Muhammad Speaks as the Nation’s official newspaper. He started work with writer Alex Haley on an autobiography. His ideas were being constantly tested and honed—and expanded—by extensive exposure to hostile as well as receptive audiences.

Not surprisingly, high-placed Muhammad family members and others running the Nation from Chicago headquarters began to scheme against Minister Malcolm X. Beneath the surface, turmoil and increasing signs of corruption in the NOI hierarchy provided the opportunity for the FBI to infiltrate and fan the flames of discontent. Then rumors surfaced of Elijah Muhammad fathering several children with young women who worked as his secretaries. Although Minister Malcolm X remained devoted to the Nation’s leader, this turn of events shook him to his core. Some political issues had already begun to eat at his certainties. The Nation’s policy of non-involvement in politics and the civil rights movement increasingly disturbed him, because he was coming to see black nationalism and political unity under Nation leadership as the most powerful way to struggle against the white supremacist system.



June - Appointed assistant minister at Detroit Temple No. 1.

Winter - Named first minister of Boston Temple No. 11.


March - Named acting minister of Philadelphia Temple No. 12.

May 17 - U.S. Supreme Court rules segregation of public schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

June - Named minister of New York Temple No. 7.

July 11 - White Citizens Council organized in Indianola, Mississippi.


August 28 - Emmett Till, fourteen, kidnapped and lynched in Money, Mississippi.

December 5 - Bus boycott begins in Montgomery, Alabama, sparked by Rosa Parks and led by Martin Luther King, Jr.


February - Autherine Lucy, first black student admitted to University of Alabama, expelled after white students riot.

November 13 - U.S. Supreme Court rules segregation in public transportation unconstitutional, resulting in end of Montgomery bus boycott in December.


Organizes Los Angeles Temple No. 27.

March 6 - Led by Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana is first sub-Saharan African country to achieve independence. (South Africa is last one, in 1994.)

April - Calms angry crowd and negotiates with New York City police at 23rd Precinct after Nation member Hinton Johnson severely beaten by police and taken into custody. Police take note of him, and black press reports of incident bring him and Nation to notice of wider Harlem and black community.

September - Angry white mobs and Arkansas National Guard prevent nine African-American students from integrating all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas; federal troops escort children into school.


January 14 - Marries Betty (Sanders) X in Lansing, Michigan. They move to East Elmhurst, Queens (New York City).

November 16 - Family’s first child, Attallah, born.


Berry Gordy, Jr., founds Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan.

March 11 - Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is first play by a black woman produced on Broadway.

July - Travels for three weeks as Elijah Muhammad’s ambassador to Middle East and Africa. Visits Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Nigeria, and Ghana; meets with Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nassar.

July 13–17 - Mike Wallace’s report, “The Hate That Hate Produced,” airs on New York television (and then nationally), bringing first widespread notice of Nation of Islam. Membership booms.

December 25 - Family’s second child, Qubilah, born.


Founds Muhammad Speaks, Nation of Islam official newspaper.

January 1 - Revolution led by Fidel Castro takes power in Cuba.

February 1 - Four black college students stage sit-in at whites-only Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, sparking wave of protest actions in nearly 100 cities by year’s end.

April - Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) established.

September 20 - Meets with Fidel Castro at Hotel Theresa in Harlem.

November - John F. Kennedy, Jr., elected president.


C. Eric Lincoln publishes The Black Muslims in America, a sociological study.

May 4 - Widespread Freedom Rides movement begins in Deep South to desegregate buses and terminals; met with arrests and violence from law enforcement and white segregationists.

December - Small number of U.S. troops in Vietnam begins to climb; by end of 1968 peaks at more than 500,000. War ends April 30, 1975.


April 27 - When Ronald Stokes killed and six other Muslims wounded by police in Los Angeles mosque, becomes closely involved in controversial case for next year or more.

July 22 - Family’s third child, Ilyasah, born.

September–October - Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett defies Supreme Court ruling that University of Mississippi must admit James H. Meredith, who registers; federal troops deployed.

October–November - Cuban missile crisis.


Early - Begins work on autobiography with Alex Haley; proceeds to go to Nation of Islam (NOI) Chicago headquarters.

Spring - Elijah Muhammad admits to him affairs with secretaries. Had earlier investigated rumors of six illegitimate children and talked with three women to confirm situation.

May - Playboy publishes candid interview with him by Alex Haley, reaching broad white male audience; creates basis for Haley’s involvement in autobiography.

May 22–25 - Leaders of African independent states meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to sign charter for Organization of African Unity (OAU).

May–June - Garners more mainstream national attention when Life publishes articles on him and the Nation, with photographs by Gordon Parks.

June - Alabama Governor George Wallace defies integration of University of Alabama by standing at the “schoolhouse door”; President John F. Kennedy federalizes Alabama National Guard.

June 12 - NAACP leader Medgar W. Evers murdered outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi.

July - New York Times reports Malcolm X is second most sought-after speaker for U.S. college campuses (after Republican presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater).

July 3 - Newspapers, radio, and television report on secretaries filing paternity suits against Elijah Muhammad.

August 28 - 250,000 demonstrators gather for March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr., delivers “I Have a Dream” speech.

August 28 - Travels to observe March on Washington; calls it “Farce on Washington.”

September 15 - Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombed in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young girls and injuring twenty others.

Mid-September - Appears at 125th Street and Seventh Avenue rally in Harlem in response to Birmingham church bombing.

November 10 - Gives “A Message to the Grass Roots” speech at Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference in Detroit.

November 22 - President John F. Kennedy assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

December 1 - Last speech representing Nation of Islam. Says, in response to reporter’s question, that Kennedy assassination is case of the “chickens coming home to roost.”

December 4 - Suspended from ministry and “silenced” by Elijah Muhammad, supposedly for ninety days.

Next Section: Malcolm X to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, 1964-65