While in prison, Little became an adherent of the religious teachings of the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist sect that preached black power and denounced whites as "devils." After his release from prison in 1952, Little dropped his surname and adopted "X," which signified the lost name of his African ancestry. Malcolm X soon became the Nation of Islam's most successful spokesman and organizer. As the civil rights movement gained momentum in the early 1960s, he repeatedly attacked the nonviolent, civil disobedience philosophy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
In December 1963 Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad suspended Malcolm X from the organization after a period of growing antagonism between the two men. Muhammad believed that the outspoken and charismatic Malcolm X was attempting to push him aside. This suspension resolved Malcolm X to found his own organization, the Muslim Mosque, in March 1964. Unlike Muhammad, Malcolm X believed that the civil rights struggle should be transformed into an international Pan-African struggle for human rights, an idea that he further developed during a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in April 1964. Upon his return, he took a far more conciliatory stance toward whites and intended to bring the plight of African Americans to the United Nations (UN) in an attempt to coax African nations to indict the United States for human rights violations. This plan was ultimately unsuccessful. On 21 February 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated in New York City by three black gunmen whose identities remain unknown.
Malcolm X, with the assistance of Alex Haley. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Grove, 1965.; Perry, Bruce. Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America. New York: Station Hill, 1991.