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Born in Omaha, Nebraska, and the son of a Baptist minister, Malcolm Little grew up with violence. Whites killed several members of his family, including his father. As a youngster, he went to live with a sister in Boston where he started a career of crime that he continued in New York's Harlem as a drug peddler and pimp. While serving a prison term for burglary in 1952, he converted to Islam and undertook an intensive program of study and self-improvement, movingly detailed in "Autobiography of Malcolm X." He wrote constantly to Elijah Muhammad (Elijah Poole, 1897--1975), head of the black separatist Nation of Islam, which already claimed the loyalty of several of his brothers and sisters. Upon release from prison, Little went to Detroit, met with Elijah Muhammad, and dropped the last name Little, adopting X to symbolize the unknown African name his ancestors had been robbed of when they were enslaved. Soon he was actively speaking and organizing as a Muslim minister. In his angry and articulate preaching, he condemned white America for its treatment of blacks, denounced the integration movement as black self-delusion, and advocated black control of black communities. During the turbulent 1960's, he was seen as inflammatory and dangerous. In 1963, a storm broke out when he called President Kennedy's assassination a case of "chickens coming home to roost," meaning that white violence, long directed against blacks, had now turned on itself. The statement was received with fury, and Elijah Muhammad denounced him publicly. Shocked and already disillusioned with the leader because of his reputed involvement with several women, Malcolm X went on a pilgrimage to Mecca and then traveled to several African countries, where he was received as a fellow Muslim. When he returned home, he was bearing a new message: Islam is a religion that welcomes and unites people of all races in the Oneness of Allah. On the night of February 21, 1965, as he was preaching at Harlem's Audubon Ballroom, he was assassinated.
Alex Haley's full name was Alexander Palmer Haley. He was born in Ithaca, N.Y. in 1921, and grew up in Henning, Tenn. Educated at Elizabeth City Teacher's College in North Carolina, Haley became a journalist while serving in the United States Coast Guard from 1939 to 1959. After retiring from the service, Haley moved to Los Angeles, finding fulltime employment as a freelance writer. First known for his work as co-author and editor of the highly regarded Autobiography of Malcolm X, Haley's biggest success stemmed from his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, 'Roots: The Saga of an American Family.' Extensively researched and based in part on Haley's own African roots, the work became a national bestseller and, in addition to the Pulitzer, won the Springarn Medal in 1977. Roots was also adapted into one of the first television miniseries and garnered some of the highest ratings in television history. His next book, "Queen", told the story of Queen Haley, Alex Haley's paternal grandmother. He died before this work was completed and it was finished by David Stevens. This was also adapted for television. Another work, "Mama Flora's Family" compiled from Haley's unpublished writings, continues the family saga and was published in 1998. Alex Haley died in 1992 in Seattle, Washington. He was 71 years old.