Malcolm X faced hardships at a very young age. His father died when Malcolm was six, the victim of white hatred for his militant preaching. The killing of his father placed Malcolm’s family at the poverty level, giving them little hope of staying together. Malcolm’s family was separated by the welfare system which decided that Malcolm’s mother was mentally unstable and could not provide for her children. The youngest children were sent to foster homes, and although they kept in touch, the family was never fully reunited.
Due to the effects of racism on his family, Malcolm X never had the opportunity to be educated by his parents. Both parents had the potential to be strong role models for young Malcolm. His father was a preacher, and if he had lived, he might have guided Malcolm at an early age toward his future profession. His mother received a superior education and could have instilled the love of learning he would eventually find in prison. Instead, his parents’ absence left Malcolm without guidance. He eventually turned to crime and gang members became his mentors, teaching him to evade the law. As Malcolm states in his autobiography, “from a Harlem point of view, I couldn’t have been in a more educational situation. Some of the ablest of New York’s black hustlers took a liking to me, and knowing that I was still green by their standards, soon began in a paternal way to ‘straighten Red [Malcolm’s nickname] out.’”
Malcolm’s schooling lasted briefly due to racism in the educational system. While attending a mostly white junior high school, he expressed his dream of becoming a lawyer. His teacher did not encourage him to pursue his ambition. Instead, he told Malcolm to study carpentry because a law degree was considered to be an unrealistic dream for African Americans. This experience made Malcolm bitter and prevented him from continuing his education. Malcolm received no further education until he was encouraged by a prison inmate to take correspondence courses.
Friends did help Malcolm find employment, but they could only give him access to jobs like shoe shining. Although he eventually got a decent job as a waiter on a train, African Americans could not advance much more than that. As a result, he was unable to resist the money he received from stealing and eventually received a prison sentence for burglary as a young man. Years later when he became the leader of the Organization of Afro-American Unity which promoted unity between blacks and whites, he barely made enough money to support his family. Despite Malcolm’s prominence in the African American community, white society still refused to give him the privileges it shared with members of its own race.