African American Muslim minister and civil rights activist Malcolm X was shot dead 48 years ago today.

The 39-year-old was gunned down in front of a crowd of hundreds – including several of his own children – as he began a speech at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965.

Malcolm X, who once called for a “blacks only” state in America, was a nationalist for the Nation of Islam until a trip to Mecca changed his views on race and religion.

malcolm x

Malcolm X was gunned down on February 21, 1965

He broke away from the group in 1963 to set up his own organisation, embracing orthodox Islam and changing his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.

The Organisation of Afro-American Unity was, he stated, for “Negro intellectuals who favoured racial separation but could not accept the Muslim religion.”

He was assassinated by a squad of men associated with the Nation of Islam, although only one man – Thomas Hagan – admitted his role in the attack.

Detractors claim Malcolm X preached racism (he once referred to whites as “blue-eyed devils”) and incited black supremacy and violence.

Yet he is also remembered as one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history.

Malcolm X’s home was firebombed a week before his death and just two days before the fatal assassination he gave a prescient interview to The New York Times.

He said: “I’m a marked man. It doesn’t frighten me for myself as long as I felt they would not hurt my family. … No one can get out with out trouble, and this thing with me will be resolved by death and violence.”

His wife Betty Shabazz was pregnant with twins at the time of her husband’s assassination.

She covered her daughters on the floor in an effort to shield them from the bullets.

She went on to raise her six daughters alone, and died on June 23, 1997, after suffering severe burns when her grandson set her Yonkers home on fire.

For more on the life and legacy of Malcolm X, visit the official website.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Former Nation Of Islam leader and civil rights activist El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (aka Malcolm X and Malcolm Little) poses for a portrait on February 16, 1965, in Rochester, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

  • American civil rights leader Malcolm X (1925 - 1965) sits and meets with Prince (later King) Faisal al-Saud the regent of Saudi Arabia (1906 - 1975) during a visit as a guest of state and as a pilgrim to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, April 1964. (Photo by Pictorial Parade/Getty Images)

  • Cassius Marcellus Clay (Muhammad Ali) with Black Muslim leader Malcolm X at 125th St. and Seventh Ave. (Photo by John Peodincuk/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

  • American civil rights activist Malcolm X (1925 - 1965) speaks at a podium during a Black Muslim rally in Washington DC, circa 1963. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Photo of Malcolm X (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

  • A Painted Wall In St. Louis, Missouri, Displays The Painted Faces Of Muhammad Ali, Toussaint Louverture, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. And Perhaps Haile Selassie, In The 1970'S. The Inscription Reads : 'Up, You Mighty Race'. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

  • July 1964 portrait shows Black Muslim leader Malcolm X. (AP-PHOTO)

  • Talmadge Hayer, aka Thomas Hagan, in Jewish Memorial Hospital after killing of Malcolm X on February 21, 1965 in New York City. Hayer was wounded in leg fellowing shooting of Malcolm. (Photo by Judd Mehlman/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)