Gwendolyn Brooks was born on June 17, 1917 in Topeka, Kansas. She graduated from Wilson Junior College in Chicago in 1936 and received her L.H.D. (Doctor of Humane Letters) from Columbia College in 1964. She was the author of more than twenty books of poetry, including Children Coming Home, Blacks, To Disembark, The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems, Riot, In the Mecca, The Bean Eaters, and A Street in Bronzeville. In 1950, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for Annie Allen. She wrote numerous other books including a novel, Maud Martha, Report from Part One: An Autobiography, a book of poetry for children Bronzeville Boys and Girls, and several children's fiction books. She was named Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968. She also received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Frost Medal, a National Endowment for the Arts award, the Shelley Memorial Award, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Guggenheim Foundation. She died on December 3, 2000.
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.