A picture of Malcolm X sits in the window of the home of Lacey Bigelow, 76, along Emerald Street NE in the District. (By Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

His life and his death and the lessons he left behind have always been marked by contention. “Was he an influential or a peripheral black leader? Was he anti-white or was he leaning toward reconciliation between the races after his famous trip to Mecca? Was he a prophet or an articulate demagogue? Was he a political chameleon to everyone?” Desson Howe wrote in The Post in 1992.

His story, better known dogged by violence, is perhaps more about a man willing to change. Wil Haygood wrote this year that Malcolm Little spent his youth roaming the streets as a drug dealer and a pimp, became Malcolm X in prison and a prominent leader in the Nation of Islam, and died as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz after his trip to Mecca, which led him to reconsider his separatist leanings. “Such a beautiful example of our ability to evolve,” Russell Simmons wrote on Twitter.

If he had not been assassinated, Malcolm X would have turned 86 today.

Here’s Mos Def, reading an excerpt from Malcolm X’s famous “Message to Grass Roots.”