In 1963, during a time of growing civil unrest and the beginning of the turbulent Black Revolution, LIFE decided to shift its eye away from dire poverty and towards the Civil Rights movement. The magazine sent Parks out to try and "infiltrate" the Black Muslim movement, as well as to try and get close to Malcolm X. The result was a series of in-depth photographs of the Black Muslims, including Malcolm X, in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, at various rallies, at self-defense sessions, during evening prayers. . . .
When Parks first met Malcolm X, Malcolm was at a rally on 125th Street in Harlem, cursing out ten white policemen on horseback. Parks approached him and told the activist he wanted to do a story on the Black Muslims. "I told Malcolm I thought I could do a good job, and he seemed to agree, but then told me he wasn't at liberty to give me permission, that the Messenger, the honorable Elijah Muhammad would have to do that." So they flew out to California. The first meeting was a bust. At the second meeting, after Parks refused a half million dollars from Elijah Muhammad, Muhammad told Parks: "I'm gonna give you a chance to go into the world of Islam and do what you have to do. Brother Malcolm will be your guide. If I like what you do, I'm going to send you a big box of cigars. If I don't like what you do, we're coming to visit you."
As Parks's guide into the militant world of the Black Muslims, Malcolm X grew very close to the photographer. At one point Malcolm asked Parks to be his daughter Qubilah's godfather. "Malcolm and I became great, great friends. We had great trust." After Malcolm was assassinated, Parks was assigned to write the story about his death. The day after it was published, the FBI informed LIFE that Parks had been targeted. "LIFE got my whole family together, me, my wife, my grandsons, my daughters, a son-in-law...and put us on a jet and flew us to safety out over the Atlantic. When Parks came back to America alone, he still spent weeks in seclusion and under protection. But one day he just slipped away from his guards, drove up to Harlem and went to the Muslim restaurant where he and Malcolm had met. "I asked to speak with Brother Joseph [head of the militia] and they looked at me like I was crazy," says Parks. "Brother Joseph finally came out and we ended up having tea together." Afterward, Parks got in his car and left. "I got along with the Muslims very well after that.... Though that box of cigars the Messenger Elijah promised never did arrive."