Title: The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Narrated to: Alex Haley by Malcolm X
First Published: 1965 in Hardcover by Grove Press, Inc., New York, USA
Those who are acquainted with the Civil Rights Movements and Black Revolution of the United States of America must know Malcolm X. A firebrand orator, a devoted Muslim and flag bearer of the Blacks’ right in North America. Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Lansing, Michigan on May 19, 1925, to Earl Little and Louise Little. His father was a Baptist minister and an organizer of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association that preached reversal of the Blacks to their Ancestral homeland – Africa. Due to his links with the association of Garvey and his activities in revolutionizing the black masses against White injustice, he was very much on the radar of White militant groups such Ku Klux Klan and was getting constant threats of facing consequences if he did not stop his activities. Eventually, he met the consequences and was killed in cold blood “allegedly” by Klan leaving behind his wife, little Malcolm, and his other siblings. This was the beginning of White injustice and violence that Malcolm become a direct victim of and that perhaps went deep-rooted into his mentality towards Whites.
This book brings forward all the colors of Malcolm’s life good or bad during his journey towards becoming one of the most influential and sought-after black leaders of his times. From being a drug peddler, a hustler, a pimp and burglar, and a convict to becoming a devoted Muslim through his association with the Black Muslims organization “Nation of Islam” and its supreme leader Elijah Muhammad, his life has been an example of ardent changes. All his life during his association with the Nation and his subsequent parting with the organization with Elijah Muhammed, Malcolm kept on praising him for the transformation he brought to him. He never hesitated, as evident from the book, to mention his past and all the deeds he had been a part of. The books take you to the personal and sociopolitical life of Malcolm through a vivid array of life instances and scenarios that made him what he was.
The biggest life-changing events of Malcolm’s life unfurled when he was in Charlestown prison. A fellow convict of his named Bimbi, a well-read man himself and in Malcolm’s words “the best costumer of the library” introduced him to books. It was Bimbi who suggested him to “take advantage of the prison correspondence courses and library.” This incident in the life of Malcolm, an eighth-grade dropout, through his reunion with books turned out to be life-changing and transforming. He started inclining towards religion during this period in contrast to his atheistic beliefs as they used to call him “Satan” in prison. This journey continued during his stay in Charlestown, to Concord, and to finally Norfolk Prison Colony where he lived until his parole. It was here in Norfolk Prison Colony where Malcolm's got his hands on some of the life-changing books on history and Religion. The library of Norfolk was of the richest of the libraries in the United States. During his correspondence with the leader of the Nation of Islam Elijah Muhammed through letters that he used to write from prison and would get regular replies from the later, he came to know about the black history in parts. From here he particularly got interested in black history. He narrates, “In my case, once I heard of the “glorious history of the black man,” I took special pains t hunt in the library for books that would inform me on details about the black history.” It was here in Norfolk prison that he read some of the amazing books including Will Durant’s “Story of Civilization”, HG Wells's “Outline of History”, WEB Du Bois’ “Souls Of Black Folk” and JA Roger’s “Sex and Race” to gain insights into race-mixing before the time of Jesus Christ. He also got his hands on Mendel's seminal work “Finding in Genetics”. He was so engrossed in the reading that he started wearing glasses due to excessive stress on his eyes while reading his jail cell in the corridor lights when the lights of the cell were switched off. It was these books that made Malcolm what he remained till his life and he always admitted it throughout of life while regretting not having enough time to read due to his busy schedules. Once, during a question-answer session of a university lecture that Malcolm gave, somebody asked him about his alma mater and he took no pain in replying that “books” are his Alma mater.
This book is full of excerpts from his speeches, television and radio interviews, and the dialogues that he had with various dignitaries during his visits. The Epilogue of the book written by the author Alex Haley presents some of his scribbling and sayings that he delivered while narrating his life tale to Alex Haley. These quotes reflect his deep wisdom and his understanding of the intricate matters that form the basis of someone’s intelligence. Once talking about the important time in his life he said, “I have less patience with someone who doesn’t wear a watch than with anyone else, for this type is not time conscious.” He goes ahead saying, “In all our deeds, the proper value and respect for time determines success or failure.” About speaking out when you don’t feel right about something he said, “It’s the hinge that squeaks that gets the grease.” It is said that to become a wonderful orator you first need to be a wonderful and patient listener. Malcolm had this virtue in him as he once told Alex Haley, “There’s an art to listening well. I listen closely to the sound of a man’s voice when he’s speaking, I can hear sincerity.” This is what he practiced in most of his conversations and so he was able to counter almost any accusation that was through at him. He was so aware of human psychology which is reflected in his speeches and personal writings. Alex Haley shares an excerpt from his memo book where he talks about success and failure, “Children have a lesson adults should learn, to not be ashamed of failing, but to get up and try again. Most of us adults are so afraid, so cautious, so ‘safe,’ and therefore so shrinking and rigid and afraid that it is why so many humans fail.”
During his last few weeks, he was constantly getting death threats and there were few attempts made to execute him. Alex Haley writes that he was so “impatient” to see his autobiography in complete book form that he kept on insisting on him to rush and finish the work as soon as possible. Perhaps, somewhere deep down, he was aware that he might not be able to see this book in his lifetime. This is what happened. It was on that unfortunate day of 21 February 1965 that Malcolm was killed in cold blood while addressing an audience for his newly formed organization. Thirteen bullet injuries and chest and face and several others in his limbs, they killed him but couldn’t kill his ideas, his conviction to fight for the black rights. Malcolm died leaving behind his wife Betty and four children and thousands of followers and admirers across the globe.