The Autobiography of Malcolm X
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ATTALLAH SHABAZZ: FOREWORD
M. S. HANDLER: INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER ONE: NIGHTMARE
CHAPTER TWO: MASCOT
CHAPTER THREE: "HOMEBOY"
CHAPTER FOUR: LAURA
CHAPTER FIVE: HARLEMITE
CHAPTER SIX: DETROIT RED
CHAPTER SEVEN: HUSTLER
CHAPTER EIGHT: TRAPPED
CHAPTER NINE: CAUGHT
CHAPTER TEN: SATAN
CHAPTER ELEVEN: SAVED
CHAPTER TWELVE: SAVIOR
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: MINISTER MALCOLM X
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: BLACK MUSLIMS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: ICARUS
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: OUT
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: MECCA
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: EL-HAJJ MALIK EL-SHABAZZ
CHAPTER NINETEEN: 1965
ALEX HALEY: EPILOGUE
OSSIE DAVIS: ON MALCOM [sic]
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Behold, America. Just when our country's cultural evolution appears to have the man who was
the author of the internationally acclaimed _Roots_ passed away suddenly in the middle of the
night. Alex Haley and I had discussed the possibility of my writing his autobiography to
acknowledge our literary circle, our family of writers-my father to him and him to me.
Six years have passed since I received this initial request to prepare a new foreword for my
father's life story. My godfather's wish was that I commemorate my father's life by writing about
some of the significant events that have served as a postscript for his extraordinary life story, but
to do this it is essential to begin with the legacy that my father himself was heir to from the
In 1919, my paternal grandparents, Earl and Louisa Little, married and began their large family of
eight children. At the same time they both worked steadfastly as crusaders for Marcus Garvey's
Universal Negro Improvement Association, acting as chapter president and writer/translator for
more than a decade. Their children were deeply involved and inspired by their parents' mission to
encourage self-reliance and uphold a sense of empowerment for people of the African Diaspora.
Given the turbulence, fear, and despair of the depression era, with its economic droughts and
racial and social inequities, my grandparents could never have imagined that one of their own
children would have his likeness on a United States postal stamp before the century's end.
Eighty years later, on January 20,1999, pride filled Harlem's historic Apollo Theatre as six of Earl
and Louisa Little's granddaughters sat encircled by a body of fifteen hundred, as family, friends,
esteemed guests, and well-wishers gathered to celebrate a momentous occasion-the unveiling of
the United States Postal Service's newest release in its Black Heritage Stamp Series.
The issuance of the stamp with the image of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz-known to the world as
Malcolm X and fondly loved by myself and my five sisters as Daddy-will provide a source of
eternal pride to his children. While this was indeed a glorious moment, it does not cancel the pain
of the loss of both our parents, or even kiss away the ache of their absence. What it certainly
does is add to the blessings of our dowry.
The stamp also serves as a reminder of the stock from which we were born and confirms
significantly that how one lives his or her life today stands as a testament to one's forever after.
In his genuine humility and pure dedication to service, my father had no idea of the potency of his
deeds, of the impact his life would have on others, or of the legacy that was to unfold. As he and
my godfather, Alex Haley, worked diligently to complete this classic work-in person, from airport
telephones, via ship to shore, or over foreign wire services-he could never have imagined by
America's tone in his final days that his words, philosophy, and wisdom would be so appreciated
and honored around the world, or that it would still offer inspiration and guidance to so many.
In my father's absence, my mother nurtured and protected the significance and value of her
husband's endless devotion to human rights. She was thrilled by the opening discussions about
her husband's image appearing on a U.S. postal stamp. From her perspective, it was not as
inconceivable as others have found it. To my mother, it was his due.
As the house lights dimmed in the Apollo Theatre, the flickering images of black-and-white
photographs and film clips on the screen chronicled my father's life. Bittersweet, his youthful face
and broad smile caressed my heart. As the documentary film moved forward, the voice-over of
our dear family friend and loving "uncle" actor Ossie Davis delivered the eulogy from my father's
funeral in 1965. This became the backdrop for the montage of nostalgicchildhood memories that
played in my mind. Life with both parents and my little sisters. Life joyous and uninterrupted.
When people ask how my mother managed to keep my father's memory alive, all I can say is-for
my mother, he never left. He never left her. He never left us. My father's spiritual presence is what
sustained my mother. And we, their children, were the beneficiaries of their timeless love for one
Born and raised in a family that was culturally varied, I innately gravitated to the rhythms of the
world. Mommie was our constant, as many mothers are. Daddy was the jubilant energy in our
world. He was not at all like the descriptions I grew up hearing. In addition to being determined,
focused, honest, he was also greatly humorous, delightful, and boy-like, while at the same time a
strong, firm male presence in a house filled with little women. His women. My sisters, me, and our
mother. A collaboration of qualities that enchants me even now.
". . . If you knew him you would know why we must honor him," Uncle Ossie's voice continued.
"Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood. . . . and, in honoring him, we honor the
best in ourselves. . . ."
A spotlight on the Apollo podium brought me back to the present as the announcer introduced
Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, the first of an intimate selection of my father's esteemed comrades
and appreciators from the "front line" to speak and share their remembrances.
Aunt Ruby opened, "What a privilege to witness the radical gone respectable in our times. . . ."
Uncle Ossie continued, "We in this community look upon this commemorative stamp finally as
America's stamp of approval. . . ."
When I had mentioned the issuance of the stamp to others, the news simply stopped folks in their
tracks. Touched. Teary-eyed. They could hardly believe it. They had to catch their breath, or ask
me to repeat myself. "How can this be?" they wondered. "A stamp with Brother Malcolm's face on
it?" "What does it mean?" "Is America really ready for a Malcolm X stamp, even if it is thirty-four
years after his assassination?"
I reflected on the message of Congressman Chaka Fattah, the ranking Democrat on the Postal
subcommittee, who commented, "There is no more appropriate honor than this stamp because
Malcolm X sent all of us a message through his life and his life's work.
"Stamps are affixed to envelopes that contain messages, and when we receive an envelope with
this particular stamp on it hopefully it is a message that will speak again to the conscience of this
nation. Hopefully not just to those of African descent in America but to those who want to speak
and be heard on the question of human rights throughout the world. To this day Malcolm X stands
as a leader. His thoughts, his ideas, his conviction, and his courage provide an inspiration even
now to new generations that come."
I've asked myself, What change in our society today permits the reevaluation of my father's
convictions or his stance on the human injustices that plagued the international landscape? For
years, he's been the subject of a patchwork of commentaries, numerous judgments, and endless
character assessments from a spectrum of self-appointed experts. But, in spite of the
psychoanalysis, Malcolm will always be exactly who he is, whether or not we as a society ever
succeed in figuring him out. Truth does not change, only our awareness of it.
Not everyone agreed with my father's philosophy or methodology; he was considered
complicated, intricate, and complex. Nevertheless, he was always a focused man with a
commitment and a program. His plan of action, regardless of the stages of his life, his agenda,
and his perspective were always poignantly clear.
Malcolm X never advocated violence. He was an advocate of cultural and social reconstructionuntil a balance of equality was shared, "by any means necessary." Generally, this phrase of his
was misused, even by those who were his supporters. But the statement was intended to
encourage a paralyzed constituent of American culture to consider the range of options to which
they were entitled-the "means." "By any means necessary" meant examine the obstacles,
determine the vision, find the resolve, and explore the alternatives toward dissolving the
obstacles. Anyone truly familiar with my father's ideology, autobiography, and speeches sincerely
understands the significance of the now-famous phrase.
My father affected Americans-black and white-in untold measure and not always in ways as
definitive as census charts and polls have dictated. We've misrepresented the silent majority on
both sides. There were black folks who carried as much disdain for my father as some white folks
did, and then there were some white folks for whom his life's lessons were as valuable a blueprint
for personal and spiritual development as they have been for many black folks. Nevertheless,
within the range of the boisterous and the silent there are still folks brown, red, and yellow on this
continent and elsewhere who honor and respect the true message of Malcolm X Shabazz.
Fortunately, as a child, my surroundings were filled with my father's partners for social change.
This warm, devoted circle of people was always on the front lines of the struggle, working to
ensure the rightful equilibrium of human rights-not just domestically, but globally-"by any means
necessary." Whether they were persons of note or simply hardworking citizens, these individuals
in my early life were missionaries of justice, each committed to doing his or her part. As the
dedication ceremony continued at the Apollo, the master of ceremonies, activist-entertainer Harry
Belafonte-yet another childhood "uncle"-framed the importance of this historic moment for the
"Each year the Postal Service receives more than forty thousand requests recommending
subjects for U.S. stamps. Only thirty or so are chosen. Short of a national monument in
Washington-and that's not a bad idea-a stamp is among the highest honors that our country can
pay to any of its citizens."
The El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz/Malcolm X stamp is the twenty-second in the Black Heritage Series,
which was inaugurated in 1978. It joins such luminaries as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass,
A. Philip Randolph, Mary McLeod Bethune, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others. I am hopeful that
the initial printing of 100 million stamps will be some inspiration to those who collect them or pass
them on as gifts to represent or encourage one's personal enlightenment and triumph.
What my father aspired to be and what Allah had destined for him was nurtured chiefly by the
fertile tutelage of his parents while his family was still together and thriving as a unit. This was
before his father's murder by the Klan, his mother's emotional breakdown, and the subsequent
scattering of his siblings and himself into an inadequate and inattentive foster care system.
My grandmother had a direct hand in the cultural, social, and intellectual education of her
children. The attitude of people of color during the '20s and '30s festered with racial tension that
produced varying degrees of misguided social and personal paralysis. Knowing this and being
globally educated members of the Garvey movement cognizant of the true origins of the African in
the Western Hemisphere, both my grandmother and her husband were intent on equipping their
children with a clear awareness of the seed of their origins and it's ancestral power. They knew
that this would provide a base of strength for their children. My grandmother knew that in spite of
America's social climate, her children would be able to discern for themselves when an act was
generated by pure racism, or simply by ignorance.
For example, there are many who know the story about when my father, while on the honor roll
and the eighth-grade class president, was told by his white teacher that his dream to be a lawyer
was unrealistic for a "colored boy." Maybe he should consider carpentry. . . . He shared this story
with us directly. The teacher actually admired my father greatly and didn't want to encourage him
to enter a field of study that he believed wouldn't allow my father to excel. Misguided, yet well
intended. A teacher crippled by a country that offered little promise or future for its indigenous and
Without the strong support of life with his parents and siblings under one roof and chafing under
foster parents and teachers imposing limited state policies, Malcolm simply dropped out.
This is usually where the recounting of my father's life begins. In the street. Hustling, numbers
running, stealing . . . Indeed these accounts were factual and he was always the first to tell them.
But if his first fourteen years hadn't been rooted in a healthy diet of education and the richness of
his heritage, Malcolm wouldn't have found himself gravitating to the prison libraries after he was
incarcerated. The movie _Malcolm X_, which was originally contracted as _X: The Movie_, shows
him learning how to read the dictionary as if he didn't already know how. The truth is, it had been
a while since he'd read anything. But after being reacquainted with books, he proceeded to outread the library stock. I've seen letters that my father wrote from prison in his early twenties,
eagerly looking for the third volume of a text, or wanting help to track down out-of-print books, or
even suggesting books to his friends and family on the outside. The honor roll student
reappeared as the layers of street life faded. He read so much that he had to begin to wear
With the encouragement of his brothers, he began studying the tenets of the Nation of Islam.
While the little brothers didn't adhere to all of the teachings personally, they did believe it was the
only current American-based ideology that had the potential to unify black people and teach selfpride the way their childhood affiliation with the Garvey movement had done. Also, the brothers
believed that through the Nation of Islam they could finally become part of a larger family that
could reunite them once again.
It was as a result of the documentary he was producing on the Nation of Islam that Mike Wallace,
an uncompromising, truth-seeking pioneer of broadcast journalism and now the senior
correspondent of _60 Minutes_, first met my father on an assignment. He recalled those early
meetings in his remarks at the stamp's unveiling:
"It was forty years ago, back in 1959, that I first heard about a man who called himself Malcolm X.
We at Channel 13 had set out to produce a documentary that we had intended to call 'The Hate
That Hate Produced.' It was a report about a group and a man just beginning to get some
attention in the white world. The group was the Black Muslims and their leader was Elijah
Muhammad. [When] we finally broadcast the documentary, America at large finally learned about
the Nation and their desire to separate from the white man. Their hatred of the white man for that
effectively was their credo back then: The white man hates us, so we should hate the white man
back. Not long after the broadcast, which caused a considerable stir, Louis Lomax invited me to
sit down for breakfast for my first meeting with Malcolm, and strangely and rather swiftly after that
morning a curious friendship began to develop, and slowly a trust. And on my part a growing
understanding and eventually an admiration for a man with a daring mind and heart. And
gradually it became apparent to me that here was a genuine, compassionate, and far-seeing
leader in the making. A man utterly devoted to his people, but at the same time he was bent on
reconciliation between the races in America.
"And that, of course, that was heresy to the Nation of Islam at the time.
"Malcolm was still evolving, still finding his way, still finding his constituency back then when he
was struck down-to him not unexpectedly-struck down by forces who feared that his way, his
leadership, might be a serious threat to their power. I have treasured the memory of the Malcolm
that I knew. I know he trusted me as a reporter, but in the few years that I had the chance to know
him, he sent me on my own voyage of reportorial discovery and understanding.
"[The] stamp that honors him today is the kind of recognition he deserves as a courageous
In time my father's growth and independence would be his undoing. The Nation reprimanded him,
stripped him of all powers of attorney, silenced him, and then exiled him. At first his expulsion left
him feeling like a man without a home, much the way it had been in his childhood. Ultimately,
however, it gave him the freedom he needed.
He finally began accepting long-standing invitations he'd received to travel abroad. There were
many foreign heads of state and prime ministers who had long taken note of this charismatic
champion of the people.
With my mother's blessings for his journey, my father set out to visit Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana,
Nasser of Egypt, Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and more. The warm welcomes and instant
paternal relationships became an essential component of his cleansing and rebirth as he traveled
throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, culminating in his great pilgrimage to Mecca.
As my father's philosophy expanded, he began to empower, enlighten, and embrace an untold
populace extending far beyond the limits of governmental control. However, as long as Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr., remained in the South, and my father in the North, neither was too difficult to
monitor. But when my father and Dr. King became colleagues and decided to bridge their two
philosophies and unite the American commonwealth toward a greater goal, they both became
tremendous threats to the status quo. Sadly, this fear was shared by some of their own
constituents and supporters who believed that the union of both would weaken or detract from the
strength of each movement.
One man whose brethrenship never wavered was the Honorable Percy Sutton, my father's
attorney and a perpetual drum for our family, who approached the podium at the Apollo. He
paused reflectively and warmly paid tribute to my father, while placing my father's life in its proper
"It is a miracle, really, if you think about it!" The audience burst into applause. ". . . The journey of
Malcolm X was long and hard. . . . I can remember a Minister Malcolm that nobody wanted to be
near; lawyers, accountants, persons of consequence to the black community . . . were afraid to
be identified with him, afraid to be seen with him
"We would invite them to come because we needed lawyers, we needed doctors, we needed
persons of ability, but they were frightened, they were frightened by other people's attitudes
toward Minister Malcolm. . . .
"Let me for a moment tell you who Malcolm X was. Malcolm was not a spiteful man. Malcolm X
was a revolutionary. But he was not a mean-spirited revolutionary, he was a gentle man. A kind
man, a concerned man. "It was so bad, ladies and gentleman, that even at Malcolm's death there
were people who were afraid to come to the funeral. . . . There was not a major black church in
the entire city of New York that was willing to let us bury him from their edifices. It was a small
church up on Amsterdam Avenue [the Faith Temple Church of God] that permitted us to c ...
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