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The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)

by Malcolm X, Alex Haley

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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The controversial leader of the Black Muslims tells the story of his life and his part in the civil rights movement.

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This autobiography shows readers how a boy born Malcolm Little would one day become Malcolm X and one of the leaders of the Nation of Islam who would then go off and form his own branch called Muslim Mosque, Inc. During the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. in the 1960s Malcolm X rose to prominence in the African American community along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Malcolm X was initially anti-white and believed that there was no way in the world for African Americans and whites to be able to co-exist. However, after a trip to Mecca he started to change his stance once he realized that many Muslims came in different colors and eventually converted to Sunni.

This memoir really does not pull any punches. This autobiography as told to Alex Hayley (he wrote Roots) was at times quite brutal in the re-telling. The book showcases Malcolm X's family and how they became separated after the murder of his father. Eventually Malcolm will live in Boston and go to Harlem where he will start to change his views and realize that white Americans exploit poor African Americans while also wanting to be part of the "black" world. Once Malcolm X goes to prison and converts to Islam the book focuses on his rise to prominence in the Nation of Islam and shows how he became closer to the Nation of Islam's leader at the time Elijah Muhammad. As a reader you can start to see the conflict between Malcolm X and other leaders within the Nation of Islam who were becoming jealous of him. After Malcolm X speaks out about the JFK assassination Elijah Muhammad uses it as a pretext to finally get rid of him. The heartbreak by Malcolm X to realize that this man that he really looked up to was not that great of a man was sad.

What was very interesting is that once you have Malcolm X go off on his pilgrimage to Mecca his hard stance against whites begins to shift. When her returns back to the United States he had started to hold meetings for an organization that would be committed to African American unity and that people of any faith could join. He did still exclude whites from becoming members, however, he insisted that white people should create their own organizations and start to change from within.

The writing was great though readers should realize that Malcolm X did not really "write" this book. Instead he was interviewed by Hayley who later went back and wrote it in the first person. Until we get to the epilogue which I thought actually ruined the earlier flow of the book. Hayley I think put too much of himself in that epilogue and we get his impressions and feelings about Malcolm. Going from first person Malcolm X to first person Alex Hayley was too much of a shift.

The ending of course was a foregone conclusion for me as reader. I already knew that Malcolm X was assassinated by Nation of Islam members. It is still unclear today if all of the parties who were part of this conspiracy were properly identified since one of the men who did shoot and kill Malcolm X, Talmadge Haye claims that two other people charged were innocent.

Though I believe in the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it's not hard to see how Malcolm X was so appealing to many African Americans at the time. Being beaten by police (yeah still going on) and being treated like second class citizens and feeling the hostility from others because of the color of your skin you can see why Malcolm X started to feel that there was no way for African Americans and white Americans to peacefully co-exist.

“When I am dead--I say it that way because from the things I know, I do not expect to live long enough to read this book in its finished form--I want you to just watch and see if I'm not right in what I say: that the white man, in his press, is going to identify me with "hate".
He will make use of me dead, as he has made use of me alive, as a convenient symbol, of "hatred"--and that will help him escape facing the truth that all I have been doing is holding up a mirror to reflect, to show, the history of unspeakable crimes that his race has committed against my race.” ( )
  ObsidianBlue | Jul 1, 2020 |
I remember watching the 1992 movie, Malcolm X, and even enjoyed it so freaking much that I promised myself I would read the Autobiography as soon as I could. He was very much someone I could admire. Respect. Empathize with. Strongly disagree with. And finally, wholeheartedly agree with him.

Of course, to my everlasting shame, it's now 2020. I'm JUST NOW getting around to reading it.

Alex Haley helped Malcolm X turn his life into a brilliant narration, spent years talking, being friends, and after Malcolm X's assassination in 1965, also recounts the tragedy of this wonderful man's death.

But above all, Malcolm X was a real man. Courageous, smart, opinionated. He was honest about his entire life: his shortcomings, his youth as a hellion, a con, a drug dealer, and a thief. About the way he treated women and his kin, his brothers. How he went to prison, fervently hating all white men.

But then he changed. His life was all about change, honesty, and discovery. He discovered books, taught himself to read, and read voraciously. He found help and heart in the teachings of an American Muslim leader that showed him what he believed took on the heart of the matter. That the endemic racism of all whites, the prejudice, the deviltry of their actions had taken everything from the black man. Their history, their bodies, the heart. Malcolm X devoted himself to this man and through his eloquence and charm brought 40,000 new believers to this Black Muslim community, building it up with anger and definite firebrand techniques.

But it wasn't until he went on the Hajj to Mecca that he understood something new, strange, and beautiful. That out of the 22 million angry black people in America, there were almost 200 million black people living in relative peace and harmony around the world. Strangers and leaders and worldwide press were amazed and thrilled to see an American Muslim take on the Hajj and to take on the leadership of bringing the humanitarian plight of the Black people back in America to the world.

Was he in the right place at the right time? Absolutely. And it was precisely that sense of welcoming and harmony and community that Malcolm X got thrown into that changed his worldview forever. People were fundamentally decent. Blacks could work together, live and love each other in harmony. Whites, too. And it was this eye-opener that sent him back to America with a different message.

He still fought with Martin Luther King Jr. He still called everyone out and spoke the truth, that there IS something really wrong, but now tempered it with wisdom, hope, and a new kind of truth.

He was lionized in the wide world. He was vilified in America. The media blasted him for being THE angry, militant black man. Blamed him for all of society's ills. He eloquently told them they were full of shit. He stood up. He didn't back down.

His American Muslim church was torn with strife and jealousy and controversy, unfortunately, and Malcolm X, far from pointing fingers or complaining that all his funds had been stolen, continued speaking in universities, parliaments and media engagements while suffering multiple death threats from whom he thought were angry black Muslims under the instruction of his old teacher. His house was firebombed. When he was finally shot down, his wife and four children were penniless and scared.

Anyone who knew him in real life, and not through the general media, realized the kind of man he was. Fundamentally decent, smart, and unfailingly honest. Eloquent, forceful, and a real warrior of the spirit. He made lots of mistakes, but he always forged forth and admitted every one of his failings, striving always to make things right. Decent. Better.

And let's face it, the times before the sixties DID need someone to stand up against the lynchings, the institutional cons, the ignorance, the prejudice, and the brutality. To say that a black man is a militant hate monger when he's standing up to protect himself from a tidal-wave of injustice is pure bullshit.

I read this like a story because Alex Haley is a great storyteller, falling in and out of sympathy for the main character, rolling around in his joys, anxieties, and failings, getting lifted up in his great successes, and higher when he learns mercy, temperance, and a real justice beyond the simple, if all-consuming, hate of his youth.

I wonder what he would have become if he hadn't been cut down at this, the most excellent prime of his life. Most of all of our modern ideas on racism and how to solve it comes from Malcolm X. We can't ignore his beginnings. It makes the later discoveries all the more potent.

I love you, man. Simple. Pure. I love you. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Incredible read. Highly recommended. ( )
  Cail_Judy | Apr 21, 2020 |
Can't believe it took me 52 years to finally get around to reading this but glad I finally did.
Disturbs me to no end that it's as relevant today as it was when it first came out.
:-( ( )
  23Goatboy23 | Jan 17, 2020 |
I liked that Malcolm X is very honest. He says straightforwardly who he was, and he says what he really thinks. He grows a lot over the course of the book. Unfortunately, he starts at a very low level. Occasionally he shows flashes of self-awareness, as for example in his regrets about not getting a college education. But there is much more defensiveness than self awareness. The arguments are childish. He is like Trump in the way he responds to attention and flattery, and is completely unaware of how easily others manipulate him. Malcolm X's hypocrisy and pervasive racism is a challenge—you have to push through long screeds of racist nonsense—but what really makes the book hard to read is his misogyny. "All women, by their nature, are fragile and weak: they are attracted to the male in whom they see strength." He despises women, especially white women, though he'll happily sleep with them. ( )
  breic | Jun 8, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
X, Malcolmprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Haley, Alexmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Davis, OssiePost-scriptsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Handler, M. S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sükösd MihályTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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When my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later, a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home in Omaha, Nebraska, one night.
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In the searing pages of this classic autobiography, originally published in 1964, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement. His fascinating perspective on the lies and limitations of the American Dream, and the inherent racism in a society that denies its nonwhite citizens the opportunity to dream, gives extraordinary insight into the most urgent issues of our own time. The Autobiography of Malcolm X stands as the definitive statement of a movement and a man whose work was never completed but whose message is timeless. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand America.
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141185430, 0141032723

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