Title: The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Author: Malcolm X (Assisted by Alex Haley)
Genre: Non-fiction (Autobiography)
“Only Malcolm X’s autobiography seemed to offer something different. His repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me; the blunt poetry of his words, his unadorned insistence of respect, promised a new and uncompromising order, martial in its discipline, forged through sheer force of will” US President Barack Obama in Dreams From my Father; A story of Race and Inheritance.
Perhaps in the turn of the 21st century Malcolm X is the most physical symbol of black liberation globally. X was born Malcolm Little on May 19th, 1925 in Lansing, Michigan.
In the turn of the century Times magazine named The Autobiography of Malcolm X as the best and most powerful work of non-fiction. Atallah, X’s daughter in writing the forward of the book recounts how the US public erstwhile inertia about X got a jolt with release of X movie by Spike Lee.
This ‘X renaissance’ saw commercialization of his portrait, in theaters and a soaring interest about his life.
His transformation from a ghetto hustler to an international black crusader is most remarkable. After dropping out of school at 15, buoyed with wrong role models and influence he ends up (inevitably) to jail for 6 years.
He suffered anguish and ignorance down the society ladder as an addict, ironically he finds solace and peace in the jail library and converts to Islam to change above white prejudice.
US President Obama’s search for fluid state of identity in his life falls for this book like most readers globally. Malcolm X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X has changed lives of millions and shaped many perspectives both white and black.
About a half a century after his assassination on February 1965 in New York, his description of racism and trouble in US is still potent to date.
“I have given to this book so much of whatever time I have because I feel, and I hope, that if I honesty and fully tell my life’s account….read objectively it might prove to be a testimony of some social value” Malcolm X writes, and goes on to give a vivid picture of his hustling years: running numbers, selling drugs, pimping, burglary among others.
The violence which snuffed the life of X started while the author was still in the womb. His mother Louise Little, a daughter of a white man and a black woman in illicit affair narrates to her son how the Ku Klux Klan invaded their house.
The father a member of Universal Negro Improved Association, UNIA led by Marcus Garvey is brutally murdered by the Klansmen leaving the family in destitution.
Like most white lynches the murder is never investigated and an insurance company refuses to pay up a policy breaking up the family further. His mother ends up in a mental institution while the eight children wind up in approved homes.
It’s this powerful narrative voice holding the reader with a vice grip that the author starts in the first two paragraphs ‘Nightmare’ and ‘Mascot’ covering this fallout.
After completing 8 grade Malcolm moves with his sister Ella in Boston where he enters the nightlife of hustling. His relationship with an older woman Sophia and burglary ultimately sends him to jail in 1946.
Ironically social conditions against blacks in jail give the author a transformation. He immerses himself into books where his oratory skills take shape in debates.
After his release he joins Elijah Mohammad’s Nation of Islam where he quickly raises from an assistant minister to head the New York Temple.
Malcolm easily finds the right note with the ghetto masses for revolution. His black racial pride and the militant and spiritual struggle for self respect sees his ascend not only in US, but globally.
He soon falls out with Elijah Mohammad due to jealousy.
Malcolm X as an international figure is highlighted in the last chapter on his visit to Mecca, Egypt, Lebanon, Ghana and Nigeria. He discover true Islam, racial tolerance and meets foreign leaders like Kwame Nkurumah.
As the curtain of his life drapes, Malcolm prophetically see the violent death of his father in snuffing off his old age.
“To come right down to it, if I take the kind of things in which I believe, then add to that kind of temperament that I have, plus one hundred percent declaration I have to whatever I believe in- these are ingredients which make it just about impossible for me to die of old age”
As the book ends the malignant disease of racial bigotry by whites in US took a violent twist in riots while integration took a stalemate. X ended up being labeled a ‘demagogue’ and ‘a hater’ among others.
This prophetic stalemate saw Martin Luther King, Jnr whose integration stance failed and was assassinated for having a dream.
Malcolm X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X gives the reader what shaped the author since the great depression, WW2, Marcus Garvey and Baptist upbringing though important during his time takes a backstage.
He finally summarizes his life:
“Sometimes I have dared to dream to myself that one day, history may even say that my voice- which disturbed the white man’s smugness, and his arrogance, and his complacency- that my voice helped save America from a grave, possibly even a fatal catastrophe.”
The text of the book ascertains this quote.