“I told him that the only thing the F.B.I., the C.I.A., or
anybody else could ever find me guilty of, was being open-minded. I
said I was seeking for the truth, and I was trying to
weigh—objectively everything on its own merit. I said what I was
against was strait-jacketed thinking, and strait-jacketed societies”
Malcolm X Maps Page where you can
follow the narrative of the book chapter by chapter.
published in 1965, originated from interviews with Malcolm X
conducted by Alex Haley and published in the May 1963 issue of
Playboy Magazine. Malcolm X and Haley spent over a year and a half
together talking about Malcolm’s life. Haley left scraps of paper
lying around the interview room, so that Malcolm could scribble down
thoughts and ideas as they came to him. The major breakthrough
between Haley and Malcolm came through discussing Malcolm’s mother.
This allowed the men to overcome some of the barriers between them
and allowed the story to take shape and grow.
critics have explored how this text was constructed, noting that
Haley rewrote parts of the book he found offensive without Malcolm’s
knowledge. It seems clear that Haley as the author and Malcolm as
the story teller sculpted events and characters to support a
specific interpretation of Malcolm X’s life. In the words of scholar
Michael Eric Dyson:
autobiography is as much a testament to Haley’s ingenuity in shaping
the manuscript as it is a record of Malcolm’s own attempt to tell
his story. The profound personal, intellectual, and ideological
changes Malcolm was undergoing near the end of his life led him to
order the events of his life to support a mythology of metamorphosis
and transformation that bore fruit in spiritual wisdom. But that
document bears deep traces as well of Malcolm’s attempt to fend
against the inevitable vulnerabilities revealed in the process of
recalling and reconstructing one’s life…As with most
autobiographies, Malcolm’s recollections were an effort to impose
order on the fragments of his experience.”
Dyson, Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 134-135. rpt in. Bloom’s Notes:
Alex Haley & Malcolm X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Harold
Bloom ed. Boomall, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 1996, pp. 66-67.
Malcolm X was born in 1925 as Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska. His
father was a minister and follower of Marcus Garvey. The death of
Malcolm X’s father, possibly at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan,
directly contributed to the nervous breakdown of his mother and the
placement of Malcolm and his siblings in foster homes. As he grew
older, he became active in criminal activities, which eventually led
to his incarceration.
In 1947 while in jail at the age of 22, Malcolm read letters by
Elijah Muhammad and converted to Islam. He changed his name to
Malcolm X as a protest against the name that was given to his family
during the days of slavery. Upon his release from prison in 1952,
Malcolm became a minister of the Nation of Islam and became one of
the Nation’s most influential and charismatic leaders. He founded
several temples and became a vocal critic of discrimination and
racism in America. His ideology supported black power, rejecting
integration between black and white. In 1953, the FBI opened a file
on him and began monitoring his activities.
late 1950s and early 1960s, he traveled around the world and met
with several world leaders. In 1963, he criticized the March on
Washington led by the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement,
including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. During this time, Malcolm
learned of the adultery committed by Elijah Muhammad, which
eventually led to his split with the Nation of Islam. While on a
pilgrimage to Mecca, he was welcomed by several white Muslims. He
made the recognition that black supremacy was not a central tenet of
Islam. In 1964, he founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity,
a group aimed at encouraging black nationalism worldwide. With his
renewed faith, he changed his name to “El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.”
While Malcolm X remained more radical than the mainstream Civil
Rights Movement, his approach and attitude became more inclusive. He
met with several Southern organizations working for civil rights,
and he offered support for several initiatives led by Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. The two men actually met briefly outside the US Capitol,
but despite the desires of many Americans, they never directly
1965, Malcolm faced death threats from both the black and white
communities. In February, his house was firebombed. His wife and
four young daughters narrowly escaped from the blaze. One week
later, while giving a speech in Harlem, three African-American men
assassinated Malcolm X. There has been debate as to whether these
men were Black Muslims, operatives of the FBI, or affiliates of
others who may have wanted Malcolm X dead.
Bloom’s Notes: Alex Haley & Malcolm X’s The Autobiography of
Malcolm X. Harold Bloom ed. Boomall, PA: Chelsea House Publishers,
“Malcolm X, 1925-1965”. King Encyclopedia
[accessed, December 6, 2006].
Born in Ithaca, New York, in 1921, both of Alex Haley’s parents were
teachers. He spent his formative years in Henning, Tennessee, where
he developed a close relationship with his grandparents. His
grandmother was known to tell stories of the family’s early
decendents and their journey on a slave-ship to America. Haley
graduated high school and spent two years in college, but left
college to join the Coast Guard. While serving in the Coast Guard,
he sold his writings to various magazines. After the Coast Guard, he
set out to be a professional writer, selling stories to popular
publications, such as Reader’s Digest and Playboy.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published in 1965,
right after Malcolm X’s death. It had sold 6 million copies by 1977.
His 1976 novel, Roots, was the source of the 1977 television
miniseries that set records for viewers up to that point in TV
history. Haley won the 1977 American Book Award for Roots. Haley
died of a heart attack in 1992.
Over his lifetime, Haley weathered many storms. He was charged with
plagiarism several times and faulted for manipulating historical
facts to meet his needs. Despite these accusations, Haley’s
contribution to American culture remains significant. His works
encouraged African-Americans to embrace their heritage and seek to
understand their connections to both Africa and America. In a larger
sense, Haley’s work challenges all Americans to recognize the
injustices of the past and seek equality and social justice in the present.
Study Questions about the Text
How does Malcolm X’s understanding of his own identity change
over the different phases of his life? How does this understanding
change in reference to race? How does this understanding change in
terms of what it means to be a US citizen?
the women that most affected Malcolm X’s life? How did Malcolm X
interact with them, and how were these interactions different?
What different types of education did Malcolm X receive over the
course of his life? How did these different types of education
How would you describe the role of religion in Malcolm X’s life?
How did Malcolm X’s interpretations of Islam change over his life?
How did Malcolm X’s early experiences in life influence his
approach as a Civil Rights leader?
The Civil Rights Movement is often discussed in history texts as
a single movement that led to sweeping changes in society. What does
The Autobiography of Malcolm X show us about this movement? If
Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had lived, do you think they
would have become partners?
Does the fact that Alex Haley wrote this text based on interviews
and collaboration with Malcolm X change how you view this text?
Would you think about this text differently if this were a true
autobiography written by Malcolm X? How effectively can a writer
such as Alex Haley speak in the voice of a leader like Malcolm X?
Broader Study Questions about the
Do you think that issues of race and equality are central issues
in the United States today?
How did the 1960s shape our current political environment?
How do we
interpret our experiences to create our own identities? When we
share our stories with others, how do we edit our experiences?
What is the current state of the Civil Rights Movement?
How does religion impact our culture today? How do you think that
religious leaders influence our culture?