Authors: Malcolm X

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American political theorist

Identity: African American

Author Works


The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1965 (with Alex Haley)

Malcolm X Speaks, 1965

The Speeches of Malcolm X at Harvard, 1968

By Any Means Necessary, 1970

The End of White World Supremacy, 1971


Malcolm X helped to restore the pride that made the emergence of black consciousness in the twentieth century inevitable and then went beyond anger and hatred to make the reemergence of hope possible. He was born as Malcolm Little (his mother’s father was white) and grew up on the outskirts of East Lansing, Michigan, where his family raised their own food until their house was burned down by white people when he was four. His father, Earl Little, a Baptist minister who believed in Marcus Garvey’s ideas that black people had to return to Africa to attain true freedom, was murdered by two white men when Malcolm was six. His mother sought consolation in another religion and became a Seventh-day Adventist before suffering a mental breakdown.{$I[AN]9810001054}{$I[A]Malcolm X}{$S[A]Little, Malcolm;Malcolm X}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Malcolm X}{$I[geo]AFRICAN AMERICAN/AFRICAN DESCENT;Malcolm X}{$I[tim]1925;Malcolm X}

Malcolm X

(Library of Congress)

Malcolm continued in school until the eighth grade, hoping to become a lawyer though he was advised to train as a carpenter. His family moved frequently, from rural to suburban to inner-city locations, and as a teenager Malcolm X settled in Boston. There he began to operate as a street hustler and learned about the underside of American society as a numbers runner, burglar, drug pusher, and addict. Known as “Detroit Red” because his family still lived in Michigan, he was arrested in 1946 for robbery and sentenced to ten years in prison. While in prison he studied as much as fifteen hours a day, taking correspondence courses in English, Latin, and German and joining a prison debate society. He converted to Islam after writing to Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, the religious group also known as the Black Muslims. Upon his release he returned to Detroit and became an assistant minister, and in 1954 he became the minister of Temple Seven in Harlem. In 1963, by which time he had married Sister Betty X, he left the Nation of Islam. He then collaborated with Alex Haley on an interview for Playboy (May, 1963), which led to the writing of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

In 1964 he formed his own Muslim religious organization, and when he visited Mecca later that year he chose the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz to symbolize his strong beliefs in building a united front of African American organizations. He helped to form the Organization of African Unity. During the last year of his life he spoke extensively on issues concerning civil rights in the United States, international affairs, and black nationalism. His home in Queens, New York, was bombed the night before a major statement on the goals of the Organization of Afro-American Unity was to be released. On February 21, 1965, he was assassinated as he addressed an audience of four hundred in a Manhattan ballroom. His killers were never found.

Many commentators view Malcolm X as a violent or negative version of Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet this judgment ignores the fact that his life was much more typical than that of King and that his experiences were broader and closer to the lives of many African American people. It also overlooks Malcolm X’s saying upon his return from Mecca, “In the past I have made sweeping indictments of all white people. I will never be guilty of that again.” After that time he continued to fight racism but adopted a less confrontational approach.

Malcolm X’s autobiography still stands as the prime example of prison literature from the United States in the twentieth century, an inspiration to other prisoners trapped in ignorance and fear. His speeches and his interviews advocate a philosophy of political organization with precision, clarity, and force, employing the powers of language in spoken form in the tradition of the slave literature of the nineteenth century. The words of a social critic, his writing now seems remarkably prescient, his rhetorical style the model for protest movements through the 1970’s, his wit and ability to turn a phrase a precursor of the rhythms of diverse black American artists such as street-corner rap performers and leaders such as Jesse Jackson. An indication of his stature in the African American community is that he is the subject of more poetry than any other black American except John Coltrane. Malcolm X’s brief literary career suggests the promise that he was not permitted to fulfill.

BibliographyBreitman, George. The Assassination of Malcolm X. 3d ed. New York: Pathfinder, 1991. Includes essays by Baxter Smith and Herman Porter; analyzes the trial of those indicted.Breitman, George. The Last Year of Malcolm X. 1967. Reprint. New York: Pathfinder, 1999. Shows how Malcolm X’s narrow nationalist viewpoint evolved.Carson, Clayborne. Malcolm X: The FBI File. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1991.Clarke, John. Malcolm X: The Man and His Times. 1969. Reprint. Trenton, N.J.: African World Press, 1990. A collection of essays on Malcolm X’s life and influence.DeCaro, Louis A. On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X. New York: New York University Press, 1996. Biographical and interpretive study.Dyson, Michael Eric. Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Biographical and interpretive study.Epps, Archie. Introductory essays to The Speeches of Malcolm X at Harvard. 1968. Reprint. New York: Paragon House, 1991. Survey of Malcolm X’s life and comment on his changing political perspective.Gallen, David. Malcolm X as They Knew Him. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1992. Gallen’s book includes vivid reminiscences of Malcolm from friends and associates, a Playboy interview of Malcolm by Alex Haley before they worked together on the autobiography, and lively essays from writers as diverse as Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver and Southern novelist and poet Robert Penn Warren.Goldman, Peter. Death and Life of Malcolm X. 2d ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979. Biographical and interpretive study, which draws on newspaper reports, interviews, and Malcolm X’s autobiography.Jenkins, Robert L., and Mfanya Donald Tryman, eds. The Malcolm X Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. Contains over 500 essays on all aspects of Malcolm X’s life, politics, and writings.Johnson, Timothy V. Malcolm X: A Comprehensive Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1986. A good basis for any study of the life and work of Malcolm X.Perry, Bruce. Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America. Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill Press, 1991. Aggressively revisionist, Perry suggests that a childhood of physical abuse and guilt over an ambiguous sexual orientation partly drove Malcolm’s rage and the sudden shifts in his identity. Critics complain that Perry carelessly evaluates the quality of his evidence.Sales, William W., Jr. From Civil Rights To Black Liberation: Malcolm X and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Boston: South End Press, 1994. Sales seeks to shift attention from Malcolm the emotionally powerful icon to Malcolm the political and economic thinker. He sees the post-NOI Malcolm as an almost Marxist revolutionary who clearly articulated the relationship of capitalism and colonialism to the oppression of black people.
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