The Quadrangle Celebrates Black History Month: Autobiography of Malcolm X

by SOPHIA SAKELLARIOU, Production Editor

Step into the mind of one of the greatest civil rights leaders of American history as he tells his story and the origins of his ideologies. A retelling of his life from childhood up until mere weeks before his assassination, this book gives new insight into the world of a man who’s views on racism cultivated communities of supporters as well as strong opposition to his societal views.

Malcolm X grew up as Malcolm Little in Lansing, Mich., and moved to Boston when he was a young teen to live with his older half-sister. He got caught up in the hustle and bustle of gambling, drug dealing and other criminal street activities. He moved to Harlem as he rose in the ranks on the streets. He explains how he was so doped up most of the time that he couldn’t tell one day apart from the next. One day, Little got himself caught up in a scheme that resulted in jail time, time that would change his life.

While in prison, Malcolm received letters from family members in which they discussed a man who changed their lives and who could even help him in prison. This man was Elijah Muhammad, a leader of the Black Muslims of an Islamic group known as the Nation of Islam. Malcolm received dozens of letters, but due to his lack of education, he found himself struggling to read them and even write back. He went to the prison’s library where he read the dictionary, writing down word for word its contents in order to improve his writing. As his comprehension improved, he fostered a passion for history books in which he saw a repeated pattern of oppression by black people of the white man.

Upon his release from prison, Malcolm rose in the ranks among Elijah Muhammad’s followers and soon became one of his most trusted ministers, contributing to the rapid growth of the Black Muslim movement. Malcolm was devoted to this religion and practiced its rituals to the utmost perfection. He felt that his experiences as a troubled teen helped him better connect to the people he was preaching to because he had been in their shoes. During this time in his life he added the X to his name, refusing to identify with the name of the white man who exploited his ancestors.

malcom x
Malcolm X was one of the most prominent voice of the 1960s and of the American Civil Rights Movement. SOPHIA SAKELLARIOU / THE QUADRANGLE

Malcolm preached separation, not segregation, feeling that it was simply impossible to integrate the two races. This framed him as a racist to some in the public eye and he received much backlash for his preachings. However, as he delved deeper into the Islamic faith and took the ritual pilgrimage to Mecca, his view was changed. In Mecca he saw how people of all different colors and backgrounds could live amongst each other in peace and happiness. He saw with his own eyes that color could not divide.

However, Malcolm did not have enough time to share with the world his revelation of peace. He had many enemies back in the States as his former friend Elijah Muhammad ordered followers to kill Malcolm, fearing his rise in power may surpass his own and that the direction of the Nation may change. Malcolm was devastated by this betrayal, but was determined to not live in fear in order to share his newfound wisdom. He left the Nation, renouncing their separatist beliefs, and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1965 which valued human rights as a whole, not just civil rights.

While at a rally in Harlem, Malcolm was fatally shot by three men from the Nation of Islam in front of his wife and six daughters. In the epilogue of the book, author Alex Haley explains how Malcolm seemed to know this day would come, yet refused to stop fighting for what he believed in.

This book is brilliant not only for the insight it provided into the mind of this complex man, but for how it shows Malcolm X’s growth. As this book was being written, Malcolm was living the experiences as the stories were told and the reader is able to pick up his notes of fear and change as he went through his life. People change, its human, and to be able to read and understand these changes this man underwent in such a pivotal time in our nation’s history is beautiful.