The Autobiography of Malcolm X | Study Guide

Malcolm X and Alex Haley

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The Autobiography of Malcolm X | Chapter 19 : 1965 | Summary

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Summary

Malcolm observes that black people didn't follow through on his idea about taking their case to the United Nations. He admits he didn't expect them to. He begins holding meetings and invites the public, not just Muslims, and he addresses himself to people of all religions. He senses "a wait-and-see attitude." He thinks black people have been failed by their leaders and by Christianity. "The black man was scarred, he was cautious, he was apprehensive."

In Mecca he reflected on his belief in Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm had had faith in him, "not only as a leader in the ordinary human sense, but also I believed in him as a divine leader." In Mecca he realized how dangerous it was to consider a person "divinely guided."

He continues to write long letters to friends, explaining how Mecca changed his thinking. He is still committed to the struggles of black people in the United States, he says, but "I'm a human being first and foremost" and he is in favor of "whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole."

However, the press does not acknowledge his new thinking. Reporters still view Malcolm in light of his old ideas, which they never understood. They keep asking him if he is "stirring up violence." He answers with a discussion of anger and self-defense. He also rejects the idea black people should be patient. Despite his statements, the press continues to link Malcolm with violence. Attempting to explain himself to readers of his autobiography, Malcolm quotes Martin Luther King. "Our nation was born in genocide," King said, referring to the European invasion of North America. The conquering of lands populated by indigenous peoples meant the "scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society," even before slaves were brought to the colonies from Africa. King says in celebrating this history, Americans learn to celebrate violence.

Malcolm's thoughts take a new turn: He contrasts power and spirit. "Men are attracted by spirit. By power, men are forced. Love is engendered by spirit," Malcolm says. He is thinking about attracting rather than forcing, about spirit rather than power, ideas that he sees in Islam. Christianity's time is over, he believes. He also considers integration the wrong goal. The goal should be to make up for four hundred years of racism.

Malcolm leaves on another international trip, spending four and a half months in the Middle East and Africa, meeting with world leaders and religious leaders. He talks to a white American ambassador to Africa, who confirms Malcolm's perception of the racism in America. They discuss the issue, and Malcolm proposes that something in the "American political, economic, and social atmosphere ... automatically nourishes a racist psychology in the white man." From this Malcolm concludes "the white man is not inherently evil." Instead "America's racist society influences him to act evilly."

In Africa Malcolm meets a white man who criticizes his "Black Muslim" beliefs. Malcolm tells the man his views have changed, though he is still a Muslim. He then surprises the man by guessing "you're a Jew with an Anglicized name." He goes on to tell the man Jews have fomented racism in the United States so "the white Gentiles' prejudice would keep diverted off the Jew." He tells readers he knows he will be called anti-Semitic for this opinion, "but truth is truth."

While he is on his trip the 1964, the U.S. presidential election is in the news: Barry Goldwater, a Republican, versus Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat. Malcolm the skeptic says there is little difference between them; neither will help black people.

Malcolm is trying to create a Black Nationalist organization. He feels that Black Nationalism can provide the "racial dignity, the incentive, and the confidence that the black race needs today to get up off its knees." One of his problems in building the new organization, he says, is his old angry Black Muslim image. He says he is still angry, but his experience in the Holy Land taught him "anger can blind human vision." He says, "My friends today are black, brown, red, yellow, and white!" He also expresses regret for telling the young white student there was nothing she could do. If he could, he would tell her to work with other white people. He pictures black people and white people working "in conjunction," in different groups. "Let sincere whites go and teach nonviolence to white people!" he concludes.

Malcolm returns again to the theme of dying violently. He points out that his father and uncles died by violence. Given his beliefs and his temperament, he says it is "just about impossible for me to die of old age." He then reflects on why he believed "the white man is the devil." The proposition made sense, he says, given his experiences. He reflects on the "long hot summer" of 1964, which saw riots over police violence in Harlem, Rochester, Jersey City, and Philadelphia.

Malcolm speaks of his regrets and hopes. He still thinks he could have been a good lawyer if racism had not denied him the education. Now more internationally focused, he has plans to learn other languages, including Swahili and Chinese. He expresses a desire to study: "I mean ranging study, because I have a wide-open mind."

In the last pages of the book Malcolm returns again to the theme of violent death. He now regards every day "as another borrowed day," because he is so likely to die early and violently. As a result, he says, "each day I live as if I am already dead." His killers could be white or black, he reflects. He does not expect to read the book in published form; he will not live to see it. He asks readers to remember when he is dead, "the white man, in his press, is going to identify me with 'hate.'" He concludes that if he succeeds in "having brought any light" to expose racism, then the credit is due to Allah.

Analysis

This final chapter is overshadowed by Malcolm's death. Readers know it is coming, and even Malcolm himself had a strong premonition that he would soon be killed. As though leaving a last will and testament, he takes the opportunity to explain his beliefs to readers and to the press.

The press has a hard time understanding Malcolm. He tries to explain his new ideas about white people, but journalists ignore him and repeatedly ask whether he believes in violence. "Reporters kept wanting me linked to that word 'violence,'" Malcolm says. A simple contrast is easy to write about in the newspapers. Perhaps that is why the press portrays Malcolm as for violence and Martin Luther King as against it. It is true that Martin Luther King was committed to nonviolent struggle in the civil rights movement; however, Malcolm was not committed to violent struggle as a timeless principle. He admitted that it was possible to use violence as a tactic in situations where it would work. But he quotes Martin Luther King criticizing the violence of the white settlers of North America. This quotation undoes the King-versus-X image in the press. Malcolm X quotes Martin Luther King to show they are both outraged by the same history. They only differ in the tactics they think can be used.

Malcolm says he is friends today with "black, brown, red, yellow, and white!" But he still might not have Jewish friends. In Africa following his visit to Mecca, he told a Jewish man that Jews foment racism in the United States, so it appears that Malcolm has not let them into his circle. Malcolm was transformed by Mecca but he did not return a saint.

Readers of the book know Malcolm died before it was published. Therefore, Malcolm's plans for his future take on a special sadness. He wants to learn Swahili and Chinese; he and his wife are expecting another baby and he hopes for a son. These hopes also humanize Malcolm, giving more dimension to his life than just his public speaking and organizing. These details also give a sense of what was lost in Malcolm's sudden death.

Although he makes plans for the future he also makes clear that he might not live to see it. Therefore, his predictions about 1965 take on the eerie cast of prophesy. He did turn out to be right; 1965 was another "long hot summer" of unrest. He was only partly right about the press identifying him with "hate." The simplistic pro-violence, anti-violence portrayal of Malcolm and King persists. But he was praised in the African and Asian press immediately after his assassination.

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