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The Autobiography of Malcolm X | Study Guide

Malcolm X and Alex Haley

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The Autobiography of Malcolm X | Epilogue by Alex Haley | Summary



Alex Haley first hears of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam through a friend in 1959. Soon after he pitches an article about the Nation of Islam to Reader's Digest magazine. Malcolm initially accuses Haley of being a spy for "white man," but he is more relaxed after Elijah Muhammad gives his approval. In 1960 the article appears under the title "Muhammad Speaks."

In 1963 a publisher approaches Haley about interviewing Malcolm for an autobiography. Malcolm is surprised but he agrees, on two conditions: any money the book earns must go to the Nation of Islam, and Haley must get permission from Elijah Muhammad.

Malcolm and Haley sign a contract. Nothing will go in the book Malcolm that has not said, and nothing can be left out that Malcolm wants in. Haley will be allowed to write what he wants in the epilogue, without Malcolm reviewing it. Malcolm decides to dedicate the book to Elijah Muhammad.

The interviews do not go well at first. "We got off to a very poor start," says Haley. Malcolm talks and talks, but only about the Nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammad. Haley notices Malcolm scribbles on napkins from time to time. He starts leaving napkins around to see what Malcolm writes. A note Malcolm writes about women gives Haley the idea of asking Malcolm about his mother. The question puts Malcolm in a thoughtful and unguarded mood. He finally begins to talk about memories of life rather than Islamic doctrine. He talks until dawn, providing Haley with the material for the first two chapters.

Malcolm is very revealing. One night he spontaneously scat-sings ("re-bop-de-bop-blap-blam") and dances the lindy-hop, "his coattail and the long legs and the big feet flying." The deep reminiscing has an effect on Malcolm. He reconnects with his mother, long isolated in a mental institution. He and his siblings arrange to have her released.

Of his criminal career, Malcolm says he has no regrets. It was simply a response to "what happens to thousands upon thousands of black men in the white man's Christian world." Malcolm often stresses to Haley that he does not want to sound arrogant or self-important.

Haley gets to know Malcolm's wife, Betty, through the many telephone conversations he has with her. He spends so much time with Malcolm they eventually develop a "warm camaraderie." Haley observes at close hand how Malcolm can command a room and also how he connects with addicts and hustlers. Haley notices a strain in Malcolm and a slight change in his attitude toward Elijah Muhammad. Then the newspapers report that Muhammad has suspended Malcolm X for his remark in reference to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1963) that "the chickens [had come] home to roost," suggesting that Kennedy was deserving of the violence that ended his life because he had failed to end racial violence in America. The interviews with Haley slow down as Malcolm answers questions from reporters about how he is not supposed to talk to the press. Malcolm tells them all he is sorry and he believes in Muhammad's "wisdom and authority." One night he scribbles on a napkin, "You have not converted a man because you have silenced him. John Viscount Morley." Not long after, Malcolm has Haley change their contract; now the money will go to Muslim Mosque, Inc.

The newspapers report that Malcolm has received death threats from a Muslim minister. When Haley next sees Malcolm he says, "If I'm alive when this book comes out, it will be a miracle." He finally tells Haley about his split with Elijah Muhammad. Later Malcolm has an emotional outburst about the Nation of Islam. "We had the best organization the black man's ever had—niggers ruined it!" he tells Haley. Haley remarks he never heard Malcolm say "nigger" on any other occasion. Malcolm now gets phone calls during their interviews, often from angry Muslims still loyal to Elijah Muhammad. "I'm a marked man," Malcolm says after one call. Haley wonders if Malcolm will want to change the book, but Malcolm says to let the early material stand.

Malcolm goes to Mecca in April 1964. He writes letters to friends and family, signed "El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz." He returns in mid-May and gives press conferences, explaining his new views on racism. One impressed reporter is M.S. Handler, who wrote the introduction to The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Haley sends some draft chapters to Malcolm. They come back covered in red ink, showing changes Malcolm wants. Later Malcolm changes his mind again. "Forget what I wanted changed," he tells Haley. "Let what you already had stand."

Malcolm calls a press conference and announces his new Organization of Afro-American Unity or OAAU. His fourth daughter, Gamilah Lumumba, is born. He announces he is traveling to Africa and Asia for six weeks. Malcolm stays overseas for 18 weeks instead and is followed closely by the American press. Even as Malcolm's fame has grown, his reputation in black people's struggles suffers. Haley says there were two criticisms: all he had ever done was talk, and his allegiances and interests had changed so much no one knew what he stood for.

A court sides with the Nation of Islam, saying Malcolm, Betty, and their daughters must leave their house on Long Island because it belongs to the Nation of Islam. Malcolm needs money and has to take as many speaking engagements as possible. Death threats continue. A car in which one of Malcolm's assistants is traveling is menaced by men with knives. Malcolm's men brandish guns and get away. Black Muslims menace Malcolm in the lobby of a hotel in Los Angeles.

In January 1965 Malcolm makes trips to Selma, Alabama, and to Europe. In France he is banned as an "undesirable person." Betty is pregnant again, and there is an order of eviction in Long Island. On February 13, 1965, a Molotov cocktail is thrown through Malcolm's living room window. A few days later he talks to photographer-author Gordon Parks and expresses regret for his Nation of Islam days, saying he was "hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march." He and Betty look at new houses but are short of cash.

Malcolm stays in Manhattan hotel on Saturday night. On Sunday morning, February 21, Malcolm phones Betty and asks her to bring the children to the two o'clock meeting at the Audubon Ballroom that day.

At the Audubon Ballroom Malcolm is introduced at nearly 3 p.m. He has barely begun speaking when there is a scuffle in the audience. Then shots ring out and Malcolm collapses. He is brought to the hospital and pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m.

Malcolm's body lies in state at a Harlem funeral home for four days. In the week before the funeral several Nation of Islam mosques and businesses are firebombed. Telephoned bomb threats cause two evacuations of the funeral home. When the church location of the upcoming funeral becomes known, the church receives bomb threats.

International newspapers cover Malcolm's murder. Carl T. Rowan, Director of the United States Information Agency, scoffs at the praise in the press. "All this about an ex-convict, ex-dope peddler who became a racial fanatic," he says. In contrast, the international newspapers print thoughtful and admiring obituaries.

Two men, members of the Nation of Islam, are arrested for the murder of Malcolm X. Haley describes a mass meeting of the Nation of Islam in a coliseum in Chicago. Malcolm's brothers Wilfred and Philbert attend, urging unity with Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad denounces Malcolm X.

In Harlem Malcolm's funeral is attended by a large crowd, including the actors Ossie Davis and his wife Ruby Dee. Davis reads telegrams of condolence from world leaders and civil rights leaders and delivers a eulogy praising Malcolm as "our manhood, our living, black manhood!" Haley concludes the book by saying, Malcolm X "was the most electric personality I have ever met, and I still can't quite conceive him dead."


Haley's epilogue gives a more intimate portrait of Malcolm than the one in the rest of the autobiography. Malcolm comes across as both more playful and more devoted to his wife and family. The image of Malcolm spontaneously singing and lindy-hopping stands in contrast to the serious man who declined to dance at a celebration in Ghana. He seems amused at his own trickery when he reveals to Haley he was bluffing when he played Russian roulette in front of Shorty and Sophia.

The epilogue also reveals how heavily the death threats burdened Malcolm. He does not complain about his difficult financial straits during the interviews, so Haley's epilogue gives valuable testimony on how departing the Nation of Islam put Malcolm's house and livelihood at risk.

Haley's epilogue documents the extent of Malcolm's close collaboration with Haley and the level of control he exerted over the final shape of the book. Because of their close collaboration Malcolm is credited as a co-author. However, Malcolm could not contribute to some aspects of the book's final shape. A biography of a living person usually leaves the end of the story unknown because their life is not yet over. From early on Malcolm intuited he would die violently, and by the book's end this has come to pass. Haley not only documents Malcolm's final days and the assassination, he also records the contrasts in reactions. The international press, especially in Africa and the Middle East, hailed Malcolm as a martyr, while the USAI officer Carl T. Rowan denounced him as a "racial fanatic." There is a similar contrast in Haley's portraits of two gatherings after Malcolm's death, one at a Nation of Islam mosque in Detroit and the other at Faith Temple. At the mosque Elijah Muhammad criticizes Malcolm, saying that just a weeks ago he had come to the mosque "to blast away his hate and mud-slinging; everything he could think of to disgrace me." Muhammad adds, "His foolish teaching brought him to his own end." Across the country in New York, Malcolm is mourned and revered at his funeral, with praise coming from world leaders and the eulogist Ossie Davis. Haley does not record any indifferent reactions to Malcolm upon his death, only scorn and love.

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