This autobiography is set in America. Spanning a period of four
decades, the book is a moving saga of America’s most
controversial Black Muslim leader-Malcolm X. He spends his
boyhood in a small town in Michigan. He is imprisoned at the
age of twenty. It is during his imprisonment that he converts to
Islam, and educates himself in history and religion.

From Detroit Red to the fiery outspoken minister of the Nation
of Islam-Malcolm X, he travels all over the US, espousing the
cause of black unity and emancipation. The book traces
Malcolm’s childhood in Lansing and follows him to Boston,
Detroit and onto Harlem, giving the reader an insight into the life
of the average black man in a society divided on racial lines.



Malcolm X

The hero of the novel. The book is about his life and times.
Through his own experiences, he tells the reader what it is like to
be a black man or woman in America during this period. The racial
discrimination that he faces since childhood is a reflection of the
discrimination and harassment faced by thousands of blacks in the
United States.

Rev. Earl Little

Malcolm X’s father. He is a priest in a Baptist church. Besides
his work as a priest, he is also an active member of and organizer
for the organization founded by Marcus Garvey. Earl Little and
his family is constantly threatened and harassed by Ku Klux
Klan members due to his activities as a member of Garvey’s
organization. Yet he continues to organize the blacks in and
around his village, until the Klan members kill him.

Louise Little

Malcolm X’s mother. She is a strong woman who tries to keep
her family together after her husband’s death. But the constant
interference from the Welfare Department during the depression
years breaks her will.

Ella Little

The tall, domineering and independent sister of Malcolm X. She
is extremely fond of Malcolm and stands by him like a rock
during the most difficult phases of his life.


The pretty black girl whom young Malcolm meets in Boston on his
first date. She is heart broken when Malcolm leaves her for a
white girl named Sophia. The rejection, coupled with her own
problems at home pushes her towards drugs and prostitution.


The young black boy (though much older than Malcolm), who
Malcolm meets and befriends in Boston. Shorty helps him get a
job and settle down in the new city.


A pimp and a drug dealer. Malcolm meets him in Harlem. For
sometime he even works under Sammy till he forms his own

Elijah Muhammad

The founder and spiritual leader of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm
is deeply influenced by his teachings while in jail. Through out
the book Malcolm X refers to him with great respect and admits
that it was his teaching, as well as affection that was largely
responsible for his transformation.

Reginald Little

Malcolm’s younger brother. He is extremely fond of Malcolm. It
was he who first reveals to him the teachings of the Nation of


West Indian Archie

A tall hefty Negro in Harlem who handles a part of the hustling
racket. Hustling is a kind of speculation where people bet their
money on numbers. Malcolm works under Archie as a hustler till
they break up due to a misunderstanding.

Wilfrid Little

Malcolm’s elder brother. He is a member of the Nation of Islam.
He accepts Malcolm into his family after he is released from

Wallace Muhammad

Elijah Muhammad’s son. He and Malcolm X become close
friends in the Nation of Islam.

Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali)

The world Heavyweight champion, who is influenced by
Malcolm X and becomes a member of the Nation of Islam.

The Swerlins

The (white) couple incharge of the Detention home, where
Malcolm lived between 1937-40.

Mr. Shawarbi

Dr. Shawarbi was a United Nations advisor and Director of the
Federation of Islamic Associations in the U.S. and Canada.
Malcolm X meets him before leaving for Mecca.



The Protagonist of the book is Malcolm X. He is narrating the
story of his life to Alex Haley, with whose help the
Autobiography is written. Malcolm X is already a prominent
Minister in the Nation of Islam when he meets Alex Haley and
agrees to write about his life. The entire book is a collection of
reminisces as narrated to the latter.


There is no one particular individual who can be called the
Antagonist in the book. The book depicts Malcolm’s struggle
with the society he is living in. Therefore the antagonist in the
book is not an individual but an entire system which is unjust and


Since the book is a bunch of recollections from the Black leader
Malcolm X’s past, there is no one particular incident, or situation
which can be called the climax. The turning point in author’s life
is perhaps when he decides to drop out of school in Lansing and
visit his sister Ella in Boston. Another crucial point in his life is
when he is arrested for burglary and is given 15 years
imprisonment. For this is when he feels the need to re-educate
himself and is deeply influenced by Elijah Muhammad’s
teachings. Again when Malcolm breaks away from the Nation of
Islam, it is yet another important point in the book.


The book ends rather abruptly in the chapter called 1965. For it
is this year when Malcolm was brutally assassinated during a
meeting. The last chapter refers to the time when Malcolm X
returns from a second trip to Africa and the Middle East and
announces the formation of his new organization called the
Organization of Afro-American Unity (O.A.A.U). During this
period his personal life is in a turmoil due to constant threats to
his life. Moreover, the house he and his family had been living
in, is claimed back by the Nation of Islam - which turns into an
ugly legal battle in the court. The author completely aware that
he might not live to complete his autobiography tells Haley that:

'...I know that societies often have killed the people who have
helped to change those societies. And if I can die having brought
any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to
destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America
- then, all the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been

PLOT (Synopsis)

The book traces the life of Malcolm X from his childhood, his
life in the streets of Harlem, the transformation that occurs in the
prison where he first comes in contact with the teachings of
Elijah Muhammad and finally the break with the Nation of
Islam. Malcolm X the protagonist is looking back into his past
and narrating incidents to Alex Haley, who becomes his close
friend and confidante during the course of writing the book.

The book can be broadly divided into four parts. The first part
deals with his childhood in Lansing. Malcolm loses his father
Rev. Earl Little when he is hardly four or five years old. Since
his mother is unable to get a job anywhere due to his father’s
reputation (he was a member of Marcus Garvey’s organization-
U.N.I.A, feared and despised by the local white population), she
is forced to turn to the Welfare Department for charity. Due to
constant meddling of the Welfare Department into their private
affairs, the family breaks up. While Malcolm is sent away to a
foster family, his younger siblings are sent away to a close
friend’s who agree to take them in. His elder brother and sister
continue to stay in their house. For young Malcolm, the break up
of his family and his mother eventually losing her senses is
extremely traumatic. Though he used to keep in touch with his
siblings and his mother (who is sent to a sanatorium), he holds
the Welfare Department responsible for interfering in and
breaking his family.

The second part of the book deals with Malcolm’s life in the
streets of Detroit and later in Harlem. Malcolm drops out of
school (in the 8 th grade), and leaves for Boston where his sister
Ella stays. Here, he gets a job as a shoe - shine boy with the help
of Shorty. It is in Boston that he meets Laura, a black high
school student who is very fond of dancing. Malcolm dates her
till he meets Sophia, a white girl who loves hanging around with
black men. During this period, Malcolm changes several jobs -
from shoe-shining to waiting on people at a drug store. Later, he
gets a rail-road job, where he sells food and cigarettes to the
passengers travelling between Boston and New York. It is in
Harlem, New York, that he learns to gamble, when he takes a job
at Ed Small’s bar. From bar tending to drug peddling and
hustling (a form of gambling with numbers), to pimping and
robbery - Malcolm still in his teens starts living dangerously.
Until one day he is caught along with his accomplices - Sophia,
her sister Rudy and Shorty. Malcolm and his friend Shorty are
sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

In jail, (the third part of the book), he learns about the Nation of
Islam. His sister and brother are already members of the
Organization. They urge Malcolm (through letters), to write to
their spiritual leader Mr. Elijah Muhammad. Deeply moved by
what he hears from his beloved brother Reginald, about the
teachings of Elijah Muhammad, he decides to write to the man -
who was considered a messenger of Allah by his black disciples.
The need to communicate to his family members and Elijah
Muhammad makes him re-learn English which he had
completely forgotten. Whilst in jail he studies history and
religion and was an active member of the debating society
formed for the inmates. Therefore, the prison became a
University for Malcolm where he studied and learnt to express
his views on a variety of subjects. And this is where he is
transformed from ‘Detroit Red’ to the fiery spokesperson of the
Nation of Islam--later known as Malcolm X. Once he completes
his term in jail, he becomes actively involved in strengthening
and increasing the membership of the organization. Very soon he
becomes the right man of Elijah Muhammad and rises to the
position of a minister in the Nation, where he has an entire unit
or ‘Mosque' consisting of the Nation of Islam’s members.
Almost every day, he addressed gatherings of students at
Universities all over the country who wanted to hear him speak.

The final part of the book deals with Malcolm’s break with the
Nation of Islam. In this part, Malcolm tells the reader about the
disagreement and the incidents that led to his suspension from
the Organization. Soon after the suspension, Malcolm leaves for
Mecca. Before he goes to Mecca, he visits several African and
Gulf countries. His visit abroad gives Malcolm X a better
understanding of Islam. Also the time away from his home gives
him a chance to reflect and develop a deeper insight to the
problem of Racism. Malcolm returns home to announce the
formation of his new organization - OAAU or the Organization
for Afro-American Unity. His earlier perception that all whites
are devils changes due to his own experience, where he meets
several white media men and students who were opposed to

Moreover, he feels the need for black unity on an international
basis - cutting across religious and national barriers. Only such a
unity, he felt, would help check the cancer of Racism. However,
even before he translates his ideas into reality, Malcolm X was
assassinated in February 1965. This Autobiography is a powerful
and moving saga of the triumph of human will and spirit over the
most dreadful conditions, destroying black youth in America. It
is a story of a man’s struggle against a society, which was
pushing its youth (especially the blacks) towards crime and
drugs. Malcolm X struggled and overcame what can be
considered the worst in civil society. He rose up from the very
depths like a phoenix from ashes to become a hero of his people.




Racism in America

A major theme of the book is that face of America which only
the blacks can see every day-the ugly face of Racism. And only
the black Americans who experience it right from their birth, can
express, what it is like to be discriminated in every sphere of life,
only because of one’s color. In the book Malcolm X the writer
goes into the history of the blacks, traces their origins and states
that blacks should not seek to integrate into white society. By
doing so, he believed that blacks would always be dependent on
the whites for employment, education etc. Instead, blacks should
organize politically as well as economically so as to generate
enough resources among the blacks to fulfil their employment as
well as educational needs.


The Civil Rights Movement in America.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X discusses the Civil Rights
Movement at length. Malcolm did not look at the question of
racial discrimination as an internal or a Civil Rights issue. He
believed that it was a Human Rights issue and ought to be made
an international question. He disagreed with the methods used by
prominent Civil Rights leaders of that time and he also believed
that the blacks should not seek to integrate into white society.


The Autobiography is a serious novel dealing with burning
issues in the US during the 50s and the 60s. The book does not
merely record the life and experiences of Malcolm X, but is a
serious indictment of a country that champions the cause of
Human Rights all over the world, but violates the very principles
of Human Rights in her own back yard.


Author Information

Malcolm X (1925- 1965).Born as Malcolm Little in Omaha,
Nebraska, he grew up to become the leader of a movement to
unite black people all over the world. His father Rev. Earl Little
was a priest and an active member of the Universal Negro
Improvement Association (U.N.I.A) founded by Marcus Garvey.
In 1946, Malcolm X was sentenced to prison in Massachusetts
for burglary. While in prison, he came across the teachings of the
Nation of Islam and converted to Islam. The members of this
organization believed in the separation of races.

Soon after he was released from prison in 1952, he became an
active member, organizer, and leading spokesperson of the
Nation of Islam. Very soon he rose to the position of a Minister
in the organization and traveled all over America to attend and
speak at lectures organized by Universities and media persons on
the subject of Racism. In 1964, due to serious disagreements
with the founder of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad,
Malcolm X formed a new organization called the Organization
of Afro -American Unity (OAAU). But even before his new
organization could be firmly established, he was brutally
assassinated at a Public meeting on Feb. 21, 1965.

Malcolm X is no more. But his thoughts and words live through
his speeches and the Autobiography he wrote with the help of his
close friend and noted writer Alex Haley. Some of the
observations made on the condition of blacks and the issue of
Racism in America by this black leader are still extremely
relevant today.

Literary Information

Malcolm X has written this Autobiography with the help of Alex
Haley. Although, the entire book all have been written and
arranged by Alex Haley, the content of the book has been
narrated and edited by the black leader himself. Also, the book
has been written in first person as though Malcolm X is directly
addressing his readers. Therefore, the book is rightly called an
Autobiography and not a Biography written by Alex Haley.

The book gives the reader a vivid description of the life and
times of the most controversial leader of the Civil Rights
Movement in America. In other words, while recording the
upheavals in the personal life of Malcolm X, it also gives a
ringside view of the events that occurred in and outside America
during the four decades-1925- 1965. And how these events
affected Malcolm’s own life.

This Autobiography is a valuable piece of literature for not only
its power of description and narration but also for the deep
insight it gives to the reader of the socio-economic and cultural
conditions prevailing in the US during the ‘40s and the ‘50s.

Historical Information

The Autobiography of Malcolm X gives the reader a lot of
information on the socio-economic and cultural life of the blacks
in the US between the period 1925-1965. The book begins with
the Ku Klux Klan men threatening Malcolm’s mother, a few
months before Malcolm was born. The Klan men leave a
warning for Malcolm’s father because of his involvement in
Marcus Garvey’s organization. The scene reflects the tension
that existed between the blacks and whites in America then. The
1920s witnessed the growth of the movement founded by Marcus
Garvey. Through his organization, the UNIA Garvey tried to
develop racial pride among the blacks. He believed that the
condition of blacks would not improve if they live in America.
Therefore, he spoke about the need of establishing a new
homeland in Africa for the black Americans. Though Garvey
was imprisoned for alleged fraud through the mail in 1925, his
work was carried on (for sometime before it petered off) by loyal
and committed members like Malcolm’s father Rev. Earl Little
in the book. The Garvey movement, which gathered momentum
in the ‘20s, offered a new hope for many blacks who were deeply
disturbed by the race riots of 1918 and 1919. Soon after the first
World War, the summer of 1919 a series of race riots broke out
all over the country, A black poet, James Weldon Johnson has
described this violent period as ‘the red summer’. For at least a
100 people (most of whom were blacks) lost their lives and many
more were injured in these riots.

In the book, young Malcolm’s contact and friendship with black
musicians reveal not just his love for music but also tells the
reader of the times he was living in. The ’20 in America
witnessed what is known as the Harlem Renaissance in
American history. The Harlem Renaissance was an outpouring of
black literature and music in America then. It demonstrated that
blacks had the talent and could produce the finest pieces of Art,
which not only blacks but also the whites in America can
appreciate. Besides noted writers like Langston Hughes, black
musicians also gained fame during this period. A black band
leader, W.C. Handy, who had composed ‘St. Louis Blues’ in
1914, came to be known as the father of blues. Jazz music grew
out of black folk music and ballads. Two black band leaders,
namely, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, became the
country’s leading jazz musicians.

The reader also gets an idea of the hardships that the common
people especially the blacks had to face during the Great
Depression. Malcolm’s own experiences as a young schoolboy in
Lansing, Michigan during this period tells the reader of what life
must have been like for poor black families during the
Depression years. Again, the reader is given a glimpse of the
conditions prevailing during World War II. During this period all
young men were expected to and given orders from the
Government to voluntarily join the US. Army. Malcolm’s
attempts to avoid the draft orders reflect the plight of many
American youth who did wish to join the army then. This was
true of several black youth then who had always felt
discriminated and shunned by white society. And now when the
War had broken out, the black youths were expected to sacrifice
their lives for a country, which had never accepted them as her

About Alex Haley, who helped Malcolm X to put together his
Autobiography: Alex Palmer Haley (1921 -) was born in Ithaca,
NY and grew up in Henning, Tenn and other southern
communities. He served in the Coast guard from 1939 to 1959
and began to write articles and short stories. During this period
he met Malcolm X to interview him on the Nation of Islam and
its activities. This was the first of a series of meetings between
the two men. Initially, Malcolm X, who was a minister of the
Nation of Islam then, was wary of the writer and even called him
‘a tool of the white devils’. Gradually, the black leader began to
consider him as a friend he could trust during the most difficult
phase of his life.

During his career as a free -lance writer, Haley edited The
Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965). Alex Haley is a noted
American author today whose book-‘Roots’ (1976) is well
known all over the world.


Chapter 1



The first chapter begins with an incident that occurs a few
months before Malcolm’s birth. One night, his mother is alone at
home, putting Malcolm’s elder siblings to sleep. Some Ku Klux
Klan member’s ride up to the house and call out for Malcolm’s
father - Rev. Earl Little. Earl Little is a Baptist minister and a
committed `organizer’ for the Universal Negro Improvement
Association (U.N.I.A.), founded by Marcus Garvey. His mother,
Louise Little opens the door and stands where the men can see
her pregnant condition. Standing there, she informs the white -
hooded men that her husband is away preaching in Milwaukee.
The Klansmen warn her that if her husband continues to arouse
the `good’ Negroes of their town (Omaha), he will pay for it with
his life. Before the men gallop away into the dark night carrying
flaring torches, they circle round the house shattering every
windowpane in sight with their rifle butts. Malcolm learns about
this incident from his mother some years later.

Malcolm is his father’s seventh child. His father has three
children from a previous marriage-Ella, Earl, and Mary. They all
live in Boston. His marriage with Louise gives him a daughter
and a son - Hilda and Philbert respectively. They are followed by
Malcolm, who is born in an Omaha hospital. From Omaha the
Little family shift to Milwaukee, where Malcolm’s brother
Reginald is born.

However, they do not stay for long at Milwaukee. This is
because his father wants to find a place, where they can raise
their own food and maybe build a business of his own. This
desire to set up a business is due to the teachings of Marcus,
which stress on black economic independence from the white

So the family shifts to Lansing in Michigan, where Earl Little
buys a house and makes a living by doing freelance Christian
preaching in the local Negro Baptist churches. Since his work
requires him to be busy primarily on Sundays, during the week,
he travels around spreading the ideas of Marcus Garvey. Here,
once again a white racist group called the Black Legion harasses
him. The members of this group wear black robes instead of
white (the Ku Klux Klan members wore white robes and hoods).
Soon after Malcolm’s younger sister Yvonne is born, when
Malcolm is barely four years old, another nightmarish incident
occurs, which remains permanently etched in his memory. One
night, the family wakes up amidst gun shots and smoke. It is
their father who had shouted and shot at two white men, who
were running away after having set their house on fire. Malcolm
recalls standing out in the yard with his family that night, crying
and yelling his head off, as the house is razed to the ground. The
police arrived at the scene and stood watching as the fire raged
on. After the fire, Malcolm recalls that his father was called to
the police station and questioned about a permit for the pistol
head used to fire shots at the men, who had set their house on
fire. The police frequently visited their house looking for the
gun. They were never able to find it for it was sewed up inside a

Earl Little managed to prevail on some of his friends to feed and
clothe his family until he was able to a find a place of his own in
the outskirts of East Lansing. But they could not stay here for
long since they were subjected to fresh threats and harassment.
They shifted two miles out of town into the country. Earl Little
built a house here with his own hands-a four room house. This is
where Malcolm spent his childhood. His childhood memories
consisted of constant friction between his parents. His father very
often beat his mother in a fit of anger. His father was violent with
the children too. However, Malcolm recalls that his father hardly
ever hit him. This is because he was the lightest (in color) among
the siblings at home. While the others were dark, he was the only
one in the Little family, who was brown. Like all the other Afro-
Americans, his father too had learnt to hate his own dark color
and favor anyone who was lighter. Years later, Malcolm came to
hate his brown color. For Malcolm had got the light color from
his mother who was extremely fair and with her straight black
hair she hardly looked like a black woman. Louise’s father was a
white man back in West Indies - her native place. Louise was too
ashamed to mention or talk about him. Malcolm who as a child
had always been proud of his light complexion, later came to
hate every ‘drop of that rapist’s (his white grandfather) blood in

Another thing that made Malcolm believe that his father favored
him more than his other siblings, was the fact that he was the
only one, who was taken to the meetings organized by his father
to spread the teachings of Marcus Garvey. Although his father
very often took him and his brothers for his sermons, Malcolm
never developed any interest in Christianity. He recalls that his
father’s favorite sermon was ‘That Little Black Train is
Comin’... an’ you better get all your business right!’ Malcolm
feels that it fitted well with his father’s involvement in the back
to Africa movement where Garvey spoke about the black train

He also remembered seeing the big bright photographs of
Marcus Garvey, which his father showed the others at the
meetings, held usually at night.

Malcolm also recollects that there was constant friction between
his parents. This is chiefly due to the fact that his mother was
extremely intelligent, which her father could not accept. Another
reason for the friction was food. His mother hated having or
cooking rabbit meat, while his father enjoyed it. One day his
father got a rabbit to be cooked for lunch. His mother refused.
There was a heated argument after which, his father went out of
the house in a huff.

Malcolm believed that his mother has strong instincts and could
anticipate events even before they occurred. That day too, she
instinctively felt that some harm would come upon her husband.
So she rushed out to call him back. However, he had already
gone by then. Malcolm’s mother went back and waited anxiously
for her husband. In the evening, she and her family got the news
that her husband had met with an accident while crossing the
railway track and died instantly.

Although this was the official version of the case, the entire town
of Lansing knew that Earl Little was killed by the Black Legions
and his body was placed on the railway tracks to make it seem
like an accident. Rev. Earl Little had been killed in broad day
light by white racist group.

After her husband’s death, Malcolm’s mother tried to keep her
family together. She took up all kinds of jobs at people’s houses,
only to be fired, when they learn that she is a black woman (she
had a light complexion) and the wife of Late Rev. Little who
used to instigate the ‘good Negroes’ of Lansing.

Malcolm’s mother’s attempt to remarry is thwarted, when her
fiancé ditches her as soon as he realizes that he will have to take
on the responsibility of a huge family, after marriage. This hurts
Lousie a lot. But what hurt her most was the constant
interference from the Welfare Department. During the difficult
Depression years, Louise could not feed her family properly.
Later there were constant complaints from the school about
Malcolm’s conduct. Having been spoilt by his father, he was
always upto some prank in school.

So the Welfare Department came in to ‘advise’ Lousie. They
tried to break the family and send the children to foster homes.
Lousie fiercely resisted their attempts. She was already quite hurt
about the fact that she had to accept charity (in the form of food,
clothes) from the Department.

But after a while, she broke down due to the pressures of the
Department. The pressures affected her emotionally too. She had
become rather quiet and would go off for long walks talking to
herself. The Welfare Department began telling her children that
their mother had become mad and that she cannot look after
them anymore. Soon, it was decided that while the eldest two-
Philbert and Hilda (who had taken on the responsibility of the
family) will stay in their home, the others will be sent to foster
homes. Their mother was sent to a sanatorium in Kalamazoo.


The first chapter reveals the characters of three very important
people in Malcolm’s life-namely, Earl Little, Louise Little and
Marcus Garvey. The first two people-Malcolm’s parents had a
deep influence on him. Marcus Garvey has an effect, though
indirectly through the Garvey movement, whose meetings
Malcolm attended with his father. Both Earl Little and Louise
Little were extremely brave and determined people. This, the
reader can infer from the way the two face the threats of the Ku
Klux Klan.

The same determination helps Louise keep her family together
after her husband’s shocking death and through the difficult
Depression years. Malcolm admits that he had inherited his
mother’s instinctive feelings (to anticipate events) along with her
light color and hair. From the chapter, the reader can conclude
that the Little family though forced to break up due to financial
problems was very close and loving. This is evident from the fact
that the siblings kept in touch with each other, wrote to each
other, and found time to meet their ailing mother at Kalamazoo.

These close family ties help Malcolm to tide over the most
difficult phase of his life-his imprisonment (as we will see later
in the book).

Another aspect that is highlighted in the chapter is the color
prejudice. Not only were the whites extremely prejudiced against
the blacks then; the blacks themselves believed that anything
white or close to white is divine. This is evident from Malcolm’s
own father’s attitude towards him who was the lightest (in color)
among the siblings. Malcolm says that his father was never harsh
or violent with him, although his other siblings were very often
thrashed for bad behavior. Moreover, he was the only one who
was taken to the secret meetings organized by his father. This
also reveals the rather strange split in Earl Little’s personal and
professional life i.e. his zealous work in Marcus Garvey’s cause
to promote Black Nationalism and pride on the one hand and his
(biased) love for his son because he is the lightest among his

Finally the statement made at the end of the chapter: ‘I truly
believe that if ever a state social agency destroyed a family, it
destroyed ours’, is a critique of the Welfare Department in the
U.S. then. Its role in breaking Malcolm’s family is a classic
example of how a social agency set up for the ‘welfare’ of the
less privileged in society can turn into something quite opposite,
due to unnecessary interference in personal family matters.

Chapter 2



This chapter describes young Malcolm’s life at his foster
parent’s home. In 1937, Joe Louis, a black boxer became the
heavy weight champion of the world by knocking out James J.
Braddock. All the Negroes in America including his small town
Lansing celebrated the victory. For young Malcolm’s generation,
Joe Louis became a symbol of racial-pride. So every Negro boy
old enough to walk dreamt of becoming a boxer. His elder
brother Philbert had already become a good boxer at school
level. He entered the Amateur Boxing Competition held in
Lansing’s Prudden Auditorium.

Sometimes, Malcolm and Reginald would go to watch him train
for the event. Already people in Lansing had begun to call
Philbert, a natural boxer. Although Malcolm was happy and
excited that his brother was going to enter the event he felt
envious too. This is because all the adoration that he always got
from his younger brother Reginald was gradually going towards
Philbert. To win back his younger brother’s adoration, he too
signs up for his first bout. He was 13 years old then. But due to
his height, he got away by lying that he was sixteen-the
minimum age required for the event. Malcolm’s opponent was a
white boy, Bill Peterson, who was a novice like him.

Malcolm’s siblings, along with most of the people he knew in
Lansing had come to cheer him. Philbert had been doing so well.
Therefore, the people who had turned up for Malcolms bout were
rather curious to know how he (i.e. Philbert’s brother) would
fare. However, Malcolm was knocked out in the very first round.
His reputation was ruined after this bout. For blacks could never
accept that somebody white can simply knock a black out. This
feeling existed because at that time in America, sports and show
business were the only fields open to Negroes. Moreover, the
Boxing ring was the only place, where a black could whip a
white without the fear of getting lynched. (Lynching was a
common practice in the U.S. then).

But what hurt Malcolm most was his brother Reginald’s
behavior. After this bout, Reginald avoided looking at Malcolm.
To win back his respect, Malcolm once again trained and signed
up to fight Bill Peterson again. Malcolm was knocked out once
again-this time in the first round itself. The only saving grace
was that the match was held at Bill’s hometown Alma, Michigan.
So there was hardly anyone (including Reginald) he knew
present among the spectators. That bout put an end to Malcolm’s
career on the Boxing ring.

At school, Malcolm was always caught playing pranks. But one
incident proved rather costly. One day, he entered the class
wearing a huge hat almost covering his eyes. His teacher made
him walk right round the room with the hat throughout his class.
The moment the teacher turned his back to write on the board,
Malcolm hit upon a new trick. He picked up the thumb stack (as
he passed the table) and placed it on the empty teacher’s chair.
When the teacher returned to the seat, there was a mini explosion
in class. The result was that Malcolm was expelled from school.

The Welfare Department shifted him from the Gohannas family
to a reform school. Before that, he was made to stay at a
Detention Home in Mason, Michigan, 12 miles from Lansing.
Mr. Manyard Allen was the Welfare Department man who
advised him with kind words, as he drove him to the Detention
Home. Mrs. Swerlin (a white woman) ran this place. Malcolm
had a room of his own here. But he ate with the Swerlins as the
other inmates did. Malcolm recalls that a huge white woman
Lucille Lathrop was the cook. He also remembers that the
cooking was very different from their Negro cooking-which was
usually well seasoned. Just as in the Gohanna’s home, here too,
Malcolm swept and mopped the house. The Swerlins grew very
fond of him and accepted him as a family member. Ella,
Malcolm’s half sister comes down from Boston to meet her
family members. She comes to Swerlin’s house to see Malcolm.
She was a tall black domineering woman. There was something
in her personality that makes Malcolm like her at the very first

At the Swerlin’s house, he often felt rather strange at the use of
the word ‘nigger’. It was used by the couple so often. Also the
Swerlins used to always talk about him or refer to another
2‘nigger’ in his presence, as though he didn’t exist. In this
context, Malcolm recalls an incident, where Mr. Swerlin comes
in and tells his wife that he could not understand how ‘niggers’
could be so happy although they were so poor. To this Mrs.
Swerlin replies: ‘Niggers are just that way...’

All this goes on in Malcolm’s presence as though he didn’t exist.

Yet, the Swerlins were extremely fond of Malcolm. It was their
affection towards the young boy that made them defer his date of
hearing in the court. In other words, while the rest of the boys
and girls left the detention Home after their cases (delinquency)
came up for hearing in the court, Malcolm’s case never came up
for hearing at all. After a while, he joined the Mason Junior High
School, where he entered the 7 th grade. In school his favorite
subjects had always been English and History.

Malcolm recalls how Mr. Williams taught history. The history of
Negroes was just a small paragraph in the text. However, what
irritated Malcolm was the way the topic was taught. Mr.
Williams (a white man) found the topic extremely amusing, as he
read it out to the class. Then he said a joke where a black man,
while walking, left footprints of an animal. From that moment,
young Malcolm hated attending Mr. Williams’s class.

In school, Malcolm’s grades were good. He was also rather
popular. In the second semester (7 th grade), he was elected class
president. This made the Swerlins very happy and proud of their
ward. Due to his good grades, Malcolm easily entered the 8 th
grade. Here he remembers that, Mr. Ostrowski, was the most
popular teacher among the students. For he took interest in them.
Sometimes he would discuss their future plans, advice, and
encourage them.

Once, when Mr. Ostrowski asked Malcolm, what he would like
to become, he replied that he wanted to become a lawyer. At this
Mr. Ostrowski advised him to be practical. He suggested that he
should take up Carpentry, which would be most suited for him.
This hurt Malcolm more because Mr. Ostrowski had always
encouraged the other boys and girls in whatever they wished to
do in the future. Since that incident, Malcolm lost all his interest
in his studies, school and withdrew from everybody including the
Swerlins. The Swerlins soon noticed his behavior. However,
when Mrs. Swerlins asked him if he felt unhappy staying there,
he remained silent. At school, his grades began to fall. Also
whenever the word ‘nigger’ was mentioned by anybody,
Malcolm no longer ignored it. He would stop and turn to look.
He did this even at home.

Finally, it was decided that Malcolm should not stay with the
Swerlins. Arrangements were made for him to stay with the
Lyons family. Even while bidding farewell to Mrs. Swerlins, he
was asked if anything was wrong. But Malcolm just shook his
head and said that nothing was wrong.

Malcolm stayed with the Lyons for two months. There too, he
remained quiet and aloof from the others. During his stay with
the Lyons, he frequently met his brothers and sisters and wrote
regularly to Ella, in Boston. In one of his letters to her, he
mentioned his wish to come and stay with her in Boston. He did
not tell her the reason, though.

Ella immediately made the necessary arrangements. It was
agreed that, the day Malcolm finished his 8 th grade, he would
leave for Boston. So the day he finished school, Malcolm took
the Greyhound bus to Boston.


The incident, where Malcolm tries to win back his brother’s
affection, by entering the local boxing reveals not only his sense
of humor but also his deep affection for his younger brother
Reginald. Later, when Malcolm is on his own on the streets of
Harlem, New York, it is Reginald who regularly meets his

Reginald’s affection for his brother makes him leave his work at
the Merchant Marine and stay with him. This tells the reader that
although the Little family was separated, the bond between the
siblings did not break. They kept in touch with each other,
wherever they went.

The chapter also gives the reader an idea of the society then.
Blacks had very few professions open to them-namely sports and
entertainment. Moreover, no black could even dream of any
other profession like medicine or law, even if he/she was
intelligent and capable for the work. Just as Malcolm was
advised by his teacher to take up carpentry instead of becoming a
lawyer thousands of black youth then, were thought fit to do only
menial jobs.

Malcolm’s ‘strange’ behavior in the end tells the reader that after
the Ostrowski incident, he had become completely aware of the
racial discrimination that existed in society then. And it hurt him
very much. The ‘strange’ behavior is a form of rebellion against
the racist and unjust society, he was living in.

This incident coupled with the attitude of the Swerlins - the use
of the word ‘nigger’, served to convince him later, (as a member
of the Nation of Islam) that the demand by black leaders to be
‘integrated’ into white society can never be possible. Integration
is a myth. For he believed that blacks, however capable will
never be accepted by the whites.

In this chapter, the reader is introduced to a new member of the
Little family-Ella Little. Ella is Earl Little’s daughter from his
first marriage.

She is a tall black independent woman who comes to meet her
other siblings for she wants to keep the Little family together.
This is evident from the statement she make when she meets
Malcolm: ‘...We Littles must stick together...’ In a very subtle
manner, Ella seems to have taken Louise, Malcolm’s mother’s
place. For she too wanted to keep her family together. Although
Ella is not present physically in Lansing, the younger siblings
had someone now to look up to and even approach for help. This
is true for Malcolm, who turns to her for help when he is totally
disgusted at the white man’s prejudice in Mason. And Ella too
stands by him even though she is not aware of the emotional
turmoil going on within young Malcolm. She promptly calls
Malcolm over to Boston.

Later, in Malcolm’s life, Ella always stands by him like a rock,
through all his ups and downs. Even though, she often did not
approve of his actions, her affection for him never lessens.

Another minor yet important aspect about Malcolm that is
highlighted in the chapter is Malcolm’s memory. The numerous
details that Malcolm recalls so far back in his life reveals his
powerful memory and his eye for detail.

Chapter 3 & 4


These two chapters describe Malcolm’s life in Boston. As soon
as he arrives at Ella’s place, he goes round the city looking for
any job he could do.

His first job, which he gets with the help of his friend Shorty, is
that of a shoeshine boy at Roseland State Ballroom. Shorty
worked in a poolroom. Malcolm happened to be watching
through the glass windows of the poolroom, when he meets a
dark and stubby man, coming out of the room. Very soon, a
conversation is struck between the two. During the course of the
conversation, the dark stubby man-Shorty learns that Malcolm
came his own hometown--Michigan. Shorty is overjoyed and
calls Malcolm his ‘Homeboy’.

Malcolm spends the entire afternoon with Shorty, watching him
work in the poolroom. While he worked, he introduces Malcolm
to his friends and acquaintances. He also tells them that his
‘buddy’ is looking for work and if they hear of any vacancy, to
inform him. The same evening when Malcolm returns home, Ella
tells him that Shorty had called, saying that the Roseland State
Ballroom needs a shoeshine boy as the boy who had been
working there is leaving the same night.

Malcolm leaves for the Ballroom, where he meets Freddie, the
shoeshine boy. He describes the nature of the work to Malcolm.
A shoeshine boy at the Ballroom is extremely busy during the
interval between the dances. The person had to be extremely
quick with his hands. Apart from shining shoes, he could also
provide the visitors, as well as the musicians with towels and
liquor, which could be acquired for ‘two bits a piece.’
Sometimes, even reefers-cigarettes with drugs in them were also
sold to the musicians (in the sly). Malcolm’s work at the
Ballroom put him in touch with several musicians, some of
whom, later became his close friends.

Besides helping him with the job, Shorty also takes Malcolm
along for the wild parties, card playing, smoking and betting that
was an integral part of the nightlife in Harlem. Moreover, the
first ‘conk’ (a process by which the curly Negro hair is
straightened to make it look like the hair, white men have) that
Malcolm had was done by Shorty. Shorty and all his friends
always wore a conk. So when Malcolm’s hair was long enough
for a conk, Shorty asks him to buy a list of things needed for the
‘conk’. The list consists of a can of Red devil lye, two eggs, two
medium sized white potatoes, a jar of Vaseline, a bar of soap, a
large toothed comb, a fine toothed comb and one rubber hose
with a metal spray head, a rubber apron and a pair of gloves.
Taking these things, Malcolm went to Shorty’s rented apartment
(which Shorty shared with his cousin). Malcolm watched Shorty
as he poured the lye in a fruit jar of thin sliced potatoes. Stirring
the mixture with a wooden spoon, Shorty informs Malcolm that a
metal spoon (if used) will turn black due to the lye. Shorty added
two eggs to the mixture as he stirred the mixture vigorously.
Shorty asks Malcolm to feel the jar from the outside. Malcolm
had to snatch his hand away from the jar, as it was very hot.

Shorty warns him that the lye is going to burn when it is combed
into the hair. It burns very badly. But the longer, a person can
stand the burn, the straighter will his hair become. The lye, when
combed into Malcolm’s hair almost cooks his skin. But Malcolm
controls himself by gritting his teeth, and holding the kitchen
table very tightly. It burns so much that Malcolm’s eyes and nose
begin to water. Finally, it becomes so bad that Malcolm begins
shouting curses at Shorty. It is now that Shorty sprays Malcolm’s
hair and washes it with soap. After drying his wet hair with a
towel, Malcolm sees in the reflection of the mirror that his red
hair hung down in limp damp strings. Shorty vaselined his hair
and combed it back with a big-toothed comb and later with a
fine-toothed one. Giving a final touch to the ‘conk’ Shorty used a
razor to shape the side-burns. Malcolm is stunned to see his own
reflection in the mirror. For on his head was this thick red-
absolutely-red hair and as straight as that of a white man. Both
Shorty and Malcolm stand watching it (the hair) in admiration.
Malcolm decides then and there that henceforth, he will conk his
hair regularly.

Malcolm does not stay very long at his first job. Very soon he
leaves it to join a Drug Store. Ella gets him a job there-to operate
the soda fountain. Although, Malcolm does not like the
atmosphere there he stays on till he is able to find another job. It
is during this period that he meets Laura. Laura is a shy, pretty
black girl who stays a few blocks away from the drug store. She
visits the store quite often after school. During one of her visits,
she takes the initiative to make conversation with him. Malcolm
learns that Laura is an orphan, staying with her grandma who is
extremely strict. When she (Laura) finds out Malcolm had left
school, she encourages him to study further.

As Malcolm and Laura grew close to each other, Malcolm began
to take Laura to parties. They were mainly dance parties, where
young boys and girls did ‘Lindy hopping’. To his surprise Laura
could Lindy, hop very well. She became Malcolm’s best Lindy
hopping partner, at the night parties.

Laura becomes extremely fond of Malcolm. She overcomes stiff
opposition from her grandmother, just to be with him.

However, Malcolm dumps her for a white girl Sophia, who he
meets at one of the Lindy dancing parties. Later, as an adult,
when Malcolm becomes a minister at the Nation of Islam, he
regrets his actions. He holds himself solely responsible for
destroying young Laura’s life.


In these two chapters the reader gets an idea of the life of the
average black youth in the U.S. then (1930’s -40’s). The process
of applying lye to straighten the hair was a common practice
among the black youth. Although, the entire process was
extremely painful, like Malcolm, all the youth did it regularly
only because they wanted to resemble the white man. This
willingness to hurt their own bodies, to resemble the white man,
is reflection of the lack of pride in one’s own color, race and
culture. Again, when Malcolm dumps Laura for Sophia, a young
white girl, it is a reflection of what most young black youth
preferred then. Having a white girl friend was a status symbol.
And like all other black youth, Malcolm too befriends Sophia,
not because he likes her, but because she was like the proverbial
forbidden fruit. American society did not accept inter-racial
relationships then. Therefore, by having a relationship with
Sophia-Malcolm had the excitement of doing something that was
socially forbidden. Moreover, having a white girl friend
improved his status among his friends.

In these chapter(s), the reader meets two very important people
in Malcolm’s life-Shorty and Laura. Shorty came from
Malcolm’s hometown Michigan. Shorty is a young man working
in the poolroom of a bar in Boston, when he first meets Malcolm.
Though there is a great difference in age between the two they
both get along like old friends, meeting again. It is Shorty who
helps him around the new city and teaches him to dress up the
way city youth dressed then. Shorty and Malcolm’s friendship
lasts long. Later, in the book, Shorty becomes his partner while
robbing rich white families in and around Boston.

Laura comes across as a sweet, shy young girl who is attracted to
Malcolm partly because Malcolm with his zoot suit and
straightened hair seem to be rebelling against all the good values
that Laura had been taught. Deep down, she too wanted to break
free from the strict discipline at home. Being with Malcolm gave
her a chance to give vent to her feelings. Moreover, Laura really
loved Malcolm. Therefore, she is totally shattered when he
dumps her for a white girl. The deep sense of betrayal pushes her
towards bad vices like drugs and later prostitution.

The entire chapter devoted to this young girl Laura-his first love-
reveals Malcolm’s affection for her, where he speaks of his
tender feelings and emotions for Laura. At the end, Malcolm
apologizes for his behavior, which he feels, is responsible for her
moral destruction. This apology comes from a man who has
completely changed and is a leading spokesperson of the Nation
of Islam. But the way he accepts his mistake committed as an
immature, brainwashed teenager reveal his humility, as well as
his respect for women.

Chapters 5,6,7, & 8


In the following chapters Malcolm X narrates his experiences on
the streets of Harlem as a pimp and a notorious drug peddler
wanted by the police. When Ella learns about Sophia, she is
extremely annoyed with Malcolm. Malcolm had anticipated this.
For his sister, who was an extremely proud and independent
black woman would never accept Sophia. Therefore he leaves
Ella’s house in Boston and shifts into Shorty’s apartment. He
does this after he gets a new job. He gets a job of a busboy at the
Parker House in Boston. Malcolm again leaves this job to take up
a railroad job (when the Second World War is on). Here, he
travels four hours between Boston and New York, on the New
Haven and Hartford’s Yankee clipper, selling sandwiches.

Though the job gives him an opportunity to visit New York, he
gets rather irritated with the rude behavior of the passengers in
the train. Soon, he begins to answer back and even gets into
arguments with them. When the officer’s incharge hear of this,
they warn him. But complaints continue to come in till finally
one day, Malcolm is fired from the job.

Malcolm goes back to his hometown for a visit. Here, he meets
Mrs. Swerlin and his siblings. He also pays a visit to Shorty’s
mother. The small town of Lansing is rather shaken by
Malcolm’s ‘conk’ and bright colored ‘zoot’ suits. So impressed
are the youth by his slang language, his appearance and his
dancing that they ask him for autographs.

Leaving Lansing totally shell-shocked, Malcolm returns to New
York to take up a new job. This time he joins a train-the ‘Silver
Meteor’- that runs between Petersburg and Miami. His job is to
see that the passengers are comfortable-to see that the beds, the
cushion etc. are clean and comfortable. Here too, his intolerant
behavior towards the demanding and often rude passengers costs
him his job.

Malcolm now gets the job of a day waiter at ‘Small’s paradise’- a
restaurant cum Bar situated in Harlem. ‘Small’s Paradise’ is
owned by Ed Small and is an extremely popular joint in Harlem.
Here, he learns about the history of Harlem through the
customers, cooks, and bartenders.

To Malcolm’s surprise, he learns that Harlem hasn’t always been
a community of Negroes. It was first a Dutch settlement. Then
several poor immigrants arrived from Europe. The Dutch settlers
moved away from them and Harlem became an all-European
(primarily German) settlement.

Then the Irish arrived. They were fleeing Potato famine back in
Ireland. The Germans left Harlem to be away from the Irish. The
Italians were the next to arrive and the Irish fled from them. The
Italians lived in Harlem till the Jews came. The Italians left
Harlem to be away from the Jews. Now all these immigrants are
moving away from Harlem to escape the descendants of the very
Afro-Americans who had helped them to unload the immigrant

Although, Negroes had stayed in New York since as far back as
1683, they lived in ghettoes scattered in several parts of the city.
It was only in 1910 that one or two black families got an
apartment in Harlem. And then the Jews began leaving the area.
Soon, Harlem became what it is at present i.e. in the 1940’s -
virtually all black.

While working at Small’s, Malcolm had shifted into a new
apartment. This apartment was situated in a building, where
several prostitutes lived. Malcolm learnt a lot about the kind of
customers who came to these prostitutes. He also learnt that
marital discord and lack of communication between husband and
wife was largely responsible for men going to prostitutes.

All through this phase, he kept in touch with Sophia, who used to
come from Boston to meet him. Initially she was a bit worried
about the prostitute women staying near Malcolm’s apartment.
However, all her fears were put to rest, when Malcolm
introduced his prostitute friends to her.

At Ed Small’s Bar, Malcolm would sometimes give the phone
numbers of the prostitutes to customers who were interested.
Once he got into trouble while giving a contact number to a
customer. The customer was an army man. He readily accepted
the number. But never went to the address given. When Malcolm
discovered that the customer never got in touch with his friends
he realized that he would soon be hauled up by the police for
‘impairing the morals’ of a service man.

It turned out that the army man was a military spy. Very soon,
Joe Baker, a plain-clothed detective arrived at the Bar, where he
was arrested and taken to the police station. Malcolm was let off
lightly. This is because he had never had any trouble with the
police earlier.

However, Ed Small refused to hire him back for he now had a
police record. That did not hurt him so much. What hurt him
more was that he was also barred from entering the Bar. Jobless
and without a friend, Malcolm sought advice from Sammy, a
pimp. On Sammy’s advice, Malcolm begins to peddle marijuana.
Soon, he is on the ‘wanted’ list of the Narcotics Department.
Malcolm now began carrying a pistol for protection. He also
used several tricks to hide his drugs and even hood wink the

However, he realizes that the situation is becoming rather hot for
him in New York. For the Police was giving him a hard time. So
Sammy suggests that he use his rail road identification (which
was still with him) to get a job for a while till things cools down.
Following Sammy’s suggestion, he leaves New York and
follows his musician friends with the help of his railroad pass.
During his railroad trips, he sold drugs and ‘reefers’ to the
customers (who mainly consisted of his musician friends-he had
made on his first job as a shoe shine boy). His travels on the
railroad end when he threatens a cook on the train with his pistol
during a game of cards.

Malcolm could not get back to peddling drugs because the police
was still on the look out for him in New York. So he enters the
business of ‘hustling or betting on numbers, about which he had
learnt at Small’s Bar. He also began doing small robberies and
later boot legging (for a short while) for a Jew called Hymie.
During this period, he became addicted to drugs. In other words,
Malcolm had begun to live dangerously. He also made enemies
among his hustling circle partly due to his temperament and
partly because of some misunderstanding.

Malcolm recalls one such incident, which occurs with West
Indian Archie. West Indian Archie is a huge black man, who is
also in the hustling business. A fight breaks out between West
Indian Archie and Malcolm. Archie thinks that Malcolm has
cheated him on some money used in the hustle game. So Archie
is looking out for him to take revenge. At one meeting the two
almost kill each other. The entry of a cop at the moment makes
them flee. Besides West Indian Archie, there is Sammy who also
turns against him. In one incident, Sammy would have shot
Malcolm, if his girl friend (Sammy’s) had not intervened.
Sammy was annoyed because, Malcolm had been rude to his girl.

Malcolm quits working for Sammy and starts work as a steerer
for a prostitution house run by a ‘Madame’. Here he learns about
the perverse past times of the rich influential whites of American
society. During this period, his younger brother Reginald comes
to visit him. Reginald had joined the Merchant Marine. On his
(Reginald’s) second visit to New York, Malcolm asks him to
stay with him. He also puts him up with a ‘small hustle’ where
Reginald had to lift watches and jewelry from shops. It was a
‘safe’ hustle, considering that his brother was a novice in this

Throughout this phase, Sophia kept in touch with Malcolm.
Sophia was married to a wealthy man white man in Boston. Yet,
she continued her relationship with Malcolm. According to the
author, neither Sophia nor he was in love with each other. For
Sophia, it was just the fascination of having a physical
relationship with a young good-looking black man. While
Malcolm found the relationship rather exciting. White well-to-do
women like Sophia were like the proverbial ‘forbidden fruit’ to
black men. Malcolm did not love Sophia but the excitement of
having a white girl friend made him continue the relationship.


In the chapter(s), the reader gets a vivid description of the life in
Harlem, its history, and the ugly side of the rich and influential
white section of American society. Sophia is a classic example of
this white society-which seeks blacks for pleasure in private and
shuns them in public.

The chapters also describe the conditions that pushed black
youth toward drug addiction, robbery, and pimping. It further
reveals the fact that the author is extremely honest and brave
enough to reveal to the readers the ugly past, he lived. But it also
shows a direction to all black youth that they can come out of the
muck and ‘brain washing’ to lead a respected life as Malcolm X

The chapters where Malcolm is constantly shifting jobs before he
actually starts drug pedaling and pimping throws light on his
temperament. For it is his temperament and fearlessness that
always gets him into trouble. Yet, he continued to speak
fearlessly against anything that he thought was wrong or unjust.
This is a trait, which remains with him for the rest of his life.
While other blacks in his place kept quiet at the rude behavior of
white passengers as it was considered a white man’s privilege
then to throws tantrums and curse the blacks, who anyway were
considered inferior to them (intellectually).

But Malcolm could never accept this right from his adolescent
years. He rebelled against it in Lansing and in Mason. And he
does so when he comes across it during his numerous jobs. This
trait gets him into trouble for the nature of his job required him
to be patient with his customer. However when Malcolm is
unable to take it anymore, he starts getting into arguments with
the passengers. Consequently, he lost numerous jobs on the

Chapter 9


In this chapter, Malcolm recalls the days he spends with his old
friend Shorty in Roxbury. Shorty had become a traveling
musician now. When Shorty learns from Sammy that Harlem had
become too ‘hot’ or dangerous for Malcolm, he asks Malcolm to
come and stay with him at Roxbury. Malcolm accepts his
suggestion and both leave Harlem the very same day.

In Roxbury, Ella cannot believe the complete change that had
come about in her half brother. He had become an atheist. He
believed that a man could do anything, if he was smart enough
for it. And every time he spoke, he said something ‘profane’ or
‘hip’. Even Shorty was shocked at the manner in which his
‘homeboy’ had begun to think and live. For Malcolm would
often catch him staring at him. At Roxbury, he shared Shorty’s
apartment, where he slept most of the time. When awake, he
would smoke reefers (cigarettes with marijuana) and play the
records continuously.

After two weeks of catching up with all the sleep he had lost
during the last two months in Harlem, he began moving around
on the streets of Roxbury. Here he comes upon a cocaine
peddler. Malcolm starts sniffing ‘snow’ cocaine, which gives a
person a feeling of supreme well being and over-confidence.
Those who sniff cocaine feel that they can beat a heavy weight
champion and that they are the smartest of all. Under the effect
of cocaine, Malcolm begins to talk. When Shorty is away with
his band, Sophia, Malcolm’s girlfriend would come over. On
Shorty’s arrival, Malcolm would chat with him late into the

Sophia always gave him money. But now, his demands gradually
increased (due to his need to have drugs and his joblessness).
Sophia never refused and always got more and more money.
Often, Malcolm would feel evil and slap her. They would argue,
Sophia would cry and curse him. She would threaten him saying
that she would never come back to him. Malcolm knew that
Sophia did not mean what ever she said. Sophia’s husband had
been in the military. After the war, he left the military, to become
some sort of a salesman. He had some ‘big deal’, which would
make him travel to the West Coast, according to Sophia.
Malcolm did not know the details of the nature of her husband’s
work, because he never asked her any questions about her
husband. In any case, Sophia’s husband could never dream of his
(Malcolm’s) existence. Although Sophia was having a difficult
time with her husband, she never gave him any reason to think
that she was having an affair with a black man.

In Roxbury, Malcolm meets Laura. Their meeting is extremely
cordial. They talk, laugh, and smoke together. Malcolm observes
that Laura looked a lot older than she really was. Laura had
moved out of her grandmother’s house long ago, given up
college and was now a prostitute.

One night Sophia brought her 17-year-old sister along. Shorty
had always liked having Sophia (a white woman) coming over to
his apartment. When Shorty met Sophia’s sister, they nearly
jumped at each other. This is because for Shorty, Sophia’s sister
(a younger version of Sophia) was not only a white girl, but a
‘young white girl’. And for Sophia, Shorty was not only a Negro,
but also ‘a Negro musician.’ Malcolm mentions here that Shorty
his friend was never able to keep a girl friend for long. This is
because he treated them too well and women according to him
always got bored of it. After almost a month of inactivity,
Malcolm starts looking for a hustle. He starts visiting John
Hughe’s Gambling house with all the money he is able to get
from Sophia. Malcolm recalls a poker game in which John
Hughes was also playing. Malcolm beats them all and wins a
huge fortune. John was known to be a great gambler in Roxbury.
He is really impressed by Malcolm and offers him a job at his
gambling house. Word gets round the city (underworld) about
the poker game. The game helps create a reputation for Malcolm.
John had set a rule that, whoever comes to his gambling house,
had to check his guns, if he carried any. Malcolm always
checked in two guns, when he arrived there. However, once
when a gambler picks up a fight with him, Malcolm pulls a third
gun from his shoulder holster. This incident added to his
reputation that he was ‘trigger happy’ and ‘crazy’.

John offers a steady job to Malcolm in his Gambling House. But
Malcolm refuses. For he wanted to do something that would help
Shorty too. Like most black musicians, Shorty too could never
earn enough to be comfortable financially. His earnings were just
enough to help him pay his rent, buy food, reefers, and pay off
old debts. Therefore, Malcolm suggested to Shorty that he join
him in a new ‘hustle’. To his surprise, Shorty agrees. Malcolm is
surprised because Shorty had always been the more cautious and
conservative of the two friends. The new ‘hustle’ that Malcolm
had thought of was-burglary. Shorty tells Malcolm that they
should let his friend Rudy into their plans.

Malcolm had already met Rudy who was a short, boyish looking,
light colored negro. Rudy worked regularly for an agency, which
sent him to wait on tables at exclusive parties held by the rich
and influential whites. While he was on his job, once a week, he
went to an old rich, aristocratic Bostonian. Here, he was paid to
undress them both (Rudy and the old aristocrat), then pick up the
old man, lay him on the bed, then stand over him, and sprinkle
him all over with talcum powder. This incident reminded
Malcolm of his days in Harlem, when he steared the rich white
customers to black prostitutes.

Rudy made a useful member for the burglary team because he
used to work in bungalows of rich families. While working there,
he could make note of the expensive articles there without
causing suspicion. Sophia and her sister also joined the gang and
worked as informers. The two girls visited the white localities,
where the black men could not be caught hanging around during
the day.

For a while, every thing functioned smoothly for Malcolm and
his gang. However, very soon things begin to fall apart, partly
due to Malcolm’s mistakes.

The first mistake is when Malcolm, sees Sophia, her sister and
her husband’s close friend at one of the Negro joints. Instead of
ignoring them, he walks up to their table and starts addressing
them as ‘baby’. This obviously arouses suspicion. As Malcolm
had expected, Sophia’s husband’s best friend gives a visit to the
apartment they were living in. Malcolm hears the knock and
hides under the bed. He hears the key turn and a pair of trousers
enter the room. The figure moves around searching drawers and
cupboards. Next, he looks under the bed and finds Malcolm
there. He emerges from under the bed laughing, though the entire
situation was anything but funny. It is at this moment he realizes
that he had hidden under the bed without his gun.

The man gives him a dirty look and leaves the apartment. The
next mistake gets him into trouble with the police. He had given
a broken watch, which was among several stolen articles, to a
jewelry shop to have a broken crystal replaced. The police had
already alerted all the jewelers in Boston about the stolen watch.
So when Malcolm walked in to pick up his watch, the owner
waited till he paid for it and the watch was laid on the counter.
Then he signaled the plain-clothed cop who walked up to
Malcolm from the back. Just then a black American walked into
the shop and thinking that Malcolm was with the plain clothed
cop, began talking to him with his back to Malcolm.

Malcolm was wearing his gun. But he did not shoot the cop.
Recalling the incident Malcolm believes that Allah was with him
even then. That is the reason he did not shoot the man. Malcolm
just motioned to him and told him to take his gun. The plain-
clothed cop was shocked. For he had not thought of a gun at all.
He was really touched that Malcolm had not used his gun on
him. Two more detectives emerged, who had been covering
Malcolm. And Malcolm was under arrest.

If Malcolm had not been arrested that day, he would have been
dead another way. For Sophia’s husband’s friend had informed
her husband about him. The husband had arrived at the
apartment with a gun, while Malcolm was being led to the police

At the end of the chapter, Malcolm explains the reason behind
narrating his bad deeds of the past. He states that all the past
experiences of a man fuse into his personality. Therefore, the
only way to know and understand Malcolm X, the fiery minister
of the Nation is by learning about his past.


In this chapter, Malcolm is taking a long hard look at his life,
before he becomes a black Muslim. He was totally hooked to
drugs, carried guns, gambled and robbed. He had no morals did
not believe in God and treated women as though they were
something to be used.

And yet the quality that he had inculcated of sensing or
anticipating danger and fearlessness carried to the point of
recklessness is something that stayed with him even after he
converted to Islam and joined the Nation.

The organizing and planning skills that he had developed during
his hustling days helped him later, in organizing and setting up
branches of the Nation. The quality of fearlessness helped him to
speak out, without mincing words about the unjust and racist
system that the blacks were living under.

At the end of the chapter, where he does not shoot at the cop,
though he was carrying his gun, reveals two aspects of his
personality. First, that deep down, he was not evil. Second that
though he had taken to crime, he still had an innate sense of
justice and fair play. He could not shoot a man, who had his back
to him, totally unprepared for an attack.

In the chapter, Malcolm is back in Boston with his close friend
Shorty. He even meets Ella his sister. Both are shocked to the
transformation they see in him. The tall lanky teenager had now
become a drug addict who smoked and spoke profane language
and did not believe in God. Even Shorty who had initiated him
into smoking reefers couldn’t help staring at him in surprise.

Inspite of this change in Malcolm both Ella and Shorty do not
hate him. In fact, Ella like a mother warns him that if he carried
on like this, he would soon get into deep trouble-a ‘prophecy’,
which becomes true at the end of the chapter. Meanwhile Shorty
lets him stay at his apartment and stands by him when he has
neither money, nor hustle and no roof over his head.

While the chapter speaks volumes about Shorty’s loyalty towards
his friend Malcolm, the reader learns more about his personality
too. According to Malcolm Shorty could never keep a girlfriend
for long because he treated them very well. So well, that the girl
got bored of it. This observation reveals Malcolm’s deep
understanding of the opposite sex. This comes as a surprise
because, Malcolm’s only other relationship apart from Sophia
was with Laura. Yet he could make such a perceptive statement
about women. Perhaps he learnt this from his stay in Harlem, in
an apartment, where his neighbors were all prostitutes. Talking
to them as good friends, Malcolm states that he learnt about the
relationship between man and woman and more important
between a husband and wife. The prostitute friends were in a
better position to tell him all this because the male customers
who came to them were either married or dejected lovers who
poured forth all their views and feelings on them.

Finally the peculiar relationship between Sophia and Malcolm
gives the reader a picture of the segregated life in the U.S. then.
So deep was the racial prejudice that even if a white woman was
going through hell in her married life she could not reveal her
relationship with a black man, even if she wanted to spite her
husband. She dared not because it would mean death for the
black man. This is something Sophia would never want. For,
though she did not love him, she was emotionally attached to
him and required his company, when she had personal problems.
Moreover, though there were various clandestine inter-racial
relationships, a black man and a white woman moving around
together openly would never be tolerated. It was considered to be
a sin. Hence, Sophia could never indicate to her husband, inspite
of a troubled marriage, that she was having an extra marital affair
with a Negro.

Chapters 10 & 11


Malcolm along with Shorty gets 8-10 years imprisonment. Rudy
escapes somehow from Boston. Malcolm was only 21, when he
was sentenced to prison. He was sent to the Charleston State
prison. The prison conditions were appalling. Each prisoner was
given a cell. There was only a bowl for toilet. As a result, the
entire row of cells had a terrible stench of feces. Malcolm spent
the first few weeks cursing the officials and God. Every official
including the social worker was received with curses. While he
was alone, he walked up and down the cell shouting curses to
God. Due to his anti religious attitude the guards and the convicts
began calling him ‘Satan’.

Gradually he began bribing the guards to get cigarettes and
reefers for him. Ella had given him some money, when she came
to visit him in the prison. Every prisoner was expected to do
some work in the prison workshop. It is here that Malcolm meets
Bimbi, an elderly black convict. He was very learned and wise.
Whenever he began to speak on a subject both the prisoners and
the guards liked to hear him. Bimbi could speak on any subject,
because he used to read extensively. He was a regular visitor to
the prison Library. During one of the regular gathering where
Bimbi was holding forth, on religion, Malcolm began arguing
with him. However, he found Bimbi’s explanation for religion so
convincing that, he had to give in. And that stopped his curses
against God.

Inspite of their differences, Bimbi seemed to like young
Malcolm. When he learnt that Malcolm was a high school drop
out, he advised him to take up one of the correspondence courses
offered by the prison. His sister Hilda, who kept in touch with
through letters, suggested that he take up a course in English.
This is because he had totally forgotten how to write in English.
His handwriting in the letters sent to his siblings were totally

In 1948, Malcolm was transferred to the concord prison. Here, he
received a letter from Philbert (his elder brother) stating that they
had been converted into the ‘natural religion’ of black man.
Malcolm sent him a reply using foul language. Malcolm is too
ashamed to even recall the contents of his letter to Philbert.
Reginald sent a letter instructing him not to eat meat or smoke
cigarettes and he would come to the prison to tell him a way out
of the prison. Malcolm follows his beloved brother’s instructions
since he thinks that Reginald had hit upon an idea to hood wink
the guards and prison officials. And the idea had something to do
with abstaining from meat and cigarettes.

Meanwhile his sister Ella was working steadily to have Malcolm
shifted to the Norfolk, Massachusetts prison colony-which was
an experimental rehabilitation jail. In late 1948, he was shifted to
Norfolk prison colony. The prison was an experimental colony,
where prisoners were given more freedom. The place did not
have cells. Each prisoner had a room for himself. There was a lot
of fresh and open air for them to breathe in, within the compound
walls of the prison. The visiting rules were also far more lenient
i.e. the visitors could come almost everyday and they were
allowed to meet their relatives or friends for two hours. The
prisoners had a choice of sitting alongside the visitor or facing
each other.

Moreover, the prison colony had one of the finest libraries.
Books here had been willed away by a millionaire called
Parkhurst. Parkhurst’s chief interests were History and Religion.
Therefore, there were several good books on both the subjects.
Also the prisoners could take part in intellectual activities like
debates and discussions which were conducted by visiting
instructors from Harvard, Boston and other educational
institutions in the area.

Malcolm’s younger brother, Reginald visits him at the Prison
colony. Malcolm was ‘keyed up’ to hear of his plan to leave the
prison. However, Reginald spoke to him about God-‘Allah’. He
told Malcolm that all whites were devils. Somehow, his words
seemed to be true to Malcolm. For all the whites he had met till
then, either tried to use him or hurt him. Reginald came once
again after a few days and spoke to him for about two hours on
the devil white man and the ‘brain-washed’ black man.

Malcolm began receiving letters from his brother, Philbert, and
sister, Hilda, which spoke about the Honorable Elijah
Muhammad, a small gentleman, the Messenger of Allah. This
man had a message for the black people in America. Through
their letters, he learnt that History had been distorted-‘whitened’
to subjugate the blacks. That the Original Man was black to
emerge in Africa. While he built empires and cities, the whites
were still living in caves. The whites (because of their devilish
nature), pillaged and murdered the black people, enslaved them
and brought them to America. The slave women in America had
been raped by the slave master-the white man. This led to a new
generation of light colored ‘brain washed’ Negroes who did not
know about their home country, culture or even their family/tribe
names. The Negro in America was taught that his native Africa
was a land of black savages who lived like monkeys on tress.

The Negro in America was taught to worship a God who was
white with blue eyes, having resemblance to his white slave
master. He was brainwashed into believing that every thing white
was good, something to be admired and be in awe of.

The letters set Malcolm thinking. He reflected on his past,
recalled all the whites he had come across-their attitude towards
him and ‘niggers’ in general. Gradually he was being converted.
Malcolm mentions reading about how Paul, on the road to
Damascus, reacted on hearing the voice of Christ. He (Paul) was
so ‘smitten’ that he fell off his horse in a daze. Malcolm could
understand Paul’s condition, for he too was going through
similar turmoil within him. During this phase of Malcolm’s life,
the other convicts would find him sitting for hours, without
eating. Malcolm was reflecting on his past life, feeling guilty of
the life he led, and thinking about the teachings of the Nation of
Islam. Nation of Islam was an organization of black Muslims
headed by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

Soon, Hilda came to visit him. She urged him to write to Elijah
Muhammad, who had come to Detroit to reorganize his Temple
No. 1 (branch of the Nation). Hilda told Malcolm about ‘Yacub’s
History’-which speaks about how the white man came on Planet
Earth. This is one of the principle teachings of the Nation of
Islam. According to this History, the original man on Earth was
black. The religion followed by the blacks then was Islam.
Among the blacks was a man called Yacub. He lived about sixty
six hundred years ago. He was a scientist who had learnt how to
breed races scientifically. He was born to make trouble and
destroy the peace of the land (Mecca). He began preaching his
ideas on the streets and market places and converted several
people to his views. The authorities anticipated trouble from
Yacub. So they exiled Yacub along with his 59,999 followers to
the Island of Patmos. This Island is mentioned in the Bible as the
place where John received the message contained in the
Revelations-of the New Testament.

Angry with the authorities Dr. Yacub although a black decided to
create a new devilish white race; as a revenge. Dr. Yacub knew
that black men had ‘2 germs’-black and brown. He knew that the
brown germ remained dormant, as it was weaker of the two. He
got the idea of separating the two germs and then grafting the
brown germ to progressively lighter shades. The resulting
humans carrying these light germs would have light color and
would be more ‘susceptible to wickedness and evil’. In this way
he would finally get the white, ‘bleached out’ race of devils.
Yacub took several years to implement his ideas and did live to
see the final stage of a pure white race. Several hundred years
later, the black population in the Island passed through the stages
of brown, red, and yellow to finally reach the point, where
everyone was white, with blond hair and blue eyes. Six hundred
years later this white population came to the mainland. Through
deceit and weapons, they took control of the lands and
subjugated the original black and brown peoples all over the


Influenced by all he had heard from Hilda and Reginald,
Malcolm decides to write to Elijah Muhammad. He was really
ashamed of his letter because his handwriting was hardly legible
and his grammar-bad. Yet, Elijah Muhammad sends him a reply.
In the letter, he tells Malcolm that black prisoners symbolized
white society’s crime of keeping blacks oppressed, deprived and
ignorant. Since black youth were unable to get decent jobs, they
turned to crime. He asked Malcolm to take courage and enclosed
a $5 bill in the letter.

Malcolm’s sister and brothers tell him to face the East and pray
on his knees. He recalls how difficult and embarrassing it was,
when he tried to do so initially. From the onwards he began
living like a hermit in the prison. As his feelings and thoughts
changed, he began feeling strongly about the way blacks were
treated in society. Since he is unable to express his anger
verbally, he starts writing letters to all the people he knew during
his hustling days. In the letter, he wrote about all he knew about
Allah, Islam, and Mr. Elijah Muhammad. He never got a single
reply to his letters. For the average hustlers were not educated
enough to read or write. Looking back at that phase of his life
Malcolm feels that even he wouldn’t have replied to a letter
which said something as wild as ‘the white man is the devil.’

Besides his friends, Malcolm also wrote letters to the Mayor of
Boston, the Governor of Massachusetts, and the President -
Harry S. Truman.

It was due to the letters that Malcolm felt the need to re-educate
himself in English. For he was not only inarticulate, even his
language was not appropriate. This is because, all that he had
spoken in Harlem was slang. And slang could not be written in a
letter. Also every book that he read in the prison Library, had
some words or sentences, which he could not understand. So in
an attempt to increase his vocabulary and improve his grammar,
he gets hold of a dictionary, takes down words-page by page and
reads them aloud. Gradually, as his vocabulary broadened, he
could make sense of the books he read. The library consisted of
several books in History and Religion. History had been one of
Malcolm’s favorite subjects. In books like: Gregor Mendel’s
‘findings in Genetics’, he found a basis to the teachings of the
Nation-that Original or first man on Earth was black. Fredrick
Olmstead’s book on the horrors suffered by African slaves, while
they were shipped to the U.S. was among the numerous books
Malcolm read in the Prison. Malcolm also read ‘Uncle Tom’s
and some pamphlets about the Abolitionist Anti-slavery
society of New England. He recalls reading about the slave
preacher-Nat Turner who did not preach about ‘non-violence’,
but gathered followers by killing wicked plantation owners and
freeing the slaves. The other books read by him while in prison
were: Will Durant’s ‘The Story of Oriental Civilization’ and
Mahatma Gandhi’s accounts of the struggle to fight the British in
India, The Boxer Rebellion in China etc.

During this period, Malcolm receives the news of his brother
Reginald’s suspension from the Nation. Malcolm is extremely
fond of his brother. The suspension hurt Malcolm and he writes a
letter to Elijah Muhammad defending his brother. The same
night, he gets a vision or a dream of the presence of a man (of
Asian origin) sitting by his bed. The figure disappears in the
morning very soon; Malcolm receives a letter from the spiritual
head-Mr. Muhammad. In the letter the leader tells Malcolm that
if he (Malcolm) had believed in the truth and now doubted it, he
did not believe in truth in the first place. It is his own weakness
(his blind love for Reginald) that is making him doubt the truth.
The letter makes Malcolm think and change his mind. He
realizes that his brother was at fault and had been rightly
punished for it. Malcolm’s faith in the Nation is renewed.

Reginald, mean while had become totally insane due to the
suspension. Then Malcolm believed that it was Allah’s way of
punishing Reginald for his sins. However, much later, (when he
is suspended from the organization), he realizes that his brother
had lost his senses because he was hurt. After the suspension, his
own family members refused to support him. Reginalds mental
health made his family members admit him to an asylum.

In the prison, Malcolm continued reading and studying books.
He also began attending the debates and lectures organized in the
prison. The Debating Society trained Malcolm in public
speaking. Recalling this phase, Malcolm says that he was
schooled in the streets of Harlem, but the prison was his

In the last year of his imprisonment, he was shifted to Charleston
Prison. The reasons given for it ostensibly was that he had
refused to take some shots or inoculation. The real reason was
that, when he wasn’t reading, Malcolm spent his time speaking
to other convicts about the teachings of the Nation.

The Charleston Prison was far more strict. They did not have any
lectures or debates, where the inmates could meet or interact. In
an attempt to contact the other prisoners, he began going to the
Bible class, attended by lots of black convicts. At the prison
colony in Massachusetts, he had read the Bible. A tall, white,
blonde young student from the Harvard Seminary conducted the
Bible class at the Charleston prison. For Malcolm then the
student was nothing but a perfect ‘devil’. Malcolm had to think
really hard to upset the student because, the young was well
versed in his subject. Also, Malcolm had to think of something
that would give the black convicts something to think and talk

Malcolm got an opportunity one-day, when the student had
finished speaking about St. Paul. Malcolm put his hand up.
When the student motioned him to speak, he stood up and asked:
‘what color was Paul? Answering his own question, Malcolm
states that Paul must have been black because he was a Hebrew.
And the original Hebrews were black. This, the student could not
contradict. He flushed red and agreed with Malcolm. Malcolm
once again asked: ‘what color was Jesus... He was Hebrew
too... wasn’t he?" he asked slowly. This question stunned not
only the white student from Harvard, but also every one to the
convict present in the class. The student walked around the class
for a moment and replied that Jesus was brown. Malcolm left the
discussion at that point for he was satisfied with the impact he
had made.

Overnight the news of the Bible class spread through the entire
prison. Wherever Malcolm went he could see the nodding and
whispering. Malcolm made full use of the opportunity.
Whenever he met a black inmate he began speaking about Elijah
Muhammad and his teachings.


The two chapters give the readers an idea of Malcolm’s years in
the prison. At the same time readers also learn about the state of
prisons in the U.S. during that time. The conditions of the State
prisons (except for the Norfolk Prison colony) depicted in the
book only reinforce the statement that Malcolm makes-that
prisons can never reform a man. For here, he is locked up like an
animal behind bars and his identity is limited to a number given
to him.

Despite these shortcomings the prisons serve as a University for
Malcolm, where he re-educates himself-gains knowledge
improves his English etc. It is here that he learns about Elijah
Muhammad, his teachings and is converted to Islam. A man,
who enters the prison as a foul-mouthed, convict hooked on
drugs, leaves the prison totally transformed. In the prison
Malcolm gets an opportunity to reflect on his past-his hustling
days in Harlem.

It is interesting to note that despite all his crimes, Malcolm’s
family members be it Ella, Reginald or Hilda, - all are there to
help him. The support system created by his family was one of
the factors responsible for the change in Malcolm. That is not to
undermine Malcolm’s own determination and will power. If it
were not for his strong will and indomitable spirit, he could
never have been able to break the habit of drugs. Later, when he
sits and introspects-looks back at his past-his evil ways-he
genuinely feels remorse and prays for forgiveness. This incident
reveals Malcolm’s honesty and clear conscience.

As far as the teachings of the Nation-which tell Malcolm that
whites are ‘devils’, is concerned, Malcolm rejects them later.
However, when he was in the prison the idea (of whites=devils)
had its attraction. After all, right from his childhood, whites had
harassed his family-the Ku Klux Klan members, the white
population of Lansing which refused to give work to Malcolm’s
mother, the patronizing Swerlins, the white school teacher who
hurt Malcolm by telling him to take up carpentry instead of law.
Later, the white police which was always chasing him. All these
factors made him accept the idea that all whites are indeed

Infact, Malcolm states that most black youth, who had suffered at
the hands of the racist and unjust system in America then, would
have readily accepted the idea. That is perhaps the reason why a
large number of ex-convicts joined the Nation of Islam. Another
reason for so many ex-convicts joining the Nation was the
manner it accepted all its members, forgiving all their past sins
and giving them an opportunity to change. This aspect is
important because no society accepts an ex-convict easily. The
label of ‘criminal’ stays on even after the person has served his

Chapters 12 & 13


Chapter 12 tells the reader about Malcolm’s first contact with the
Black Muslims outside the prison.

In spring 1952, Malcolm informs Mr. Elijah Muhammad with
great joy that he will soon be released. After his release, he
decides to go to Detroit to be with his brother Wilfrid, since his
sister Hilda wanted him to learn more about the Nation of Islam.
According to Hilda, Malcolm could do this only by becoming a
member of a temple of practicing Muslims.

A few months after Malcolm writes to Elijah Muhammad, he is
released on Parole. On leaving the prison, the first purchase he
makes is a pair of glasses, a suitcase, and a wristwatch. Malcolm
stays with Wilfrid and his family in Detroit and gets a job in a
furniture store. His brother managed the furniture store. Malcolm
was really impressed by the way Islam had influenced and
changed the members in Wilfrid’s family. Besides the members,
who attended the meetings in the Temple, also greeted each other
with a great deal of respect, and expressed a feeling of
brotherhood towards each other.

However, Malcolm grew rather impatient with the functioning of
the Temple. For he felt that nothing was being done to make new
converts. The attitude among the members, it seemed to him,
was that new converts will come on their own. But Malcolm
thought differently. He sincerely felt that a little more effort by
way of meeting people, talking and inviting them to the temple
was required, if the organization was to grow.

Soon, Malcolm got the opportunity to meet the spiritual leader
Elijah Muhammad. At this meeting, Malcolm spoke frankly
about his feelings vis-à-vis the growth of the Temple. Elijah
Muhammad listened to what he had to say and accepted his
suggestions. He asked Malcolm to go ahead with his ideas of
recruiting new members. As Malcolm’s involvement in the re-
building of the Temple became total, he met Elijah Muhammad
more often to tell him about the latest developments. After a
while, under the leader’s instructions Malcolm (along with his
brothers) dropped his surname Little and took on the letter ‘X’ at
the end of his name. ‘X’ denoted something unknown. In other
words, since he was still unaware of his original African name,
he like several others members added the letter ‘X’ at the end of
his name. Pleased by his zeal and commitment, the spiritual
leader appointed Malcolm the minister of Detroit Temple.

The chapter ends with a brief account of Elijah Muhammad’s
past. Mr. Muhammad was a humble worker when he met W.D.
Fard, a trader. Fard called himself the messenger of Allah to
awaken all the blacks in North America. Influenced by W.D.
Fard, Elijah Muhammad joined him in founding the Nation of
Islam. After giving the responsibility of the organization to
Elijah Muhammad, W.D. Fard disappears. As Malcolm narrates
the history, he refers to the spiritual head with an utmost respect
and deep affection. Malcolm looked up to him and had more
faith in Elijah than Elijah had in himself.

In the following chapter, Malcolm recalls that he quit his job at
the Ford Motor Company to devote all his time in studying under
Elijah Muhammad. He was studying to become a Black Muslim
minister. This is in 1953. When Malcolm’s studies are complete,
he is sent to Boston, where he opens a temple within three
months. Every evening, he addressed the members. During the
day, he along with a few of his Muslim brothers roamed the
streets to contact black youth and tell them about the Nation.

Malcolm’s sister Ella, often visited the Mosque /Temple at
Boston to hear him speak. However, when as usual at the end of
the speech, Malcolm asked the members in the audience to stand
up if they wished to join the Nation of Islam, Ella would never
stand up.

After establishing the temple at Boston, Malcolm went to
Philadelphia to set up a Temple. From here he was sent to (by his
leader) to Harlem to start the work of the Nation. In Harlem, he
took time off to visit his old friends. However he learnt that
Sammy was dead (due to an overdose of drugs). And that West
Indian Archie was at his deathbed. Malcolm goes to meet him at
his apartment and tells him about his work in the Nation of
Islam. Malcolm remembered Archie to be a huge giant of a man.
However, the man he meets now has changed drastically due to
prolonged illness. Archie listens to Malcolm quietly. Malcolm
also tells him about his life in prison. Archie seemed to be happy
at the way things had worked out for Malcolm. Malcolm could
not help feeling sad for his friend for he knew that Archie will
not live very long. As he leaves he offers whatever money he has
with him to Archie. Archie is reluctant to take it. But Malcolm
persuades him to accept the money.

Due to Malcolm’s missionary zeal in recruiting black members,
the Harlem Temple grew. The advantage that Malcolm had was
that he knew the Psychology of the youth here and also their
peculiar slang language. While Malcolm worked in the Harlem
Temple, he frequently went in and around New York to help
organize other Temples. According to Malcolm, one of the
barriers, he faced while recruiting new members, was the strict
moral code of the Nation. Most blacks he approached did not
wish to give up so much for their religion.

As the Harlem Temple grew, several old members were given
responsibility to run classes where new members were trained.
Among them was a young nurse called Sister Betty. Malcolm
was attracted to her. But he never approached her directly or
even expressed his feelings to her. Malcolm’s past experience
with women had made him rather cynical. Therefore he always
preferred to stay away from the members of the opposite sex.

Although he took some time to accept his feelings towards Betty,
he finally overcomes his inhibitions. In January 1958, he called
Betty and proposed to her over the phone. While recalling this
incident Malcolm says that Betty somehow was aware of his
feelings towards her. For she did not seem surprised, when he
proposed to her. Without hesitating, she accepted his proposal.
Both had a quiet wedding with Mr. Muhammad’s approval and
blessings. The event was so sudden that it came as a surprise to
not only the members of his family but also of the organization.

Immediately after his wedding, Malcolm becomes busy with his
work-to help strengthen and broaden the Nation. Around this
time, Malcolm was giving a speech at the Boston Temple. At he
end of his speech, he as usually asked: "Who among you wish to
follow the Honorable Elijah Muhammad?" To his astonishment,
among the ones who stood up was his sister Ella. Ella had taken
the decision after five long years.

Malcolm relates an incident, which brings the hitherto unknown
Nation of Islam into public prominence. It was an incident,
which nobody in the Nation had anticipated at all. It happened
one night in Harlem. During a street scuffle the police
intervened. In doing so, the white cops beat up John Hinton, an
innocent passerby. He was a Black Muslim from Temple Seven.
They beat him so badly that his scalp was split open, and his face
was covered with blood. Another member of the Nation, who
witnessed the gory incident, called up at the restaurant where the
Nation members used to meet.

In less than an hour, about fifty young men of the ‘Fruit of Islam’
reach the police station, where Hinton was taken by the white
cops. The ‘Fruit of Islam’ was the youth organization of the
Nation, where young blacks were trained for unarmed combat
and drill. On that fateful night fifty young men stood in rank
formation outside the precinct house. Soon there was a crowd of
onlookers, who gathered around the place, curious and excited.
As soon as Malcolm X arrived, some members ask the police for
brother Hinton. The police initially deny that Hinton was in the
police station. After a while they admit that he was indeed
brought to the police station. However, neither Malcolm X nor
the other members are allowed to see Hinton. At this, Malcolm
tells the Police that they will not leave the place till they are
allowed to meet Hinton and he is given proper medical

By now, the police had become nervous due to the crowd that
was swarming outside the station. To prevent trouble, they let
Malcolm X in to see Hinton. Hinton lay inside, unconscious and
covered in blood. At Malcolm’s instructions, the police called for
an ambulance and brother Hinton is taken to the Harlem hospital.
The Muslim men followed the ambulance in loose formation.
The crowds behind them increased in number, as they followed
the ambulance. The police official became nervous and asked
Malcolm to disperse the crowd. To this Malcolm informed the
officer that his brothers (from the Fruit of Islam) were
disciplined and will do no harm. When the police pointed out
that the others who were following his men were not disciplined,
Malcolm politely replied that ‘those others’ were not his concern
but the concern of the police.

The crowds dispersed only when the Doctors informed Malcolm
that Brother Hinton was receiving proper care. Much later they
learnt that the Doctors had to put a steel plate into Brother
Hinton’s skull. After this operation, the Nation helped Hinton to
sue and the jury awarded him over $ 70,000, the largest amount
paid against police brutality in New York, until then.

After this public show of strength by the Nation of Islam, the
media, the police, and the public in general sat up and took
notice of the Black Muslim organization. The entire Harlem
Ghetto was buzzing about ‘those Muslims.’



The three things namely a suitcase, spectacles, and a wristwatch
that Malcolm buys as soon as he leaves the prison are significant.
They are important because from the moment he takes on
responsibility in the Nation, he traveled throughout the country
and later abroad. He hardly had any time for himself. There were
times when he was at home for barely few hours only to travel
again either to address a gathering or for some organizational
work. Therefore, the wristwatch, the suitcase, and his glasses
became an integral part of his life.

A committed member of an organization always thinks about
how his or her organization can grow. Often they are the ones
who are critical about the functioning of their organization. This
is not because they hate the organization’s weaknesses, but
because they love the organization and want the best for it. Mr.
Elijah Muhammad too saw the same zeal and commitment in
Malcolm X, when he first met him at the Detroit Temple.
Malcolm wanted to recruit new members into the Temple. Elijah
gave him the responsibility of getting new recruits. This was just
the beginning. From a fresh new member, he rose to become a
minister in the Nation. His organizational skills were used to set
up new temples in and around New York.

The sudden proposal and subsequent marriage with Betty reveals
Malcolm’s awkwardness in handling personal relationships.
Although his initial inhibitions in revealing his feelings to Betty
are understandable, his generalization that all women know
much more than they reveal is not justified. Maybe it was a
woman’s instincts that made Betty realize that Minister Malcolm
X liked her. Perhaps she too liked him. Therefore, when he
proposes to her over the phone, she is not at all surprised.

Malcolm deep affection for Mr. Elijah Muhammad is obvious
when he is narrating the leader’s past. This feeling of affection
and adoration is revealed time and again in the book. This feeling
can be understood in the light of the fact that it was Elijah who
guided him while he was in the prison. It was he who helped him
break away from his evil past and start afresh. It was Elijah who
gave him strength, whenever Malcolm was confused. Through
their letters and later, as Malcolm met him regularly, Malcolm
began looking up to him as he would to his father. That is why
Malcolm says that he had more faith in Elijah than he had in

The incident described at the end of chapter 14 reveals the
discipline of the Nation of Islam members. It also reveals that the
collective strength of the blacks can help them get justice in the
courts, which would have otherwise ignored them.

Chapter 14 & 15


These two chapters deal with the growing media attention that
the Black Muslims begin to receive. Besides, as the media
attention grew, Malcolm had to counter several ideas that
liberals, the press, as well as other black activists were spreading.

During the period 1959-60 the Nation of Islam became the focus
of media attention in the U.S. Louis Lomax, a white journalist
approached Malcolm to make a documentary film on the Nation
of Islam. Dr. C. Eric Lincoln began writing a book on the Black
Muslims around the same time. The book made the Nation
extremely popular in America. Malcolm had been writing
columns in various newspapers. This experience gave him a
working knowledge of how a newspaper is brought out. He
founded a paper called ‘Muhammad speaks.’ This newspaper,
which was sold on street corners all over the country, helped
build a wide circulation for it.

Although both the book and the T.V. documentary brought the
organization into national prominence it gave, according to
Malcolm, a negative picture of the organization. Instead of
focussing on the positive work of the Nation-where several black
youth from the Ghettos-who were into drugs and crime were
being reformed, the T.V. programme called ‘The Hate that Hate
produced’, highlighted the anti-white, separatist ideas of the
organization. Even the reviews on Eric Lincoln’s book
highlighted the Nation’s militant, religious and anti-white ideas.
The constructive work of the Nation, which involved reforming
drug addicts and former convicts, was totally ignored.

During the years-1959-61, Malcolm became the chief
spokesperson for the Nation. But whenever he met the media, he
always gave credit to Mr. Elijah Muhammad. His fiery speeches
made him more famous than the founder-Elijah. As Elijah
became physically incapable to manage the organization due to
frequent illness, Malcolm X was trusted with more
responsibility. For instance, he was given a free hand to handle
the press and other meetings at Universities, college’s etc, the
way he wanted to.

Due to his increased popularity, Malcolm realized that there were
ministers who were jealous of him. However he didn’t let it
affect him for he knew that Elijah Muhammad had confidence in
him. What he did not realize then was that someday this jealousy
would affect Mr. Muhammad too and result in his expulsion.

In the following chapter, Malcolm says that his strongest
opponents were not the whites, but educated black liberals.
These black liberals would accuse Malcolm of instigation racial
tension between blacks and whites. The Press always tried to use
these differences to their advantage.

For instance, if a mayor (a black) is quoted in the paper saying
that no racial tensions exist in his country, the press would
immediately draw Malcolm’s attention to it. Malcolm always
went prepared for such discussions, and gave them answers that
set them thinking.

At the same time, Malcolm always tried not to bring his
differences with the Civil Rights activists out in public. For he
always believed in black unity. So whenever, the press asked for
his opinion on, say the famous Montgomery Boycott, he would,
instead of criticizing the methods adopted by the Black Civil
Rights activists, try to broaden the Boycott issue. He would say
that this Boycott ought to be extended to the armed forces too.
After all why should blacks join the army and lay down their
lives for a country that has always treated them as second class

The demand for ‘Integration’ by the Black Civil Rights activitist
is another issue that Malcolm had sharp differences on.
According to him, even if Integration is made legal blacks will
never be accepted by the whites. In other words, whites because
of their deep set racial prejudices will never change their attitude
towards blacks. Therefore the demand for Integration had no
meaning for him. In this context, he said that the southerners
who openly hated the idea of Integration were far more honest
than the northerners who gave lip service to ‘Integration’ but did
not really believe in it.

According to him what the blacks required was to live with
dignity and self-respect. And this was possible only if they
organized themselves and created enough resources for
employing and educating the blacks. Moreover, he felt that the
question of racism was not a Civil Rights issue but that of
Human Rights. And this question cannot be solved through
phony talks of Integration.

During this period Malcolm X was invited at several colleges
and Universities, where students wanted to hear the ‘angry young
man’ of America speak. One of the reasons for the popularity
was a book on Black Muslims, which was made a part of the
curriculum in colleges. Once when Malcolm X had gone to
Harvard University to address a gathering, he happened to look
out of the window. He saw the apartment from where he and his
friends planned their burglaries. For a moment, his past life
flashed before his eyes. He recalls how he had lived then-‘like an
animal.’ He becomes aware of the role played by Islam in
transforming him. Islam had lifted him from the ‘Ghettos’ and
made him a minister in the Nation of Islam.

He remembers the story of Icarus from Greek Mythology. In the
story his father warns Icarus that if he flew too high in the sky,
the sun will melt the wax in his wings and he would fall.
Malcolm, standing at the windows then, promises himself that he
will always remember that the wings given to him to fly were not
his own but of Allah.


In these chapter (s), Malcolm plays an important role in bringing
the Nation into prominence. For he is the one who meets the
press, attends the seminars and lectures at Educational
Institutions. Therefore with the popularity of the Nation,
Malcolm X also achieved fame. Yet, his humble nature never
allows him to forget his leader Elijah Muhammad and the
Religion of Islam, which had given him the ‘wings’ to fly high.
However his meteoric rise becomes the cause for jealousy in the
organization, as we shall see later.

While talking about Integration and the Civil Rights Movement,
Malcolm X seems to be making his position clear. Though he has
sharp differences with the black activists, he believes that blacks
in America should always be united. Besides, Malcolm through
his book seems to be exposing the ‘Sham’ behind the ‘Long
March to Washington.’ According to him the ‘March’ was
managed by white interests who did not want any anger or
discontent to be expressed against the racist system in America.
Therefore the grass root activists who had planned the march
were pushed aside and replaced by moderate black leaders who
were funded by white philanthropists. Since the funds came from
whites, the entire campaign was watered down to a song: ‘We
shall Overcome’ and culminated in the Speech: ‘I have a
dream...’ In other words, the ‘March’ had lost its teeth. For it
failed to express the true feelings of anger and discontentment
seething within the black masses during this time.

In chapter 14, Malcolm criticizes the press for only focussing on
the sensational anti-white tirades of the Nation of Islam. This is
true for apart from the anti-white hate propaganda that the Nation
of Islam preached, it carried out several constructive
programmes for the black youth in the Ghettos.

One of the programmes was to rehabilitate black youth addicted
to drugs. For this, Malcolm and his gang of dedicated members
of the Nation of Islam, approached youth, spoke in their lingo
and told them that they could be saved from the clutches of
drugs. Malcolm organized these programmes, for he could speak
the slang language used in the Ghettos. Moreover, he had seen
the fate of two of his friends-Sammy and West Indian Archie due
to drugs. When the youth, were ready to receive rehabilitation,
they were taken to the various centers of the Nation of Islam.
Here, there were treated with respect, even though they were
hard core criminals. And one or two members of the Nation
stayed with the drug-addict and helped him get over the terrible
withdrawal symptoms that an addict experience when he wants
to free himself from drugs.

Besides, youth were given membership to the ‘Fruits of Islam-
where black youth -were trained in unarmed combat and drill.
They were taught to take pride in their race and history. Several
youth who had been pushed into crime and drugs joined the
organization. For the Nation accepted them without judging
them. It is here that they discovered their lost self-respect and
dignity. Moreover it also gave them a sense of purpose-
something to live, work and strive together for-i.e. Racial justice.

Chapter 16


In 1961, Elijah Muhammad’s health was failing. According to
Malcolm, Elijah Muhammad had a special position in the
organization, which no one outside the Nation could understand.
The ministers of the Nation followed his moral and spiritual
example and looked up to him for advice and guidance in
moments of crisis. Therefore, those outside the Nation of Islam
would never understand the deep loss and emptiness that its
members would experience, if he died. What bound the Black
Muslims to what Malcolm calls the best organization for blacks
was their love and respect for the spiritual leader.

The Nation of Islam had the strictest moral codes, which every
member including the top most officials were expected to follow.
And this he did by following the leader’s personal example. Due
to his failing health, Mr. Muhammad was advised to move to a
dry place. Therefore, the Nation bought a house in Phoenix for
him to rest. Now Malcolm had to take on more responsibility,
which he did at the expense of his family. Sometimes he was
away for weeks at a stretch. But Betty never felt neglected or
ignored. She was an extremely devoted wife who understood the
pressures of working in an organization. Malcolm recalls that
once when he called up from the airport, his wife told him that
she felt his presence at home even when he was not physically
present with her.

During this period of hectic work, Malcolm began to feel the
heat of envy against him within the organization. There were
allegations against him that he was taking all the credit for the
work going on in the organization. Another allegation was that
he was using the organization money for personal comforts.
Malcolm refutes all these allegations. Whenever he spoke to the
press or at the various educational institutions, he always gave
credit to Mr. Elijah Muhammad. While meeting the press, he
would give them photographs of the spiritual leader to be printed
in papers instead of his.

However, the allegations never really hurt Malcolm as Mr. Elijah
Muhammad had anticipated this attacks on him made by jealous
ministers. Therefore, Malcolm knew that if these false
allegations reached Mr. Muhammad’s ears, he would ignore
them. But due to the jealousy, less and less of his public
speeches, interviews, and talks were reported in their
mouthpiece. This he felt was not fair because the black masses
on whose behalf he was talking would never learn about it.

Much more than the jealousy within the organization, the talks of
Elijah’s sexual misconduct in the Chicago Temple shook him.
He could not believe it. He wanted to confirm it. He met Wallace
Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad’s son, the one person in the
organization; he was very close to. He learnt in Chicago not only
from Wallace but also from several others that Elijah
Muhammad had had sexual relationship with three of his former
secretaries. He decided to meet the three secretaries. Malcolm
learnt from the Secretaries that whatever he had heard about
Elijah Muhammad was indeed true.

As if all this wasn’t enough the secretaries told him that the
spiritual leader always praised Malcolm on his face but tore him
apart behind his back. Malcolm was really hurt when he heard
this. Inspite of what he had heard, Malcolm along with Wallace
Muhammad sat together to solve the problem before them. They
had to put a stop to all the talks that were going on about the

After discussing the problem they decided that a man’s
contribution to the good of society far outweigh his personal
weakness. In other words, a persons worth ought to be judged by
his positive actions rather that his personal weaknesses. Malcolm
had the twin examples of David and Prophet Muhammad who
are remembered for their super human feats rather than their
illicit relationships with Bath Sheba and Ethiopian women

Armed with these examples they spoke to other ministers in the
various temples, so that there is no misunderstanding against
Elijah. Malcolm then, met Elijah at his house. Elijah Muhammad
accepted Malcolm’s idea as the best way of squashing the talks
going around the various temples of the Nation.

Soon after this incident, the same year, President John F.
Kennedy was brutally assassinated. The press called up to seek
his opinion. Although Malcolm X did not mean any offence to
the President, his statement that the culture of hatred in America
was now killing her own white people-making the Assassination
a classic case of "chickens coming home to roost"-was
misinterpreted by the press. Next day most of the papers carried
his statement: ‘Black Muslims’ Malcolm X: ‘Chickens come
Home to Roost’
-making it seem as though the Nation of Islam
did not feel sorry for this shocking incident. Elijah Muhammad
was upset by this public statement made by Malcolm. He thought
that it was a totally inappropriate time to make such a harsh

Malcolm X accepted his mistake and was willing to take
whatever punishment the organization would give. Elijah
suspended him for ninety days. Malcolm X accepted it and
returned to his Mosque in Harlem to inform the members. To his
surprise they had already been informed about it. Even press
carried reports about his suspension.

However what made him rather suspicious was when he heard
talks within the organization that Malcolm X will be accepted
back only if he submits. After a few days, he learns that one of
his immediate assistants had been heard telling some brothers: ‘If
you knew what Minister (Malcolm X) did, you’d go out and kill
him yourself.’ This made him realize that this kind of death-talk
for him must have been approved of by none other than the
person for whom he always had a deep respect for -Mr. Elijah

Malcolm X was totally shell-shocked. He felt like someone who
had been in a beautiful marriage for twelve long years till one
day his partner gives him divorce papers. Malcolm felt betrayed
and hurt. To keep his mind off this emotional trauma, he accepts
Cassius clay (the upcoming black boxer) invitation to visit him at
Miami. Cassius Clay was in Miami training for his fight against
Sonny Liston. Malcolm X had met young Cassius Clay in Detroit
in 1962. He had come with his brother Rudolph to hear Elijah
Muhammad speak. Cassius Clay seemed to admire Malcolm X
for the way he came up to him and shook his hands. He would
always make it a point to attend any talk delivered by Malcolm X
near his place.

Malcolm to get away from the heat and stress sets off to Miami
with his family for a short vacation. Malcolm stayed with
Cassius till after the prizefight with Liston. Cassius won the

A few days after he returned home, Malcolm learns about the
first direct death warrant against him. A close former assistant
was given the orders to plant a bomb in his car. But the man
came and confessed every thing to him. Malcolm thanked him
for his life and told him about what was really going on in
Chicago. This incident made Malcolm leave the organization.

Through some close friends he learnt that there were several
members who would like to leave the organization to be with
him. Malcolm after careful consideration, decided to build a new
organization to help ‘cure the black man in America of the
sickness which has kept him under the white man’s heel.’ He felt
that the black man was spiritually sick since he has accepted the
white man’s culture and endured all his cruelties for centuries.
This is because Christianity had taught him to suffer all cruelties
on Earth-so that he attains ‘milk and honey’ in heaven.

He felt that blacks were partly responsible for their condition.
Therefore he wanted to build an organization which would make
him realize his strength, make him aware of his own native
culture and help them fight for black Human Rights. The
organization he formed was called the Muslim Mosque Inc. He
called a press conference and announced the formation of his
new Muslim organization headed by him. He got an
overwhelming response in this endeavor. Also requests for
addressing gatherings came in from all over the country.

Muslim Mosque Inc. had its temporary head quarters at Hotel
Theresa in Harlem.

Soon after the formation of his new organization, he decided to
visit Mecca. But he did not have the money to make the
pilgrimage. He turned to Ella for help. And Ella gave him the
money without asking for any explanation.


The year 1963 must have been the most difficult year of
Malcolm’s life. For it is this year when he learns about Elijah
Muhammad’s sexual misconduct. Imagine his shock and the
turmoil that must have gone on in his mind for a man who he
trusted so much. The sense of betrayal deepens when he hears
that the man he loved as a father, used to praise him on his face
but criticize him behind his back.

The faith that he had in his spiritual Guru is shaken. But the last
straw is when he is suspended for ninety days. Even though he
accepts his mistake. Elijah seemed to have told the other
members that Malcolm had rebelled against the Nation and that
he would be allowed to return only if he ‘submits’. Even now
Malcolm is still in a state of emotional shock. Though physically
out of the Nation, psychologically he still could not accept the
break from an organization for which he had worked for twelve
long years.

Finally, it is the death warrant for him that makes him realize
that it was all over. He could never return to the Nation. He
decides to form a new organization-a Black Muslim
Organization, because he believed that the black people of
America would support him in his endeavor. For he, more than
anybody else had been in the Ghettos, could speak the language
of the Ghettos, and he knew the psychology of the black youth
here. This is because he had spent his youth in the ‘Ghettos.’ The
average black man on the streets of Harlem identified with him
and responded when he spoke.

The chapter also throws light on Betty X. Inspite of Malcolm’s
busy schedule after Elijah’s illness, she never complained. This
reveals her devotion towards her husband. Also it indicates that
Betty was a very understanding woman who knew the pressure
of working in an organization.

The chapter is the climax of the book. For it is here that the
tension rises. The press statement made by Malcolm after
Kennedy’s assassination is the prelude. The climax is when the
spiritual head and Malcolm X meet. The tension is palpable even
though both Malcolm and the reader know the outcome.

In this chapter, the reader meets a new person who plays a short
but important role in helping Malcolm tide over the most
difficult period of his life-Cassius Clay. Young Cassius Clay
who admired Malcolm a lot was an upcoming boxer. While
Betty X stood by him like a rock, Cassius Clay’s bout with
Sonny Liston serves to divert his attention from the emotional
trauma and stress back home.

Perhaps, it was also the innate quality in Malcolm-the ability to
rise out of the worst situation. It is this ability that helps him to
get over the trauma of breaking with an organization for which
he worked selflessly.


Chapters 17, 18, & 19


Malcolm had wanted to make the pilgrimage since a long time.
Not only members within the organization but also people he had
met during his tours around the country had advised him to visit
Mecca. Many of them were whites from the Gulf. They told him
that since he was so sincere in considering himself a Muslim, he
should be exposed to ‘true Islam.’ For this, he should visit Mecca
and learn more about Islam.

Some of these people had urged Malcolm to meet and talk with
Dr. Mahmoud Youssef Shawarbi. Mr. Shawarbi was a United
Nations advisor. An eminent and learned Muslim, he had
authored several books. After having worked as a full-time
professor at the University of Cairo, he was in New York, as the
Director of the Federation of Islamic Associations in the U.S.
and Canada. One day, Malcolm was introduced to Mr. Shawarbi
by a Newsperson. They both talked for a few minutes and parted
since both had to attend to some appointment.

Malcolm’s sister Ella had been saving up money to visit Mecca.
However, when Malcolm expressed his wish to go to Mecca, she
gave him the money. Malcolm had the opportunity to meet Mr.
Shawarbi once again when he was in the process of applying for
a visa. The Saudi Ambassador told Malcolm that any Muslim
converted in the U.S. could get a visa for Mecca only if he/she
gets a signed letter of approval from Mr. Shawarbi. Malcolm
called Mr. Shawarbi, who called him over to his office.

In his office, Mr. Shawarbi handed over the letter of approval
and presented him a book: ‘The Eternal Message of Muhammad’
by Adb-ar-Rahman Azzam. To Malcolm’s surprise, Mr.
Shawarbi informed him that Mr. Azzam had been closely
following him (Malcolm) in the press. Mr. Azzam was an
international statesman, and one of the closest advisors to Prince
Faisal, the ruler of Arabia. As Malcolm was leaving the office,
Mr. Shawarbi gave him the telephone number of his son-
Muhammad Shawarbi who was a student in Cairo. He also gave
him Mr. Azzam’s sons telephone number Mr. Azzam’s son-
Omar Azzam lived in Jedda.

On the way to Cairo, Malcolm’s plane stopped at Frankfurt. At
Frankfurt, he had a few hours before his plane would leave for
Cairo. So he and his seatmate (a Muslim) decided to go sight
seeing. In the men’s room of Frankfurt Airport, Malcolm met an
American student (a white) abroad, who recognized him. After
eyeing him for a while, he came over to him and asked: ‘Are you

When Malcolm and his ‘Muslim brother’ came back to the
Airport, they saw throngs of people-all Muslims setting off for
the pilgrimage. These people were of various different colors.
For the first time Malcolm realized that there was no color
problem here. The feeling of friendship and warmth that
prevailed between the Muslims of various nationalities made
Malcolm feel free-free from the prison-like atmosphere he was
living in back home.

Malcolm stayed in Cairo for a few days before he proceeded to
Saudi. In Cairo, Malcolm was really impressed and surprised to
see that Cairo was highly industrialized and had modern schools,
houses, highways etc. At Cairo, Malcolm met Mr. Shawarbi’s
son Muhammad Shawarbi, who was a nineteen year old studying
Economics and Political Science at the University. The other
people he met in Cairo were surprised to learn that he (Malcolm)
was a Muslim-from America.

From Cairo he joined a party of English speaking people who
were going to Mecca. This group of people were contacted by
the ‘Muslim brother’ Malcolm befriended in the journey from
the U.S. to Frankfurt. The manner in which people turned up to
help Malcolm on his way to Mecca, made him believe that Allah
wanted it this way. At Jeddah, when Malcolm was detained at
the Airport because his status as a Muslim was not clear, he was
helped by Mr. Azzam. Malcolm had remembered to get in touch
with his son, whose phone number was given to him by Mr.

At the end of the pilgrimage, he wrote to all his friends who had
helped him in his journey to the Holy Land of Mecca. He also
wrote an open letter to be distributed to the press in the U.S. The
letter speaks about the experiences he had on the way to Mecca
and the conclusion he had come to. He states in the letter that, for
the past eleven days, he had eaten, drunk, and prayed along with
his fellow Muslims-Muslims whose eyes were blue and whose
hair was blonde and whose skin was white. Yet, he was treated
one among them praying to the one and the same God-Allah. He
adds that their belief in one God had ‘removed the ‘white’ from
their minds the ‘white’ from their behavior, and the ‘white’ from
their attitude.’

Malcolm concludes that Racist America is on a self-destructive
path like racist Germany, which eventually destroyed her own

Yet he says that there is hope for America because he had met
several Americans (whites) of the younger generation, and
believed that these young whites will see the writing on the wall
and not harm people due to differences of color.

Malcolm ends the letter saying that he was received with honor
and warmth, wherever he went. Thanking Allah for everything,
he signed the letter as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X).

The next chapter deals with Malcolm’s trip back from Mecca.
On his way back, he visited several African countries. Malcolm
was really surprised at the reception he received here. For he
wasn’t aware how popular he had become all over the world. It is
during this trip that he starts looking at the problem of blacks
from a broader point of view i.e. he no longer looked at it from
the narrow walls of religion alone, which itself had
fundamentally changed in his trip to Mecca. Now, he began
feeling the need for an International unity of blacks.

While Malcolm was away in Mecca, the press at home was
linking his name with several violent incidents in the U.S. So,
when Malcolm returned to the U.S., he called a press conference.
The press too was eager to meet Malcolm X-El-Hajj Malik

At this interview he used the term of Afro-Americans whilst
referring to blacks. And espoused the idea Pan-Africanism. In
other words the problems of Afro-Americans should be treated
as an international issue. Just as the African countries had
benefited from the Organization of African Unity, Afro-
Americans will be able to solve their problems through support
from other African countries in the world. At the organization, he
announced the formation of a new organization called the
organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). For he now
believed that the problems of blacks all over the world including
America were the same, irrespective of the religion they

After the interview, Malcolm received several letters from whites
in America who sought membership in his new organization. But
Malcolm refused. This is because he still felt that most whites in
the U.S. had been so deeply schooled in racism that it had
become their sub-conscious trait. Yet, his previous idea that all
whites are devils had certainly changed. Another reason, why he
refused membership to whites was because he felt that black
members will never interact freely or confidently in the presence
of a white.

In the chapter, Malcolm criticizes the U.S. Government
propaganda which made the racial problem in America to be an
internal issue-a civil Rights issue, something that is rapidly on its
way to a solution. Malcolm counters this false propaganda both
in America and abroad.

The last chapter: 1965, does not have any detail of Malcolm’s
activities during that year. The chapter just sums up Malcolm’s
ideas on racism, American society in general, the premonitions
of his death and the purpose of his book-his Autobiography.

Malcolm comments on the racial unrest prevailing during this
time. Some media persons and experts described this unrest as a
revolution. Malcolm disagreed. According to him a Revolution is
when there is a complete overturn of society. The racial troubles
in U.S. were not an attempt to overthrow the present system but a
demand to be accepted into it.

Malcolm visits Africa once again in 1964. Details about this trip
are not given. Rather, Malcolm recalls meeting a government
agent, a Jew who had been sent to follow him. Here he states that
the Jews have always been persecuted. But in the U.S. Jews have
been saved because all the hatred has been directed towards the
blacks. If the blacks had not been in the U.S., the Jews would not
have enjoyed the freedom they have now in the U.S.

During the last days of his life, Malcolm is constantly aware of
the threat to his life. However, he is not disturbed at the thought
of violent or sudden death. His uncle and his father both met a
violent death. He knew that he too would die someday in a
similar fashion. Even during his hustling days, he knew he could
die any moment. So he was prepared to meet his death.

Finally, he states that the purpose of his book is not to titillate his
readers with details of his past; but to show the average black in
the Ghettos that it is possible to rise out of the horrendous
conditions, he has been pushed into. Just as Malcolm had
changed from a street-smart hustler to the fame he had achieved
now; other blacks too could change. The book would be able to
give them courage and direction in their struggle for a better and
just society. It will serve as a beacon in their search for human
dignity and respect.

Besides the book would help clear various misconceptions about
him, his ideas which had not always been portrayed in the press
correctly. Further, the book would give Americans an idea of the
life in the Ghettos, and explain why slogans like: ‘White men are
devils’ seems attractive to the average black on the streets.


Chapters 17 & 18, describe the change in Malcolm’s outlook
after his visit to Mecca and some African countries. The visits
give him a deep and fresh understanding vis-à-vis \the problems
of blacks.

His visits to the Muslim countries make him realize that Islam
was practiced very differently from what he had been taught in
the Nation. Moreover when he met white Muslims who received
him with warmth, he realized that Whites were not all devils.

This realization made him think and at the end of his search for
truth, he decides to form the new Organization-OAAU.

The last chapter does not have any details of his activities in the
year 1965. He was to meet Alex Haley, the editor on the
weekend after Feb 21 st , 1965. But Malcolm X was brutally
assassinated on the fateful day at a public meeting.

The 17 th chapter once again reveals Ella’s affection for Malcolm.
When Malcolm calls up and says he wants to go to Mecca-
without asking any questions, she gives him all that she had
saved to go to Mecca.

The reader learns a little bit about the holy city of Mecca and
about the references to it in the ‘Koran’. Here the reader is
introduced to Mr. Shawarbi, who plays an important role in
getting a visa and giving him phone numbers of people who
could help him in Cairo and Jeddah.

The letter that he writes from the Holy City of Mecca, for the
press in the U.S. is signed with his new name El-Hajj Malik El-
Shabazz. He takes on this name-for Shabazz is the tribe from
which his ancestors-originally came from in Africa. The change
in his outlook brought about by his visit to Mecca and several
African countries is reflected in his speech to the press-when he
refers to the blacks as Afro-Americans. Moreover, his attitude
towards the whites also changes. This is evident from the
incident at the end of chapter 18, when a white man calls him
from his car at a signal near his car. The man asks him if he
would shake hands with him-a white man. To this Malcolm says
that he was ready to shake hands with any human being.

Malcolm’s growing popularity abroad is evident from the
incident in Frankfurt Airport-where a young student recognizes

Malcolm’s subsequent (second) visit to the African countries
helps him to deepen his understanding on the problems of blacks
and sharpens his outlook.

The last chapter-1963, where he expresses his views on the
condition of blacks in America then reveals his deep study of the
subject vis-à-vis social change and a struggle for black dignity
and a socially and politically just society for blacks.


Character Analysis

Malcolm X

Malcolm X is the narrator and protagonist of the book. In the
book, Malcolm narrates the story of his life from childhood to his
youth as a hustler in Harlem and later to when he became
Minister Malcolm X.

The accounts of his childhood, his youth, and his life in the
prison and later his life as the fiery spokesperson of the Nation
are given in detail.

Malcolm comes across as an honest, out spoken and courageous
person who due to his indomitable spirit rises up from the very
depths of American society to earn fame as a man, who stood for
the cause of black men not only in America but all over the

His keen eye for observation, the depth of understanding about
American society, his knowledge of the psychology not only of
the blacks but also of other communities the Jews and the whites
is amazing. Throughout the book, everything he speaks on, his
thoughts seems to be extremely clear. And he could speak on not
just Racism but several other aspects of American society. Yet,
at the end of the book, he gives all the credit for his
achievements to Allah and says that only the mistakes made were
his. The statement reveals the humility of Malcolm X, a man
who had the ability to start or stop a riot in America then.

In the short span of his life, (he died at the age of 40), he
achieved international fame, as a man who stood for the Rights
of the Black people. Initially, due to the influence of the Nation,
he looked at the race issue from the blacks versus white point of
view, his subsequent break from the Nation and travels to Africa
and Mecca broadened his outlook. He realized that the white
Muslims in the Gulf countries did not treat blacks as outsiders at
all. In fact the religion of Islam created a common bond between
the Muslims of various races and nationalities.

Gradually, from his two visits to African countries, he concluded
that the Race question in the U.S. could be solved only if the
blacks all over the world united. He believed that Racism is not a
Civil Rights issue, but an issue of Human Rights. But before he
could translate his new ideas into action he was assassinated on
Feb. 21, 1965.

Rev. Earl Little

Malcolm X’s father, Rev. Earl Little is a preacher. He is an
active member and organizer of Marcus Garvey’s UNIA. He was
a tall black Negro from Georgia. Due to his work in the universal
Negro improvement Association, he was constantly threatened
by the Ku Klux Klan. Undeterred by their threats, he carried on
his work through secret meetings, where he spread the ideas of
Marcus Garvey’s. His commitment and strong convictions were
tested very often. A white racist group burst his house down.
Despite direct threats to his and his family’s safety, he remained
loyal to his organization.

Malcolm remembers that as a father and husband, he was
extremely harsh, for Earl Little constantly fought with his wife
and beat his children. According to Malcolm, the fights between
his parents were mainly because his mother Louise Little was an
intelligent woman. Also she had received some education, which
was not common among poor black women then. Malcolm’s
parents quarreled often because of various disagreements,
between them.

Inspite of their quarrels and disagreements, Louise Little
(Malcolm’s mother) was extremely devoted to her husband.
Although, Earl Little was extremely proud of his African
heritage and spoke of the Little Black Train, which will come
and save all the blacks (to be taken to Africa.) he too, according
to Malcolm was a victim of white ‘brain washing’ i.e. he too
believed that everything white was good and something to be
admired. Because he was fond of Malcolm, as Malcolm, was the
lightest of all his siblings, while he was very violent with his
other children, he did not touch Malcolm. Moreover, he was the
only one, who was taken to all his UNIP meetings at night.

Earl Little’s activities in and around Lansing, was seen as an
attempt to arouse the ‘good Negro’s’ in Lansing by the whites.
When threats by the racist groups did not work, they put an end
to his life. One afternoon, he walked out of his house never to
return again. He was killed and his body was found on the
railway tracks.

Although, the entire case was shut officially, stating that it was
an accident, everyone including the Little family knew that Rev.
Earl Little’s death was anything but an accident


She is the pretty high school girl, who falls in love with young
Malcolm in Boston. She overcomes stiff opposition at home to
be with Malcolm. Laura goes out ‘Lindy hopping’ with
Malcolm. According to Malcolm, she was a very graceful
dancer. And they both made a perfect pair on the dancing floor.

Laura is portrayed as a shy sensitive yet determined young girl.
Her determination is evident in the manner in which she rebels
against her grandmother, at home. Her grandmother, a very
conservative and deeply religious woman, had brought Laura up
after her parents’ death. Although Laura knew that her grandma
would never accept Malcolm with his bright colored ‘zoot’ suits
and slang language, Laura continued to go out with him.
Malcolm in turn liked her because she did not seem to have any
airs about her, unlike the other middle class Negroes in Ella’s

However, when Malcolm dumps Laura for a white girl Sophia,
Laura is unable to take the rejection. She is totally broken. She
feels let down and the deep sense of betrayal pushes her to rebel
against all the taboos and controls at home. She starts smoking,
takes drugs, and becomes a prostitute. Very soon, she moves out
of her Grandmother’s house.

Malcolm feels that he alone is responsible for Laura’s moral
destruction. In the book, he apologizes for his mistake. The
rejection of Laura can be interpreted as Malcolm’s last contact
with respectability before he gets drawn into crime.

Louise Little

Louise Little is Malcolm’s mother. Her childhood was spent in
the West Indies. She was light - skinned with straight black hair.
Malcolm had inherited his light color from her.

However, she wasn’t proud of her light skin as it reminded her of
her grandfather (probably illegitimate) who was a white. Unlike
her husband, she was extremely strict with Malcolm. Though she
and her husband had several disagreements, she was extremely
devoted to him and stood by him through the most difficult
moments. Like her husband, she too was brave and determined.
This is evident from the incident before Malcolm is born. Louise
is alone one night with her children. The Ku Klux Klan arrive at
the door asking for Earl Little. Louise opens the door and faces
them alone.

Malcolm recalls that she was a very sensitive person i.e. she had
very strong instincts, such that she could anticipate any bad
event. Malcolm seemed to have inherited the same sensitivity
and instincts from his mother. The fateful afternoon, when Earl
Little leaves home never to return again, it is her natural strong
instincts that make Louise rush out and call him back. But by
then, he was already out of sight. After her husband’s tragic end,
it is her strength and determination that helps her to shoulder the
responsibility of bringing up her large family. She takes up odd
jobs in people’s houses to earn a living. However, the depression
years makes it rather difficult for the Little family. They could
hardly make both ends meet. Finally, she is forced to swallow
her pride and seek help from the Welfare Department.

The constant surveillance and interference from the Welfare
Department hurt her. For it was one thing to get monetary
support from the department, but it was totally another, when
they began telling her that she was not looking after her children

Meanwhile, Louise meets another man and courts him for a
while. Louise seemed to be happier during this period, for she
hoped to marry him very soon. However, the man leaves
probably because the thought of taking on the responsibility of
seven children scared him. Louise is totally broken. This and the
constant interference from the social workers in the Welfare
Department affect her mentally. She is sent to a sanatorium in
Kilamazoo in 1937. She remains here till 1963. After 63 she goes
to stay with her elder son Wilfrid’s family.

Reginald Little

Malcolm’s younger brother Reginald is portrayed as a sensitive
person, who works as an ‘instrument’ in leading Malcolm on the
path of Allah. It is through Reginald, that Malcolm first
understands the teachings of the Nation.

Since childhood, Reginald always looks up to his elder brother
Malcolm. Among all his siblings, Malcolm always had a special
place is the bond between the two, that even when Malcolm
because the notorious ‘Detroit Red’ - the drug peddler and
hustler, Reginald still kept in touch with him. Reginald was a
marine Corp, when Malcolm was hustling on the streets of
Harlem. Malcolm persuades Reginald to leave the corps and
become a hustler. Reginald refuses the offer initially. But later
agrees to do a small hustle. He is unable to continue the work
and leaves Harlem. Then, Malcolm thinks that Reginald failed
because he was lazy. However when he looks back at the
incident, as a minister of Nation of Islam he realizes that,
Reginald was unsuccessful because he did not want to get drawn
into crime.

While Malcolm is pulled further into crime, Reginald joins the
Nation of Islam. Although Wilfrid is also a member of the
Nation, it is Reginald who succeeds in talking to Malcolm about
the Nation of Islam. Deeply moved by Reginald’s talk, Malcolm
gets interested in the teachings of the Nation of Islam.

When Reginald is suspended from the Nation of Islam for
committing adultery, Malcolm’s faith is shaken (for a moment)
in the Nation. Reginald loses his mental stability due to the
rejection from his family following his suspension. Influenced by
Elijah then Malcolm thinks that it was Allah’s punishment. Later
when Malcolm’s learns about Elijah Muhammad adultery with
his numerous secretaries, he realizes that he was wrong about his

Reginald plays an important role in Malcolm’s transformation
from ‘Detroit Red’ to Malcolm X the fiery spokesperson and
member of the Nation. Malcolm recognizes it and in the book
thanks his brother.

Ella Little

Ella is Malcolm’s half sister. She is a strong, domineering and
proud black woman, who valued her independence and self-
respect more than any thing else in life.

Malcolm meets her for the first time at the Detention home, after
all his siblings are sent to various foster homes. Over the years
Malcolm became extremely fond of her. While in school, he kept
in touch with her through letters. She lived in Boston. Like
Malcolm’s mother, she also believed that the Little family should
stick together. And it is this feeling that made her help all her
siblings, whenever the need arose. When Malcolm lost all
interest in his studies, and decided to leave Lansing, she wrote to
various officials so that he be shifted to a better prison. This
prison was an experiment, which gave more freedom to the
convicts. It had a very good library. This is where Malcolm re-
educated himself - by studying Religion and History. The
debates and discussions conducted in the prison, trained
Malcolm in going through a critical period after his suspension
from the Nation, Ella helps him once again when Malcolm wants
to visit Mecca without asking him for any explanation, she says:
"How much do you need?"

Her support and help reveals her trust in and affection for her
brother Malcolm.

Her domineering and strong personality affected her personal
relationship adversely. She was unable to keep her marriage
going for long. For she marries three times only to break up, after
a while.

Later, she decides to join the Nation of Islam. Even there, her
independent and domineering nature made her leave it.


Shorty is Malcolm’s close friend. Shorty meets Malcolm in
Boston where he (Shorty) is working in the poolroom of a bar.
Malcolm meets him, when he was looking for a job, immediately
after his arrival from Lansing.

When Shorty learns that Malcolm is from his ‘home town’, he is
overwhelmed with joy. Shorty, who is several years elder to
Malcolm is an aspiring musician. He helps Malcolm around in
the new city, helps him get his first job as a shoe shine boy and
teaches him how to ‘conk’ (straighten) his hair.

Like all other Negro youth then, Shorty too was in awe of
everything white. He secretly envied Malcolm who was able to
win over Sophia, a beautiful white girl.

When Malcolm leaves Harlem to stay with Shorty in his
apartment at Boston, he had left his old job and had joined a
band of traveling musicians. Shorty really liked having Sophia
over, when she used to come to meet Malcolm. Very soon,
Sophia introduced her sister who had a striking resemblance to
her sister (name not mentioned). Shorty and Sophia’s sister fall
in love at first sight. According to Malcolm, Shorty liked
Sophia’s sister because she was young, beautiful and more
importantly white. On the other hand, Sophia’s sister was
interested in Shorty because of the novelty of befriending a black

Shorty’s feeling of awe and admiration for everything white is
evident, when at nights, he would sit up on his bed just to look at
the white skin of his girlfriend sleeping next to him.

In the book, Shorty represents the average black youth of
America in the 30’s, who aspired to enter either the
entertainment business or sports - the only two field’s opens to
blacks then. And even after becoming a musician, it is not easy
for a black youth to make two ends meet. Due to this, several
black youth are attracted to crime, which offers quick money and
that too loads of it.


Sophia is the young white girl, who meets Malcolm at one of the
‘Lindy hopping’ parties. Malcolm dumps his girlfriend Laura for
Sophia. This is because like other black youth then, even he was
in awe of white skin.

Malcolm admits in the book that their relationship did not have
any love. Whatever love that existed between them was purely
physical. Sophia continued to meet Malcolm even after her
marriage to a white Bostonian. Although Malcolm describes
their relationship to be physical, Sophia’s love was not solely
based on physical attachment. This is evident from the way she
reacts when; Malcolm used to slap her for no reason at all. She
would cry, shout curses and say that she would never come back
again. But she would come back again the next day. And
Malcolm knew it too.

Perhaps initially she did get attracted to Malcolm for physical
reasons alone. But over the years, she develops a bond with
Malcolm. For it is to him that she tells all her personal problems
to. Even though Malcolm never asked her about her husband, she
use to till him everything about him. When Sophia was going
through a difficult phase in her marriage, she confided in

Sophia had a lot of money. But it was Malcolm, she began to
rely on for emotional stability. In return, she gave money to
Malcolm, whenever he needed it or demanded it. Perhaps it is
this emotional attachment that makes her join him in his burglary
plans. She and her sister used to pretend that they were young
girls employed to do some kind of a survey. They used to visit
the wealthy houses in white locality and inform Malcolm and the
others about the prospective houses that could be perfect for a
break in at night.

Sophia’s interest in Malcolm reveals although whites and blacks
never mixed openly in America in, clandestine relationship
between blacks and whites did happen for love or due to physical

PLOT (Structure)

The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a series of reminisces that
Malcolm X narrates to his friend Alex Haley. In the book, the
black leader looks back into his childhood, his adolescent years
and his experiences on the streets of Harlem, New York. As he
narrates and reconstructs his past, he also expresses his views on
matters that concern the present. Throughout the book, the author
is trying to understand his own behavior, that of his mother, his
father, his siblings, and his friends. At the same time he seems to
be reflecting upon and evaluating his own mistakes. E.g. In the
Chapter "Laura"- he seems to be sorry for the way he had treated
her and feels responsible for having destroyed her life.

The entire narration is in a casual conversational language, where
the author seems to be addressing his readers directly. The book
has a detailed preface giving information about how both
Malcolm X and Alex Haley meet, how the idea of writing an
Autobiography came about and some personal details about
Malcolm X himself--his nature, temperament and finally the
tragic end.

The book is divided into 19 chapters. But these chapters can be
further divided into four parts. Each part or group of chapters
describe and narrate a particular phase in the black leader’s life.



Racism in America

"...In the black streets of America/ they kill the dream of
America..." These lines from the well-known Afro-American
singer, Tracy Chapman’s album reveals that face of America
which only the blacks can see every day-the ugly face of
Racism. And only the black Americans who experience it right
from their birth, can express, what it is like to be discriminated in
every sphere of life, only because of one’s color. Tracy Chapman
expressed it through a song, while Malcolm X expressed it
decades ago through his fiery speeches. Obviously, any book on
this charismatic black leader, would be incomplete without
discussing the subject - Racism

Over the years, much has been said and written on Racism. It is
important to study this phenomenon which has resisted every
reform and struggle against apartheid. The dream that Rev.
Martin Luther King referred to in his historic speech decades ago
lies unfulfilled even today. In fact neo-racism and killings by
armed ‘skin-heads’ in the U.S. as well as Europe has become a
serious issue today. The target of these neo-racist groups
includes not only blacks, but also the Asian and Chinese
population staying in the US and Europe.

In the book Malcolm X the writer goes into the history of the
blacks, traces their origins and states that blacks should not seek
to integrate into white society. By doing so, he believed that
blacks would always be dependent on the whites for
employment, education etc. Instead, blacks should organize
politically, as well as economically so as to generate enough
resources among the blacks to fulfil their employment, as well as
educational needs. In this endeavor, both as a member of the
Nation of Islam and later as an independent leader of the OAAU,
he was fighting a two -pronged battle. Namely, he not only
fought against the American government’s racist policies but had
to constantly fight his own black people who he believed had
been brain -washed into worshipping the ‘superior’ white race.
For the common blacks in America (a few decades ago) had no
idea of their history, roots, or culture. The average black youth in
America imagined Africa to be a country teeming with wild
animals and snakes, not to mention wild men who lived in thick
forests. The youth could not be blamed for this ignorance. This is
because American history books did not teach anything about
their glorious past. In the book, Malcolm’s history text in the
eighth grade had only a short paragraph on the blacks.

Through his own experiences from childhood to adulthood,
Malcolm reflects the life and condition of the average black
youth in the United States. The discrimination, the insults, the
hatred and the feeling of alienation faced by the black Americans
each day is depicted through Malcolm’s own experiences in his
home town Lansing and later in Harlem, New York. But while
accusing the white Americans for not accepting the blacks as
equals, he also blamed the blacks for their lack of unity and
adoration of everything white. A classic example of the lack of
pride in one’s own color and ancestry is the common practice
among black youth then, of ‘conking’ one’s hair to straighten it.
The entire process of straightening one’s curly hair was an
extremely painful one, as lye was used to burn the flesh of the
head until the natural curly hair became limp. And all this was
endured so as to make the hair look like a white man’s hair.
Young Malcolm also used to conk his hair for a long time when
he was on his own hustling and peddling drugs in Boston and
later in New York. The attitude or the feelings of black youths
who conked their hair is expressed in the following lines (chapter
three, Home Boy):

" ...(By conking my own hair), I had joined the multitude of
Negro men and women in America who are brain washed into
believing that the black people are ‘inferior’ - and white people
‘superior’ - that they will even violate and mutilate their God-
created bodies to try to look ‘pretty by white standards".

When Malcolm X was a minister of the Nation of Islam, he like
all the other members believed that all whites were devils and the
cause behind the black man’s plight. It is only later when he
visits other countries in the Middle East and Africa that he
realizes that the root cause of Racism was not the whites. In fact,
even in the US, he had met several white media persons and
students who were opposed to racial discrimination. He also
realized the need for black unity on an international basis. A
unity that can help create a powerful black lobby within America
(with active support from other African countries abroad), to
influence important economic and political decisions of the
Government. Malcolm X did not live long to put his ideas into
action. This is because he was assassinated in 1965, when he was
about to address a public meeting.


The Civil Rights Movement in America.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X discusses the Civil Rights
Movement at length. The ‘50s and the ‘60s saw the Civil Rights
Movement in America gathering momentum. The high point of
this Movement was the March to Washington in 1963, which
ended with the famous speech made by Rev. Martin Luther King
jr.: "I have a Dream..." Malcolm X looks at this Movement with
a critical eye. Firstly, he did not look at the question of racial
discrimination as an internal or a Civil Rights issue. He believed
that it was a Human Rights issue and ought to be made an
international question.

Also, he disagreed with the methods used by prominent Civil
Rights leaders of his time in their struggle against Apartheid.
Joining hands, Sit-ins and marches, he thought would not help
fight Racism. Moreover, Civil Rights leaders spoke of the need
for Integration - an idea, which Malcolm X was totally opposed
to. Also, he believed that white men financially supported most
of the black leaders. And it is they who decided the agenda or
programs for their movement. According to him, Blacks should
not seek to integrate into white society. This would only make
them more dependent on the whites. Instead, he urged all blacks
to unite and create their own resources--for employment and

Malcolm’s visit to several African countries convinced him that
given the opportunity, blacks had the capacity and the intellect to
do whatever the Whites had achieved in the US. Unlike in the
States, where besides menial jobs, the only other professions
open to the blacks was Sports and the Entertainment business; in
Africa Malcolm saw and met black pilots and even Presidents.
This, while in America a black lawyer or professor was a rare

Initially, as a member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X openly
criticized the Civil Rights leaders and their methods. However,
he later realized the need for black unity despite ideological
differences. He believed that it was better to go along with the
black Civil Rights leaders, whilst discussing their differences
instead of staying away and opposing them. For the latter stand
would only help those interests, which would benefit from the
lack of unity among black Americans.




The Book is a powerful and moving story depicting the life and
times of perhaps the most controversial black leader in American
history. The force or power in the novel lies, not just in the vivid
description of the times in which the author lived, but also in the
language. The language in the book is direct, forthright and
conversational. There are no long-winded and verbose statements
made or a theory put forth on important issues like Racism and
the Civil Rights Movement in America. The Language used is
simple, direct, yet sharp and hard hitting. The narrative style is
perfected to the extent that no reader can be unaffected or
unmoved by the condition of blacks in America as depicted in
the book through Malcolm’ own experiences.

The book is just like its hero-Malcolm X, honest and frank. It
speaks against Racism without mincing any words. And just as
Malcolm X during his lifetime moved his audiences through his
fiery speeches, his book published after his tragic death will
certainly succeed in touching a chord in the reader.


1. Analyze Malcolm X’s character as it is revealed in the book.

2. Explain briefly the work of Nation of Islam in inculcating
racial pride among blacks.

3. Critically analyze Earl and Louise Little’s role in moulding
Malcolm X’s character.

4. What are the two factors responsible for the sorry conditions
of blacks in America according to Malcolm X? What was the
solution proposed by him at he end of his search?

5. Compare the condition of blacks then (during Malcolm’s
times) to the present times.

6. Do you agree with Malcolm that ‘Integration’ is a myth?
Explain with examples.


The study of literature is not like the study of math or science, or
even history. While those disciplines are based largely upon fact,
the study of literature is based upon interpretation and analysis.
There are no clear-cut answers in literature, outside of the factual
information about an author's life and the basic information
about setting and characterization in a piece of literature. The
rest is a highly subjective reading of what an author has written;
each person brings a different set of values and a different
background to the reading. As a result, no two people see the
piece of literature in exactly the same light, and few critics agree
on everything about a book or an author. In this set of
PinkMonkey® Literature Notes for a well-known piece of
literature, we at have tried to give an objective
literary analysis based upon the information actually found in the
novel, book, or play. In the end, however, it is an individual
interpretation, but one that we feel can be readily supported by
the information that is presented in the guide. In your course of
literature study, you or your professor/teacher may come up with
a different interpretation of the mood or the theme or the conflict.
Your interpretation, if it can be logically supported with
information contained within the piece of literature, is just as
correct as ours. So is the interpretation of your teacher or

Literature is simply not a black or white situation; instead, there
are many gray areas that are open to varying analyses. Your task
is to come up with your own analysis that you can logically
defend. Hopefully, these PinkMonkey® Literature Notes will
help you to accomplish that goal.


Copyright © 2001-, Terry Muse
Revised: January 16, 2002
Contact: Terry Muse