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The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X with Alex Haley

By D. P. | Books | February 3, 2011 |

By D. P. | Books | February 3, 2011 |

Malcolm X is something of a personal hero of mine.

Before we go any further, I should clarify: I’m a 28 year old white guy from Tennessee. Now, let’s continue.

I first read this book a few years ago. Before cracking it open, I knew very little about Malcolm X. I knew very little about the Civil Rights movement of the 50′s and 60′s peroid. You know that Chris Rock bit where he says, “When it comes to black history, the only answer I knew to anything was ‘Martin Luther King?’” That was me.

So I got my hands on this and not only is this book an eye-opening account of the racial divide of the time, it’s also an open and honest look at an absolutely amazing man who rose from poverty and crime, only to turn his life around in prison after converting to Islam. Malcolm X is unfortunately remembered as a militant black leader who promoted so-called “reverse racism.” You know, the ol’ Kill Whitey routine. And that was partly accurate for a time, but it’s also ignorant of the most important aspects of his life story.

Malcolm X rose through the ranks of the Nation of Islam, becoming the key speaker and face of the organization. It was during this time that he rose to fame in direct opposition of what Martin Luther King Jr. was preaching at the time. While MLK promoted peace and tolerance for all, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam pushed for black revolution, “by any means necessary.” Due to his growing popularity, the membership of the Nation began to grow by the thousands and went from fringe extremists to a powerful and legitimate organization in the Civil Rights movement. But Malcolm X began to get disillusioned with the organization (especially due to the hypocrisy of leader Elijah Muhammad’s extramarital affairs) and eventually left the group. He also made a point to distance himself from their message, which earned him powerful enemies.

Malcolm X’s pilgrimage to Mecca a year before his death began to change his opinion on Civil Rights. While in Mecca, he witnessed Muslims of every race together in harmony and began to see that the world need not be divided. He began to see things the same way MLK did: peace and tolerance could prevail. Upon returning to America, Malcolm X began to preach this message, in stark contrast to what he had promoted as a member of the Nation of Islam. And boy, were they pissed. Malcolm began receiving numerous death threats (next time you see Louis Farrakhan on TV, remember that you’re looking at the same man who suggested that “hypocrites like Malcolm X should have their heads cut off” and that Malcolm X was “worthy of death.”) His house was even burned down at one point.

On Feb. 21st, 1965, three men (members of the Nation of Islam) rushed the stage where Malcolm X was speaking and all fired shots at him. Malcolm X was pronounced dead on the scene (all 3 of his shooters have since been released from prison).

This autobiography was released that same year and was written by Malcolm X and Alex Haley between 1963 and 1965. Aside from detailing everything I just wrote about, it also tells his incredible life story from childhood criminal to restaurant worker washing dishes alongside Redd Foxx. All of it fascinating. Spike Lee later said “This is the most important book I have ever read.” I wholeheartedly agree. For anyone with an interest in Civil Rights or to know the story of one of the most influential people of the 20th century, it’s a must read. Books like this and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States should be required reading for high schoolers.

For more of D.P.’s reviews, check out his (shared) blog, Inconsequential Garbage.

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