Autobiography of Malcolm X

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AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X. The Autobiography is an American literary classic. On the one hand it resembles Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography and Horatio Alger's Ragged Dick, stories of innocent youths who found success by adapting to the scheming lifestyles of the American city. On the other hand it provides the most important framework for African American political discourse in the twentieth century. It shows the life then, and in some ways now, of a Negro in America. Its movement from individual alienation to spiritual and ultimately social transformation grounds it in the tradition of St. Augustine's Confessions and Frederick Douglass's Autobiography.

Malcolm X created the Autobiography by telling his compelling though undocumented story to Alex Haley, a journalist, via some fifty interviews that began in the spring of 1963. Many of these were recorded covertly by the FBI, which considered Malcolm X a security threat. In an epilogue to the book, Haley described how he gained Malcolm X's confidence to share his story.

Published in November 1965, the Autobiography gained praise by the New York Times as "an eloquent statement." It allowed its author's charismatic leadership example to transcend his assassination on February 21 of that year. Its impact was to make available to millions of African American street youths, inmates, and activists Malcolm X's model of self-emancipation. There were four stages in his transformation. The first was the exploited, a depression era boy who lost his father to the Ku Klux Klan. Second was the exploiter, a street hustler and criminal. Third was the self-emancipator, the devotee of the Black Muslims and preacher of black nationalism. Finally came the social liberator, the founder of the short-lived Organization of Afro-American Unity, a group committed to interracial and pan-African efforts toward human rights. Through his record of these stages, Malcolm X became a role model of how one could transform oneself and others in the struggle for collective liberation.


Dyson, Michael Eric. Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Gallen, David. Malcolm X as They Knew Him. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1992.

Wood, Joe, ed. Malcolm X: In Our Own Image. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.

Timothy M.Roberts

See alsoNation of Islam .