Study Guide

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

by Malcolm X, Alex Haley

The Autobiography of Malcolm X Characters

Character Analysis

Elijah Muhammad

Elijah Muhammad was the shy and slightly sickly leader of the Nation of Islam organization for some forty years from the mid-1930s. He and Malcolm first met after extensive correspondence while Malcolm was in jail. Malcolm, for the twelve years after he left prison and until his split with the Nation of Islam, revered Muhammad as if he were a god and served him as a minister and close advisor. Malcolm credited Muhammad for much of his knowledge about the world as well as for his rise from street-smart hustler to respected leader. The two shared an almost father-son relationship.

Muhammad came from a very poor background in Georgia, where he was born Elijah Poole. He had only a fourth-grade education and was sickly but worked to follow and spread the teachings of Master W. D. Fard. Fard taught Muhammad about Islam and that it was the best religion for American blacks. Eventually, Muhammad became a minister at one of Fard's temples and received the name Elijah Karriem. Muhammad's rise in the Nation of Islam was a steady one but was filled with set-backs such as the nearly six years he spent in jail for draft-dodging.

Malcolm X and Muhammad started to part ways in the early 1960s, after reports of Muhammad' s illegitimate children surfaced and after Malcolm X became frustrated with the Nation's unwillingness to take stronger action on a number of issues. The final break occurred when Malcolm X made public statements about the Kennedy...

(The entire section is 258 words.)

Malcolm X

Malcolm X had dramatic beginnings as the child of a Baptist preacher and his wife who were often threatened by gangs of angry whites. His father spread the ideas of black activist Marcus Garvey, and his mother was a light-skinned black woman from Grenada. He had seven brothers and sisters. Malcolm was a clever child who learned very early the value of making a fuss about anything that didn't please him. After his father was murdered and his mother was committed to a mental hospital, the family was split up and Malcolm went to live with the Gohannas family, who had previously fed him when his mother couldn't provide any food.

Throughout his early life, Malcolm X proved himself to be a ingenious man, combining street smarts with basic psychology to get what he wanted. He collected a number of nicknames based on the reddish tint of his skin and hair, for example, "Red'' and "Detroit Red.'' Eventually he became a drug addict and a criminal and was sent to jail for breaking into homes. In prison he discovered books and was converted to Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam. This experience forever changed him and made him appreciative of education and hard work.

Malcolm, who took the last name X to symbolize the identity that was taken from blacks by whites during the American period of slavery, became a powerful speaker and leader who represented the Nation of Islam. But his style of organizing and leading varied greatly from Muhammad's. He also...

(The entire section is 294 words.)

Other Characters

Amilah
Amilah (or Gamilah, as mentioned in Alex Haley's epilogue) was Malcolm X and Sister Betty's fourth daughter, born in 1964.

West Indian Archie
West Indian Archie was ‘‘one of Harlem's really bad Negroes,’’ according to Malcolm. Still, Malcolm placed many numbers bets with Archie during the mid-1940s, when Malcolm himself was working in the numbers business. Archie threatened to kill Malcolm over a misunderstanding about money, but Shorty and Sammy arranged to have Malcolm leave town.

Attallah
Attallah was Malcolm X and Sister Betty's first daughter, born in 1958. She was named after Attilah the Hun, who sacked Rome.

Bimbi
Malcolm met Bimbi in jail. Bimbi, an old burglar, encouraged Malcolm to read and study and was the first man Malcolm had ever met who commanded respect simply with his words.

Sister Clara
Sister Clara was married to Elijah Muhammad and was, according to Malcolm X, a ‘‘dark, good wife.’’

Ella Mae Collins
Ella was one of Malcolm's father's three children from a previous marriage. Malcolm first met her while he was in seventh grade, and he considered her the proudest black woman he had ever seen. She owned property in Boston and was successful enough in business to help bring a number of her relatives from Georgia to live in Boston. The summer Malcolm spent in Boston with her changed his life, especially when he saw the contrast between the small town he lived in and the big city. The next year, he moved to Boston to live with her.

After a while, Malcolm decided that Ella was a snob and dismissed her efforts to help him. She wanted Malcolm to improve himself, but as a teenager and young adult he was only interested in having fun. After Malcolm converted to Islam, he encouraged her to convert as well. After a number of years, she converted and even set up a language school for young Muslim girls. She also loaned Malcolm the money to make his pilgrimage to Mecca.

Earl
Earl was one of Malcolm's father's three children from a previous marriage. He lived in Boston. When he became an adult, he was a successful singer who went by the name Jimmy Carleton.

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz
See Malcolm X.

Ilyasah
Ilyasah (from Ilyas, Arabic for Elijah, according to Malcolm) was Malcolm X and Sister Betty's third daughter, born in 1962.

Elijah Karriem
See Elijah Muhammad.

Laura
Malcolm met Laura while working at an ice cream parlor in Ella's ritzy black neighborhood. Although she came from a "good'' family and was studious, Laura distinguished herself to Malcolm by her friendliness. Ella became very fond of Laura and encouraged Malcolm to see her often. He loved taking Laura to dances, but she had to lie to her family about where she was going. According to Malcolm, their relationship started Laura on the downward path involving drugs, alcohol, and prostitution, for which he blamed himself.

Reverend Earl (Early) Little
Earl Little was Malcolm's father, a Baptist preacher who also advocated the "back-to-Africa'' teachings of Marcus Garvey. He chose to do this kind of work because, according to Malcolm, he had seen three of his brothers killed by white men. A large man, well over six feet, and not typically intimidated, Little had to move his large family around more than he would have liked because much of his preaching angered many local whites. He was murdered in 1931 by a white racist group in Lansing, Michigan, when Malcolm was about six-years-old.

Earl treated Malcolm a bit better than he treated his other children; Malcolm always wondered whether this favoritism was because his skin was lighter than the other children's. Earl had eleven children, three from a previous marriage and eight with Louise, Malcolm's mother. Louise and Earl fought often, usually over Louise's dietary restrictions.

Hilda Little
Hilda was Malcolm's quiet older sister. He remembers that she served as his "second mother.’’ After their father died, Hilda helped around the house by taking care of the younger children while Louise went to...

(The entire section is 1745 words.)