Summary of the Autobiography
The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley chronicles the rise of Malcolm X, from his years as a street hustler, dope peddler, and thief to becoming one of the most influential African-American leaders in the American civil rights’ movement.
Journalist Alex Haley first approached Malcolm X about writing his autobiography in 1963. The autobiography was a culmination of nearly two years of intensive interviews with Malcolm X, which concluded in 1965 after his tragic assassination.
The autobiography traces Malcolm’s early years in Michigan, where he was one of eight children of the Reverend Earl and Louise Little. By 1937, when Malcolm was 12-years-old, his father had been brutally murdered and his mother institutionalized.
Malcolm vividly recounts his teenage years, spent in Boston, Chicago, and New York City’s Harlem. The reader enters Malcolm’s world of street hustlers and pimps, and witnesses the devastating effects racial segregation and prejudice had on African Americans in the 1940s and 1950s.
In 1946, Malcolm is sentenced to a 10-year prison term for robbery. It is in prison where he undergoes a moral and spiritual transformation, after he discovers the teaching of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and his Nation of Islam. For the first time in his life, Malcolm studies and learns about the proud history and traditions of black people throughout the world. According to Elijah Muhammad, white people are “devils” because they have oppressed and exploited black people for centuries. Elijah Muhammad believed that black separatism was the only way to resolve the problem of racism in America.
Malcolm decides to devote his life to spreading the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. Upon his release from prison in 1953, Malcolm moves to Detroit and initiates a Nation of Islam recruitment drive. Soon, he is traveling across the United States, electrifying his audiences as he eloquently preaches about the Nation of Islam movement.
Malcolm’s marriage to Betty Shabazz in 1958 is a joyful time; he and his wife move to Queens, New York.
The reader is aware of Malcolm’s growing disenchantment with the Nation of Islam movement. Malcolm wants the movement to take a more activist role in combatting America’s racism. Meanwhile, Malcolm senses that Elijah Muhammad has become jealous of his enormous popularity. This jealousy, in fact, leads Muhammad to begin distancing himself from Malcolm.
Finally, when Elijah Muhammad silences Malcolm for 90 days, Malcolm decides to create a new organization, substantially different from the Nation of Islam, that will fight America’s racism with political activism.
Malcolm makes two pilgrimages to the holy city of Mecca. There, he is amazed by the true sense of “brotherhood” practiced by people of all races and nationalities. As a result of his spiritual awakening, he renounces his black separatist beliefs.
The book’s Epilogue details the tragic assassination of 39-year-old Malcolm X. Haley writes that although it has never been proven, most people believe that Black Muslims were responsible for Malcolm’s death.
The Life and Work of Malcolm X
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is the remarkable true story of an African-American man’s rise—from street hustler, dope peddler, and thief—to one of the most dynamic and influential African-American leaders in modern America. The Autobiography of Malcolom X spans four decades: from his birth on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, to his tragic assassination on February 21, 1965 in New York City.
As one of eight children of the Reverend Earl and Louise Little, Malcolm Little (as he was named at birth) grew up amidst poverty and racial prejudice. His father, the Reverend Little, was a Baptist minister and organizer for Marcus Garvey’s UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association). As Garvey’s disciple, the Reverend Little crusaded throughout the Midwest with his family, preaching and encouraging his congregations to return to their ancestral homeland, Africa.
In 1931, when Malcolm was six-years-old, his father was brutally murdered in Lansing, Michigan. Although never proven, it was believed that the Reverend Little had been killed by a local hate group. Life for the Little family changed drastically after that. Their financial problems worsened. In addition, Mrs. Little, suffering from enormous anxiety and stress caused by the responsibility of raising eight children, was eventually institutionalized. Consequently, in 1937, the Little children were separated; they lived with friends, foster families, or on their own in Lansing.
Malcolm attended school only through the eighth grade. He spent much of his teenage years on the streets of Boston, Chicago, and New York City’s Harlem. In February 1946, at the age of 20, Malcolm was convicted of robbery and sentenced to a ten-year prison term. There he underwent a moral and spiritual transformation when he discovered the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. Known as the “Messenger of Allah” (Allah is the Muslim god), Muhammad instilled a sense of admiration and self-respect among his black followers by his condemnation of white people. He blamed whites for the abject conditions of black people in North America, and felt that the only way to resolve the long-standing injustices was through black separatism.
In 1953, upon his release from prison, Malcolm X (the name change “X” stood for his long-lost African name) was appointed assistant minister for the Nation of Islam movement. He traveled across the United States and eloquently preached about his new-found religion, converting thousands of black people.
In late 1963, Elijah Muhummad suspended Malcolm X from the Nation of Islam because of their differences on the fundamental precepts and strategies of the Black Muslims.
In 1964, Malcolm X made his first pilgrimage to Mecca. As a result of this visit, he established the Organization for Afro-American Unity, since he was determined to work proactively in the struggle for racial equality. Rather than adhere to the Nation of Islam’s “non-engagement policy,” Malcolm was intent on developing political strategies to combat America’s racism.
Hostilities between Malcolm X and the Black Muslims heightened. He began receiving anonymous death threats.
On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated. Although three men were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for his murder, the question of who ordered Malcolm X’s assassination remains a mystery. Malcolm X is survived by his wife, Betty Shabazz, and four daughters.
In 1992, the African-American film director, Spike Lee, made a film, Malcolm X, based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Denzel Washington portrayed Malcolm X in this critically-acclaimed motion picture.
The Life and Work of Alex Haley
Alex Haley (August 11, 1921–February 10, 1992) was a chief journalist in the U.S. Coast Guard for 20 years before he began his civilian writing career. He first wrote about the Nation of Islam movement in 1960 in a Reader’s Digest article. Subsequently, he was introduced to Malcolm X and conducted a personal interview with him for an article for Playboy magazine. The Playboy interview was the inspiration for The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This bestselling classic was a culmination of nearly two years of intensive interviews.
Mr. Haley won literary fame for his exhaustively researched book on his family’s history, Roots: The Saga of an American Family (1976). Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the book traces his maternal ancestry back to Africa.
Mr. Haley wrote stories and articles for numerous publications and published a novella, A Different Kind of Christmas, in 1988.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X chronicles four decades—from the 1920s to the 1960s—of America’s social, political, and economic climates. Up to the mid-1950s, racial segregation was legal. Neighborhoods, schools, and all types of businesses were segregated. A 1955 Supreme Court ruling declared school segregation illegal, by stating that “separate but equal is inherently unequal.”
In addition, several states, particularly in the South, demanded a “poll tax” of African Americans as a means of preventing them from voting in elections. It was only with the passage of the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, in 1962, that this poll tax became illegal.
All Americans experienced grave hardships during the Great Depression, which started in 1929 and lasted through the 1930s. The effects on African Americans were especially devastating, given their already inferior status in American society.
By the 1950s, an organized black militancy had emerged—both violent and non-violent—in which Malcolm X played a pivotal role. He believed that African Americans had a right and a duty to defend themselves, by any means necessary, against the violence directed at them by the white power structure (which he believed to be racist), and by racist vigilante groups (such as the Ku Klux Klan). Furthermore, he criticized the various civil rights organizations and civil rights leaders (for example, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.), who sought a peaceful solution to America’s racial problems.
Toward the end of his life, Malcolm X moderated his views. He advocated African-American solidarity, and urged people of all races to work together to end America’s racism.
Master List of People
Malcolm Little—the narrator and main character.
Louise Little—Malcolm’s mother.
The Reverend Earl Little—Malcolm’s father, a Baptist minister.
Yvonne—Malcolm’s youngest sister.
Robert—Malcolm’s younger brother.
Philbert—Malcolm’s older brother.
Wilfred—Malcolm’s older brother.
Hilda—Malcolm’s older sister.
Reginald—Malcolm’s younger brother.
Wesley—Malcolm’s younger brother.
The Gohannas—a family with whom the young Malcolm goes to live.
Big Boy—the Gohannas’ nephew.
Mrs. Adcock—a woman who lives with the Gohannas.
Bill Peterson—white boxer who fights Malcolm.
Maynard Allen—works for the state welfare agency.
Mr. and Mrs. Swerlin—a white couple in charge of detention home.
Lucille Lathrop—white cook-helper who works for the Swerlins.
Duane Lathrop—Lucille’s husband.
A judge—in charge of Malcolm’s case in Lansing.
Mr. and Mrs. Lyons—a West Indian couple whose children attend school with Malcolm.
Mr. Ostrowski—Malcolm’s English teacher.
Mr. Williams—Malcolm’s history teacher.
Ella—Malcolm’s half-sister who lives in Boston.
Frank—Ella’s second husband.
Audrey Slaugh—Malcolm’s classmate.
Jimmy Cotton—Malcolm’s classmate.
Freddie—works as a shoeshine boy.
Laura—a black high school honors student.
Mamie Bevels—waitress at Roseland.
Sophia—a white girl Malcolm meets at Roseland.
Old Man Rountree—elderly Pullman porter and friend of Ella’s.
Pappy Cousins—Yankee Clipper steward.
Ed Small—owner of Small’s Paradise, a popular Harlem nightspot.
Charlie Small—Ed’s brother, who interviews Malcolm for a job.
The Forty Thieves—a group of men who steal clothing from stores and resell at one-third of the store’s prices.
The Four Horsemen—a group of crooked black policemen who patrol Harlem’s Sugar Hill neighborhood.
Brisbane—a West-Indian policeman.
“Cadillac” Drake—a Harlem pimp.
Sammy the Pimp—a pimp and close friend of Malcolm’s.
“Alabama Peach”—a white prostitute who works for Sammy.
“Dollarbill”—a Harlem pimp.
“Fewclothes”—a former pickpocket and regular customer at Small’s Paradise.
“Jumpsteady”—a burglar and regular at Small’s Paradise.
Creole Bill—Malcolm’s friend, who converts his apartment into a speakeasy.
“Brown Sugar”—Creole Bill’s girlfriend.
“St. Louis Red”—an armed robber with whom Malcolm once worked.
“Chicago Red”—a funny dishwasher; later he will become famous as Redd Foxx.
Joe Baker—a West Indian plainclothes New York City detective.
Gladys Hampton—wife of famed musician, Lionel Hampton.
Frank Schiffman—owner of the Apollo Theater.
West Indian Archie—a numbers runner in Harlem.
Hymie—a Jewish restaurant owner for whom Malcolm works.
Jean Parks—a former singer and friend of Malcolm’s.
Billie Holliday—a famous black jazz singer.
Sophia’s 17-year old sister—is unnamed throughout the autobiography; dates Shorty.
White lesbian and her girlfriend—Malcolm’s friends.
John Hughes—owns a gambling house in Boston.
Rudy—a friend of Shorty’s and member of Malcolm’s burglary ring.
Turner—one of Boston’s two black police detectives.
Sophia’s husband—goes looking for Malcolm when he discovers that Sophia has been dating him.
Sophia’s husband’s friend—takes Sophia and her sister out to dinner.
Detective Slack—police detective who investigates Malcolm.
Detective Turner—police detective who investigates Malcolm.
Spanish Negro Woman—Sammy’s girlfriend.
Bimbi—Malcolm’s fellow inmate in Charlestown State Prison, who encourages Malcolm to take prison correspondence courses.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad—the leader of the Nation of Islam.
“Mr. Yacub”—According to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, this black man created the white race 6,600 years ago.
Master W. D. Fard—a half-black, half-white man who gave Elijah Muhammad Allah’s message and divine guidance.
Lemuel Hassan—minister of Detroit’s Temple Number One.
Sister Clara Muhammad—Elijah Muhammad’s wife.
Mother Marie—Elijah Muhammad’s mother.
Brother Lloyd X—a Muslim follower in Boston.
Brother Osborne—a Muslim follower in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Brother James X—a Muslim follower in Atlanta, Georgia.
Sister Betty X—Malcolm’s wife.
Brother John Ali and his wife—a couple who share a house with Malcolm and his wife in Queens, New York.
Louis Lomax—black journalist who profiles the Nation of Islam in a television documentary.
Professor C. Eric Lincoln—black scholar who writes a book about the Nation of Islam.
James Hicks—editor of the Amsterdam News, a Harlem newspaper.
Various Brothers and Sisters—followers of Muhammad’s Nation of Islam.
Dr. Leana A. Turner—Malcolm’s family doctor.
Cassius Clay—famous Muslim heavyweight boxer.
Sonny Liston—famous heavyweight boxer who fights Cassius Clay.
Floyd Patterson—famous heavyweight boxer who fights Cassius Clay.
Wallace Muhammad—Elijah Muhammad’s son.
Dr. Mahmoud Youssef Shawarbi—a Muslim lecturer, writer, professor, and United Nations’ advisor, and close advisor to Prince Faisal, who helps Malcolm make his pilgrimage to Mecca.
Prince Faisal—the ruler of Saudi Arabia.
Abd ir-Rahman Azzam—author of The Eternal Message of Muhammad, who lives in Jedda
Muhammad Shawarbi—son of Dr. Shawarbi; a student at Cairo University.
Dr. Omar Azzam—son of Mr. Azzam, and a Swiss-trained engineer who lives in Jedda.
Muhammad, the Mutawaf—a young man who serves as a guide to Malcolm on his pilgrimage to Mecca.
Hussein Amini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem—a Muslim leader.
Sheikh Muhammad Harkon—judge of the Muslim High Court.
Kasem Gulek—member of the Turkish Parliament who Malcolm meets on Mount Arafat.
Sheikh Abdullah Eraif—mayor of Mecca.
Muhammad Abdul Azziz Maged—Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Chief of Protocol, who serves as an interpreter for conversations between Malcolm and Prince Faisal.
Professor Essien-Udom—author of Black Nationalism and professor at Ibadan University in Lagos, Nigeria.
Larry Jackson—Black Peace Corps’ volunteer whom Malcolm meets in Nigeria.
Julian Mayfield—author and leader of Ghana’s group of African-American expatriates.
Ana Livia—Mayfield’s wife.
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah—President of Ghana.
Shirley Graham Du Bois—writer and director of Ghanaian television; widow of famous African-American revolutionary and scholar, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, who moved to Ghana late in his life.
Alex Haley—the person to whom Malcolm tells his autobiography, and writer of the autobiography’s epilogue.
Ossie Davis—popular actor and friend of Malcolm, who eulogized Malcolm.
Reverend Milton Galamison—militant clergyman, who was scheduled to be the co-speaker with Malcolm at the Audubon Ballroom on the day Malcolm was assassinated.
Brother Benjamin X—Malcolm’s assistant at the Muslim Mosque, Inc.
Stanley Scott—United Press International reporter who was at the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm was assassinated.
Bishop Alvin A. Childs—Malcolm’s funeral was held at his church, Church of God in Christ.
Estimated Reading Time
The average silent reading rate for a secondary student is 250 to 300 words per minute. Since each page has approximately 400 words on it, an average student would take about two minutes to read each page. The total reading time for the 460-page book would be about 16 hours. Reading the book according to the natural chapter breaks is the best approach.
Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X was hailed as a literary classic shortly after it appeared. Its description of Malcolm X’s discovery of an African American identity continues to inspire its readers. The two most memorable phases of Malcolm X’s life described in his autobiography, and quite possibly the two phases most formative of his identity, are his self-education and religious conversion while in prison and his last year of life, in which he set out to organize a multiracial coalition to end racism. The first of these phases followed a difficult childhood and life as a criminal. In prison, Malcolm X felt inspired by fellow inmates to improve his knowledge. He started on a rigorous program of reading books on history and philosophy. He also worked on his penmanship and vocabulary by copying an entire dictionary. His readings revealed to him that school had taught him nothing about African and African American history. School had also been silent on the crimes that Europeans and European Americans had committed against people of color. In prison, members of the Nation of Islam urged Malcolm X to reject the negative self-image he had unconsciously adopted and to replace it with black pride.
Malcolm X taught the Nation’s doctrine of black self-reliance after his release from prison, and he married Betty Shabazz, eventually becoming the father of six children. Disappointed by the divergence between the practices of some of the leaders of the...
(The entire section is 406 words.)
Chapter One: "Nightmare"
The Autobiography of Malcolm X begins with Malcolm Little telling about his years as a trouble-making but clever child in the 1930s. His father, Earl Little, is a Baptist preacher who advocates the "back-to-Africa'' philosophy of black activist Marcus Garvey. Once, their house is burned down, and another time it is damaged—both times by groups of white men. His mother, Louise, is made a widow when Earl is murdered; then the state welfare agency tries to break up the family. Eventually, fighting against the state and struggling to keep her children fed becomes too much for Louise, and she is committed to a mental asylum. The children are sent to various foster homes in the region.
Chapter Two: "Mascot"
Malcolm is expelled from school when he is thirteen years old, and state officials move him to a detention home. Though Malcolm is a very popular student at the white junior high school and is elected the seventh-grade class president, he later feels that he was simply a "mascot" for the school.
His half-sister Ella invites him to visit her in Boston for the summer, a visit that changes his life by showing him a world outside his small town. When he returns to school the next fall, a school counselor tells Malcolm that he should not consider becoming a lawyer because he is black. Ella invites him to move to Boston.
Chapter Three: "Homeboy"
Malcolm lives with Ella in...
(The entire section is 1455 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Chapter 1: Nightmare
Malcolm Little: the narrator and main character
Louise Little: Malcolm’s mother
The Reverend Earl Little: Malcolm’s father, a Baptist minister
Yvonne: Malcolm’s youngest sister
Robert: Malcolm’s younger brother
Philbert: Malcolm’s older brother
Wilfred: Malcolm’s older brother
Hilda: Malcolm’s older sister
Reginald: Malcolm’s younger brother
Wesley: Malcolm’s younger brother
The Gohannas: a family with whom the young Malcolm goes to live
Big Boy: the Gohannas’ nephew
Mrs. Adcock: a woman who lived with the Gohannas
The first chapter begins in 1926 and chronicles the first eleven years of Malcolm’s life with his hard-working parents and seven siblings. It describes the tragic murder of his father, Malcolm’s first brush with petty crime, and the eventual break-up of the Little family when his mother is institutionalized.
Malcolm’s memories of his childhood are brutally honest. His father’s unwavering belief in the importance of self-reliance and his willingness to risk his life preaching revolutionary, back-to-Africa sermons had a profound influence on young Malcolm. In addition, he learns an important life lesson during his rabbit-hunting expedition with Mr. Gohannas and his friends. Malcolm’s strategizes...
(The entire section is 477 words.)
Chapter 2: Mascot
Bill Peterson: white boxer who fights Malcolm
Maynard Allen: works for the state welfare agency
Mr. and Mrs. Swerlin: a white couple in charge of the detention home
Lucille Lathrop: white cook-helper who works for the Swerlins
Duane Lathrop: Lucille’s husband
A judge: in charge of Malcolm’s case in Lansing
Mr. and Mrs. Lyons: a West Indian couple whose children attend school with Malcolm
Mr. Ostrowski: Malcolm’s English teacher
Mr. Williams: Malcolm’s history teacher
Ella: Malcolm’s half-sister who lives in Boston
Earl: Malcolm’s half-brother
Mary: Malcolm’s half-sister
Frank: Ella’s second husband
Audrey Slaugh: Malcolm’s classmate
Jimmy Cotton: Malcolm’s classmate
At the age of 13, Malcolm is expelled from school in Lansing, Michigan because of his misbehavior. He is sent to live in a detention home in the neighboring city of Mason. Mr. and Mrs. Swerlin like Malcolm very much. Mrs. Swerlin finds an after-school job for Malcolm in a local restaurant. He achieves academic success in the white junior high school he attends, and participates in several after-school activities. Thanks to his popularity, he is elected class president.
Malcolm’s half-sister from Boston, Ella, visits the Little family. A “leading...
(The entire section is 583 words.)
Chapter 3: “Homeboy”
Shorty: Malcolm’s friend
Freddie: works as a shoeshine boy
Malcolm lives with Ella and her family in an area known as “the Hill” in Roxbury, a large black neighborhood in Boston. Most black people residing in the Hill are servants, or have other types of menial employment; a small number are white-collar workers.
Shorty helps Malcolm get a job shining shoes at the Roseland State Ballroom. Malcolm soon discovers that shoe-shining is only part of the job. His additional responsibilities include selling liquor, marijuana, and pimping. He develops a taste for Roxbury’s black urban fashion and lifestyle. He purchases his first “zoot suit,” and begins “conking,” or straightening, his hair. He spends his free time shooting craps, playing cards, drinking, and smoking marijuana with Shorty and his friends.
In this chapter, Malcolm undergoes his first transformation—from a “country” boy to a big city “hipster.” However, it is ironic that his vivid descriptions of this black urban culture of zoot suits and dancing are sharp contrasts to the lurking evils that are undeniably present—of illegal drugs, gambling, and prostitution.
Toward the end of the chapter, Malcolm acknowledges, in hindsight, the irony of this seemingly happy period of his life. He says that when he was a teenager living in Roxbury, he felt proud that this...
(The entire section is 344 words.)
Chapter 4: Laura
Laura: a black high school honors student
Mamie Bevels: waitress at Roseland
Sophia: a white girl Malcolm meets at Roseland
Dancing becomes Malcolm’s first and foremost passion. He quits his shoeshining job and takes a job as a soda fountain clerk, enabling him to go out dancing at night. At work, he meets Laura, a sheltered black girl living with her grandmother. He takes Laura dancing at Roseland and the two are a dancing sensation.
Malcolm stops dating Laura after he meets an attractive, wealthy white woman he refers to as Sophia. Meanwhile, Laura’s life drastically changes. In defiance of her grandmother, she starts drinking liquor and using dope; soon, she becomes a prostitute to support her drug habit. Laura hates her male customers and, subsequently, becomes a lesbian. Ultimately, she spends time in and out of jail.
Financed by Sophia, Malcolm moves in with Shorty. He begins to work as a bus boy at Boston’s Parker House.
The chapter concludes as Malcolm learns that the Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor.
The reader is totally immersed in the culture and lifestyle of Roxbury’s black community. Malcolm begins using “hip” slang terms to describe his experiences and the people he encounters. Comparing himself to a “dancing jigaboo” toy, he says, “I met chicks who were fine as May wine, and...
(The entire section is 348 words.)
Chapter 5: Harlemite
Old Man Rountree: elderly Pullman porter and friend of Ella’s
Pappy Cousins: Yankee Clipper steward
Ed Small: owner of Small’s Paradise, a popular Harlem nightspot
Charlie Small: Ed’s brother, who interviews Malcolm for a job
In 1942, Malcolm is hired by a railroad company to work as a dishwasher on its Boston to Washington, DC run. Soon, he is promoted and begins selling food on the “Yankee Clipper,” the train that runs between Boston and New York City. On his first trip to New York’s Harlem, he visits several nightclubs and sees such famous black celebrities as Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald. Immediately deciding that “this world was where I belonged,” he becomes a regular at Harlem’s hottest nightspots.
Meanwhile, Malcolm is fired by the railroad company after they receive complaints from people about his rude behavior. Confident that he will find another job—however menial—easily because of America’s booming wartime economy, Malcolm pays a visit to his family in Lansing. His conked, fire-red hair and zoot suits create a sensation there.
Back in New York, Malcolm becomes a day waiter at Small’s Paradise. He learns about Harlem’s long history as a safe haven for the vast numbers of immigrants—Dutch, German, and Irish, to name a few—who once resided in Harlem. In addition, he discovers how Harlem gained its...
(The entire section is 515 words.)
Chapter 6: Detroit Red and Chapter 7: Hustler
The Forty Thieves: a group of men who steal clothing from stores to resell at one-third of the store’s prices
The Four Horsemen: a group of crooked black policemen who patrol Harlem’s Sugar Hill neighborhood
Brisbane: a West Indian policeman who is one of The Four Horsemen
“Cadillac” Drake: a Harlem pimp
Sammy the Pimp: a pimp and best friend of Malcolm
“Alabama Peach”: a white prostitute who works for Sammy
“Dollarbill”: a Harlem pimp
“Fewclothes”: a former pickpocket and regular customer at Small’s Paradise
“Jumpsteady”: a burglar and regular customer at Small’s Paradise
Creole Bill: Malcolm’s friend, who converts his apartment into a speakeasy
“Brown Sugar”: Creole Bill’s girlfriend
“St. Louis Red”: a professional armed robber whom Malcolm once worked with
“Chicago Red”: a funny dishwasher; later he will become famous as Redd Foxx
Billie Holiday: the famous black jazz singer
Spanish Negro Woman: Sammy’s girlfriend
White lesbian and her girlfriend: friends of Malcolm
Joe Baker: a West Indian plainclothes New York City detective
Gladys Hampton: wife of famed musician, Lionel Hampton
Frank Schiffman: owner of the Apollo Theater
West Indian Archie: a numbers runner in...
(The entire section is 785 words.)
Chapter 8: Trapped and Chapter 9: Caught
Sophia’s 17-year-old sister: dates Shorty
John Hughes: owns a gambling house in Boston
Rudy: a friend of Shorty’s and a member of Malcolm’s burglary ring
Sophia’s husband: goes looking for Malcolm when he finds out Sophia has been seeing him
Sophia’s husband’s friend: takes Sophia and her sister out to dinner
Detective Slack: police detective investigating Malcolm
Detective Turner: police detective investigating Malcolm
Malcolm moves back to Boston after West Indian Archie, who wrongfully believes Malcolm has stolen money from him, threatens to kill him. Malcolm lives with his longtime friend, Shorty, and continues his reckless drug use and gambling. Ella is shocked by Malcolm’s corrupt behavior. Shorty begins dating Sophia’s 17-year-old sister, who remains unnamed throughout the autobiography.
Malcolm organizes a burglary ring with Shorty, Sophia, Sophia’s sister, and Rudy. The two women are used to scout out wealthy white neighborhoods, Malcolm and Shorty rob houses, and Rudy serves as the driver of the getaway car. They find a fence who purchases and resells the stolen articles. The burglary ring is successful for nearly one year.
One day, however, Malcolm goes to a jewelry shop to pick up a stolen watch that he had brought in for repair. He had decided to keep this expensive watch for himself...
(The entire section is 790 words.)
Chapter 10: Satan
Bimbi: Malcolm’s fellow inmate in Charlestown State Prison
John: Malcolm’s fellow inmate in Norfolk Prison Colony
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad: the leader of the Nation of Islam
“Mr. Yacub”: according to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, he created the white race 6,600 years ago
Master W.D. Fard: a half-black, half-white man who gave Elijah Muhammad Allah’s message and divine guidance
In 1946, Malcolm is sentenced to ten years in prison. He is sent to the dilapidated Charlestown State Prison with his friend Shorty, who has been given an eight-to-ten year sentence. Malcolm’s wild atheistic rantings in prison earn him the nickname “Satan.” He meets Bimbi and develops enormous respect for this articulate, well-read black man. With Bimbi’s encouragement, Malcolm enrolls in prison correspondence courses.
Meanwhile, Malcolm’s brothers and sisters have converted to the religion of Islam and want their brother to convert as well. His brother, Reginald, advises him in a letter to stop eating pork and smoking cigarettes. Malcolm thinks that Reginald’s instructions have some hidden meaning. He thinks that by following his brother’s advice, he would begin experiencing physical problems and, thus, be released from prison early. Malcolm gives up eating pork and smoking cigarettes with surprisingly little difficulty.
(The entire section is 639 words.)
Chapter 11: Saved and Chapter 12: Savior
Lemuel Hassan: minister of Detroit’s Temple Number One
Sister Clara Muhammad: Elijah Muhammad’s wife
Mother Marie: Elijah Muhammad’s mother
In Norfolk Prison Colony, Malcolm devotes himself to studying the teachings of Muhammad. In addition, he reads the classics, and studies philosophy, science, and world history. Each day, he writes a letter to Muhammad, professing his devotion to the Nation of Islam. He writes letters to his former friends and acquaintances from his hustling days, telling them about his new-found religion. He writes letters, protesting “how the white man’s society was responsible for the black man’s condition in this wilderness of North America,” to various politicians—the Mayor of Boston, the Governor, and to Harry S. Truman, the President of the United States!
He is shocked and dismayed when he discovers that Reginald, for whom he has had so much respect, has been suspended from the Nation of Islam because of Reginald’s illicit relationship with the secretary of the Nation of Islam’s New York Temple.
Malcolm is transferred back to the Charlestown Prison, ostensibly because he refused to take an inoculation. Malcolm is certain, however, that the real reason for the transfer is his affiliation and conversion to the religion of Islam.
Upon his release from prison in 1952, Malcolm returns to Detroit to continue...
(The entire section is 769 words.)
Chapter 13: Minister Malcolm X
Brother Lloyd X: a Muslim follower in Boston, Massachusetts
Brother Osborne: a Muslim follower in Springfield, Massachusetts
Brother James X: a Muslim follower in Atlanta, Georgia
Sister Betty X: Malcolm’s wife
Brother John Ali and his wife: a couple who share a house with Malcolm and his wife in Queens, New York
Various Brothers and Sisters: Muslim followers
Malcolm quits his factory job to work full-time spreading Elijah Muhammad’s teachings. He travels all along the East Coast, opening numerous Muslim temples. He visits several of his old friends in Boston, including Shorty and West Indian Archie. In 1958, he marries Betty X.
Malcolm is appointed minister of Temple Seven in New York City’s Harlem, and he and Betty move to Queens, New York. Malcolm is disgusted and angered when two Muslim brothers become victims of police brutality in Harlem. Malcolm effectively handles the potentially explosive situation.
Malcolm is assimilating extraordinarily well in his new life, earning the respect of both Elijah Muhammad and his peers. Malcolm’s current lifestyle bears no resemblance to his days of street hustling and thievery. This contrast is further evidenced when Malcolm visits Boston and observes the marked decline of his old friends.
As the chapter concludes, Malcolm demonstrates his...
(The entire section is 287 words.)
Chapter 14: Black Muslims
Louis Lomax: black journalist who profiles the Nation of Islam in a television documentary
Professor C. Eric Lincoln: black scholar who writes a book about the Nation of Islam
James Hicks: editor of the Amsterdam News, a Harlem newspaper
The Nation of Islam movement is gaining national, as well as international, prominence. In 1959, two newspapers serving black communities, Harlem’s Amsterdam News and Los Angeles’ Herald Dispatch, begin carrying regular columns written by Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad about the Nation of Islam. Malcolm founds a newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, and visits Africa to spread Elijah Muhammad’s teachings.
However, after a television documentary profiles the Nation of Islam’s ideology about the “devil white man,” public condemnation is swift. Newspapers denounce the movement’s “hate-messengers” and “black supremacists.” Malcolm appears on several radio and television programs to defend the Nation of Islam. He appears at mass rallies as Elijah Muhammad’s right-hand man.
The fiery speeches of Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad evoke a wide range of audience emotions—from shock and rage to admiration and self-pride. Their speeches are filled with emotionally charged words and images, meant to arouse and incite listeners. Calling white people “oppressors,” Elijah Muhammad...
(The entire section is 327 words.)
Chapter 15: Icarus
Malcolm becomes a much sought-after speaker on the lecture circuit. He is an incredibly powerful and charismatic speaker, preaching about past and current injustices and the atrocities that have been committed by white men against black people.
The reader is deeply affected by Malcolm’s use of intensely graphic details to describe white people’s inhumanity toward non-white people throughout history. For example, he cites America’s bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, noting that America chose to drop the atomic bomb on its non-white, Japanese enemy rather than on its white, Nazi German enemy. He speaks of the injustice of the internment camps that America used to imprison Japanese-American citizens during World War II. He asks, “What about the one hundred thousand loyal naturalized and native-born Japanese American citizens who were herded into camps, behind barbed wire?”
To convince his audience of the overwhelming need for black separatism, he draws an analogy between Jewish people’s desire to set up a homeland in Israel, and the Nation of Islam’s desire to live apart from white people.
At the chapter’s conclusion, Malcolm experiences a shocking discovery when he appears at Boston’s Harvard Law School Forum as a guest speaker. He realizes that his old burglary gang’s hideout is right down the street. He thinks, “Scenes from my once depraved life...
(The entire section is 241 words.)
Chapter 16: Out
Dr. Leona A. Turner: Malcolm’s family doctor
Cassius Clay: famous Muslim heavyweight boxer
Sonny Liston: famous heavyweight boxer who fights Cassius Clay
Floyd Patterson: famous heavyweight boxer who fights Cassius Clay
Thanks to Malcolm’s tenacity and dedication to the Nation of Islam, more than 100 mosques opened throughout the United States by 1961. Although his commitment to the movement remains unswerving, he is convinced that “our Nation of Islam could be an even greater force in the American black man’s overall struggle—if we engaged in more action.”
Meanwhile, Malcolm has become aware of the fact that negative remarks were being made about him by people within the Nation of Islam. They were saying, for example, that Malcolm likes being a “coast-to-coast Mr. Big Shot.” Remembering Elijah Mohammad’s prediction about people’s envy and jealousy toward public figures, Malcolm is not angry or upset by these comments. Soon, he starts to notice that he is receiving less coverage in the Nation of Islam’s newspaper, Muhammad Speaks. Malcolm, again, refuses to allow this to bother him, because he considers resentful feelings to be a sign of weakness. Eventually, however, in 1963, Malcolm is so distressed by Muslims’ reactions to him that, attempting to escape the limelight, he begins to turn down journalists’ requests for...
(The entire section is 930 words.)
Chapter 17: Mecca
Wallace Muhammad: Elijah Muhammad’s son and Malcolm’s friend
Dr. Mahmoud Youssef Shawarbi: a Muslim lecturer, writer, professor, United Nations advisor, and close advisor to Prince Faisal, who helps Malcolm make his pilgrimage to Mecca
Prince Faisal: the ruler of Saudi Arabia
Abd ir-Rahman Azzam: author of The Eternal Message of Muhammad, who lives in Jedda
Muhammad Shawarbi: son of Dr. Shawarbi; a student at Cairo University
Dr. Omar Azzam: son of Mr. Azzam, and a Swiss-trained engineer who lives in Jedda
Muhammad, the Mutawaf: a young man who serves as a guide to Malcolm on his pilgrimage to Mecca
Hussein Amiri, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem: a Muslim leader
Sheikh Muhammad Harkon: judge of the Muslim High Court
Malcolm makes plans for his pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca. On his way to Mecca, his plane stops in Frankfurt, Germany and Cairo, Egypt. There, he goes sightseeing, meeting very friendly and hospitable people.
Upon his arrival in Jedda, an ancient seaport town in Saudi Arabia, Malcolm is temporarily delayed at the airport. He learns that, prior to his pilgrimage, he must first appear before “the Muslim high court which examined all possibly non-authentic converts to the Islamic religion seeking to enter Mecca.”
Bewildered and unable to communicate with the...
(The entire section is 525 words.)
Chapter 18: El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz
Kasem Gulek: member of the Turkish Parliament whom Malcolm meets on Mount Arafat
Sheikh Abdullah Eraif: mayor of Mecca
Muhammad Abdul Azziz Maged: Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Chief of Protocol, who serves as an interpreter for conversations between Malcolm and Prince Faisal
Professor Essien-Udom: author of Black Nationalism, and a professor at Ibadan University in Lagos, Nigeria
Larry Jackson: black Peace Corps’ volunteer whom Malcolm meets in Nigeria
Julian Mayfield: author and leader of Ghana’s group of African-American expatriates
Ana Livia: Mayfield’s wife
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah: President of Ghana
Shirley Graham Du Bois: writer and director of Ghanaian television; and widow of famous African-American revolutionary and scholar, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, who moved to Ghana late in his life.
Malcolm visits several Middle Eastern and African countries, and is introduced to the leaders, diplomats, and press corps from many nations. He meets the Saudi Arabian ruler, Prince Faisal, and Ghana’s President, Dr. Nkrumah. He is treated with honor and respect wherever he travels.
Upon his return to New York, Malcolm holds an impromptu press conference to explain his new ideology. Although the news media reports are somewhat negative, Malcolm begins, for the first time in his life, to garner support from both...
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Chapter 19: 1965
In 1964, Malcolm embarks upon a large-scale campaign to gain support for his new organization. He holds public meetings and appears on numerous televison and radio programs. The American media continues its attack on Malcolm, calling him “the angriest Negro in America.”
He revisits the Middle East and Africa, and has meetings with many world and religious leaders. Among the prominent world leaders with whom he has private audiences are President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt; President Jomo Kenyatta, of Kenya; and Prime Minister Dr. Milton Obote of Uganda.
Upon his return to the United States, he continues his crusade to fight racism, renaming his organization the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He begins reaching out to white Americans. He writes about his new insight, “the white man is not inherently evil, but American’s racist society influences him to act evilly. The society has produced and nourishes a psychology which brings out the lowest, most base part of human beings.” Malcolm advises, “Let sincere white individuals find all other white people they can who feel as they do—and let them form their own all-white groups, to work trying to convert other white people who are thinking and acting so racist. Let sincere whites go and teach non-violence to white people.”
Toward the end of the chapter, Malcolm ominously predicts his own death. “I know that societies often have killed the...
(The entire section is 625 words.)
Epilogue by Alex Haley
Alex Haley: the person to whom Malcolm tells his autobiography, and writer of the autobiography’s epilogue
Ossie Davis: popular actor and friend of Malcolm, who eulogized Malcolm
Reverend Milton Galamison: militant clergyman, who was scheduled to be the co-speaker with Malcolm at the Audubon Ballroom on the day Malcolm was assassinated
Brother Benjamin X: Malcolm’s assistant at the Muslim Mosque, Inc.
Stanley Scott: United Press International reporter who was at the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm was assassinated
Bishop Alvin A. Childs: Malcolm’s funeral was held at his church, Church of God in Christ
In this chapter, Alex Haley traces his two-year association with Malcolm X. Initially, Malcolm was reluctant to reveal intimate details about his past to Haley. However, Haley’s thoughtful, probing questions soon put Malcolm at ease. Haley uncovers Malcolm X—the child, the criminal, and finally, the dynamic, influential political activist and African-American leader. Haley spends countless hours with Malcolm, and the two men develop a close friendship. Malcolm shares his concerns about his premonition of death at the hands of followers of the Nation of Islam.
Haley offers a detailed account of the events following Malcolm’s assassination at the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965. After being shot 16 times, Malcolm was taken to...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
On Malcolm X by Ossie Davis
Summary and Analysis
Actor Ossie Davis eulogized Malcolm X at his funeral. He writes this short essay in response to a magazine editor’s question, “Why did you eulogize Malcolm X?”
To Davis, Malcolm represented “refreshing excitement.” He considered Malcolm “one of the most fascinating and charming men I have ever met,” and a “hero.” He admired and was intrigued by Malcolm’s relentless energy. “He [Malcolm X] kept shouting the painful truth we whites and blacks did not want to hear from all the housetops. And he wouldn’t stop for love nor money.”
Davis thinks Malcolm was “a true man.” He concedes, however, that “to protect my relations with the many good white folks who make it possible for me to earn a fairly good living ... I was too chicken, too cautious, to admit that fact when he was alive.”
The reader marvels at this mainstream African-American actor’s honesty. How will Malcolm X be perceived by future generations of Americans? Davis’ response, “I am content to wait for history to make the final decision.”
(The entire section is 177 words.)