Throughout his speeches, Malcolm stressed the advantages of education. His frequent allusions to black historians suggest his own feeling of inadequate education, especially in terms of black history. His knowledge of street life was firsthand, but his understanding of black sociology was more anecdotal than thorough. His knowledge of Islam and its history was far from expert.
Perhaps the greatest shortcoming in Malcolm’s movement was the lack of a well-defined agenda. There have been many black messiahs in the United States, particularly in Harlem, where Sufi Abdul Hamid and Marcus Garvey promised the imminent arrival of the black millennium. Malcolm can be seen in that tradition. He articulated problems known to all and promised a route to the goal but disappeared before any change had been effected. He did manage to convince many that self-help, in the true American tradition, was the most feasible means to immediate improvement. He persuaded many that voting was a useful first step to greater self-esteem through self-government. His ideas were in constant flux, however, and the Malcolm X that one person remembers may well be quite different from the Malcolm X that another recalls.
Malcolm never engaged a ghostwriter. He most frequently spoke extemporaneously. He spoke in the language of his people, with the gestures, rage, humor, and repetition of the traditional black preacher, and with the appearance of learning. He had immediate effects on his audiences. He drew from them thoughtful questions, which he answered with ease and with grace, though sometimes, if he sensed antagonism, with vitriol and insult. By almost universal consent, he was one of the most dynamic and rousing speakers of his age and cause. The large number of books and articles about him suggests that he will remain among the pantheon of black speakers.