The Autobiography of Malcolm X

by Malcolm X, Alex Haley
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What is the social and cultural context of Malcolm X's autobiography?

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The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published in 1965, the heyday of the Civil Rights movement. At this time, there was a growing interest across American society in the plight of blacks and increasing sympathy for granting African Americans equal rights and ending segregation. White Americans were especially becoming interested in narratives in which blacks spoke of their situation in their own voices, rather than having their lives interpreted for them by white writers.

The book depicted a social context of black poverty, with blacks forced into lives of crime to survive. It also depicted prison culture and a Nation of Islam culture that attempted to turn its back on white society and develop black autonomy and self respect.

The book was a collaboration between Malcolm X and the black author Alex Haley, making it an authentically black narrative. People were interested in Malcolm X, recently assassinated, as an alternative voice to Martin Luther King, Jr. While Malcolm X's pilgrimage to Mecca softened his militancy against whites, he advocated a different approach than King's non-violent struggle against racism, stating that blacks had the right to repay white violence with their own violence in order to defend themselves.

The United States of 1965 was, at least in part, socially and culturally ready to embrace a book written by a black leader and writer who described the black struggle from a black perspective.

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