The Autobiography of Malcolm X

by Malcolm X, Alex Haley

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In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, cowritten with Alex Haley, why did Shorty pass-out in court ? 

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In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm’s friendship with Shorty helps the future leader of the civil rights movement to adapt to the much larger urban environment of Boston, Massachusetts, following Malcolm’s childhood in the small, rural town of Omaha, Nebraska, and the larger but still relatively small East Lansing, Michigan, where he grew up, the son of a Baptist preacher.  Shorty becomes an important figure in Malcolm’s life, schooling the younger man in the culture of the black community in which they lived and hung out, and eventually committed crimes.  Among those crimes were a series of robberies, for which Malcolm (whose formal, family name was Little, as he had not yet converted to Islam and changed his name) and Shorty were tried in court.  It was during the sentencing phase of their trial, having been convicted of the crimes for which they were charged, when Shorty fainted.  Malcolm’s description of the scene is provided in his memoir:

“ . . .we were looking up at the judge in Middlesex County Court. . . Shorty's mother was sitting, sobbing with her head bowing up and down to her Jesus . . . Shorty was the first of us called to stand up.

 "Count one, eight to ten years-

"Count two, eight to ten years-

"Count three. . ."

 And, finally, "The sentences to run concurrently."

Shorty, sweating so hard that his black face looked as though it had been greased, and not understanding the word "concurrently," had counted in his head to probably over a hundred years; he cried out, he began slumping. The bailiffs had to catch and support him."

 As described by Malcolm to collaborator Alex Haley, who later achieved considerable fame for his book Roots, Shorty, the product of a very limited education, had been counting up the cumulative number of years for which he was being sentenced for multiple crimes and, not understanding that the judge had ordered that each sentence coincide with the others, rather than run end-to-end, was emotionally devastated by what he thought was a life sentence, causing him to pass out.

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