The Autobiography of Malcolm X Summary
by Malcolm X, Alex Haley

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The Autobiography of Malcolm X Summary

The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a collaborative effort between Black Power activist Malcolm X and journalist Alex Haley. 

  • While serving a prison sentence for robbery in 1946, Malcolm converted to Islam and joined the Nation of Islam, which advocated for black separatism.
  • In 1958, Malcolm got married and settled in Queens, New York. He became disillusioned with the Nation of Islam, which preached separatism rather than direct confrontation with racist forces in America.
  • Malcolm X was assassinated  in February, 1965. His "autobiography" is the result of two years of intensive interviews with journalist Alex Haley, who wrote the autobiography after the assassination.


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.

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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,...

(The entire section is 3,127 words.)