The Autobiography of Malcolm X

by Malcolm X, Alex Haley

Start Free Trial

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.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X Study Tools

Ask a question Start an essay

Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated June 12, 2023.

Overview:

The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a memoir co-written by Malcolm X and journalist Alex Haley. It was first published in 1965, shortly after Malcolm X's assassination. The book chronicles Malcolm X's life, from his troubled childhood to his conversion to Islam, to his transformation into a prominent civil rights leader. Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement and a key advocate for black empowerment and self-determination.

The autobiography is based on a series of interviews conducted by Haley with Malcolm X between the years 1963 and 1965. The book explores Malcolm X's experiences with racism, his involvement with the Nation of Islam, his pilgrimage to Mecca, and his evolving views on race, religion, and social justice. It provides a raw and introspective account of Malcolm X's personal journey and his transformation from a street hustler to an influential voice in the struggle for racial equality.

What Happens:
The autobiography begins with Malcolm X's early years, growing up in Lansing, Michigan. He describes the racism he and his family experienced, including the violent death of his father and the subsequent disintegration of his family. Malcolm X's struggles with racism, poverty, and crime shape his worldview and lead him to a life of petty theft and drug abuse while spending his time mostly on the streets.

In his youth, Malcolm X moves to Boston and eventually to Harlem, where he becomes involved in criminal activities. He is eventually arrested and sentenced to prison. While incarcerated, Malcolm X discovers the teachings of the Nation of Islam and while behind bars, converts to Islam. This marks a turning point in his life, as he finds purpose and a sense of identity through his newfound faith.

After his release from prison, Malcolm X becomes a prominent figure in the Nation of Islam, advocating for black separatism and self-defense against racial violence. He rises to prominence as the national spokesperson for the Nation of Islam and gains a large following of devoted followers. However, tensions within the organization and ideological differences with the leader, Elijah Muhammad, lead to Malcolm X's departure from the Nation of Islam.

Malcolm X embarks on a journey of self-discovery, exploring different branches of Islam and establishing his own organization, the Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He begins to distance himself from his earlier rhetoric of black separatism and embraces a more inclusive approach, advocating for unity among all oppressed peoples, in line with his new understanding of mainstream Islam.

A significant turning point in Malcolm X's life comes with his pilgrimage to Mecca, where he experiences a profound transformation. He witnesses Muslims of all races and colors worshiping together and is deeply moved by the universal brotherhood of Islam. This experience leads him to revise his views on race and inspires him to fight for racial equality on a global scale.

As Malcolm X's influence grows, he becomes a target of surveillance and threats from the FBI and faces increasing hostility from white supremacists. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X is assassinated during a speech in New York City.

Why it Matters:

The Autobiography of Malcolm X is an essential work that explores themes of racial identity, self-discovery, and the struggle for social justice. It is an important document of the Civil Rights Movement, offering a firsthand account of the experiences of an influential leader, straight from his own interviews. The book sheds light on the systemic racism and oppression faced by African Americans and provides a powerful critique of white supremacy by a leader attempting to make change.

From a literary perspective, the autobiography is significant for its narrative style, which combines the rawness of a personal memoir with the storytelling skills of Alex Haley, famous for his documentary series, Roots. It falls within the tradition of African American literature, showcasing the power of personal narratives in conveying the realities of racial inequality and the quest for self-determination.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X holds a prominent place in the canon of Western literature as a profound exploration of identity, activism, and the pursuit of social justice. It remains relevant today, inspiring readers to confront and challenge institutionalized racism, while also highlighting the importance of personal growth, self-reflection, and the power of individual agency. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Next

Chapter Summaries