By Malcolm X, Ballantine, January 15, 1992, 0345376714
Alex Haley spent two years meeting with Malcolm X to produce The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a brilliant work about a brilliant man. If you don’t know anything about Malcom X other than he was a “radical”, you should read this book. He was not a radical.
He had a horrible history (like the vast majority of blacks at the time) which taught him many things: hate Whites and be strong. For him, it was “enough is enough”. He overcame years of debauchery and prison to become a leading light in the civil rights movement.
His flaws are evident, e.g. views of women. He was an anti-integrationist, which on the one hand, makes sense, but it was counter-productive and unrealistic. He complains about the vainglorious white man, but he sounds vainglorious at times in the book. Yet, he let us see his flaws in his autobiography. That’s awesome.
I’m mixed on his views of Jews. I could argue he was angry that Jews controlled the businesses frequented by Blacks (wouldn’t be the first). I could also argue that he was singling out the Jews, just because of what he saw. They didn’t own all (or even most) of the businesses patronized by Blacks. He said he was antiexploitation, which is fine, but he could have just pointed out (his conclusion) that Blacks should have owned businesses. Fundamentally, Jews and Blacks have a lot in common, down to the early history of Jews being an enslaved people, which Malcom X knew well with his deep religious studies.
All that aside, I enjoyed the book immensely. It’s critical to read to get a good understanding of the civil rights movement in the 1960s as well as another difficult personal story of an African American.
[k153] When my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later, a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home in Omaha, Nebraska, one night. Surrounding the house, brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out.
[k159] My father, the Reverend Earl Little, was a Baptist minister, a dedicated organizer for Marcus Aurelius Garvey’s U.N.I.A. (Universal Negro Improvement Association).
[k169] Among the reasons my father had decided to risk and dedicate his life to help disseminate this philosophy among his people was that he had seen four of his six brothers die by violence, three of them killed by white men, including one by lynching. What my father could not know then was that of the remaining three, including himself, only one, my Uncle Jim, would die in bed, of natural causes.
[k178] Louise Little, my mother, who was born in Grenada, in the British West Indies, looked like a white woman. Her father was white.
[k179] Of this white father of hers, I know nothing except her shame about it.
[k185] The teaching of Marcus Garvey stressed becoming independent of the white man.
[k190] Soon, nearly everywhere my father went, Black Legionnaires were reviling him as an “uppity nigger” for wanting to own a store, for living outside the Lansing Negro district, for spreading unrest and dissention among “the good niggers.”
[k192] Shortly after Yvonne was born came the nightmare night in 1929, my earliest vivid memory. I remember being suddenly snatched awake into a frightening confusion of pistol shots and shouting and smoke and flames.
[k197] The white police and firemen came and stood around watching as the house burned down to the ground.
[k203] After the fire, I remember that my father was called in and questioned about a permit for the pistol with which he had shot at the white men who set the fire.
[k211] My father was also belligerent toward all of the children, except me. The older ones he would beat almost savagely if they broke any of his rules–and he had so many rules it was hard to know them all. Nearly all my whippings came from my mother.
[k233] The only Negroes who really had any money were the ones in the numbers racket, or who ran the gambling houses, or who in some other way lived parasitically off the poorest ones, who were the masses. No Negroes were hired then by Lansing’s big Oldsmobile plant, or the Reo plant.
[k277] I remember well how my mother asked me why I couldn’t be a nice boy like Wilfred; but I would think to myself that Wilfred, for being so nice and quiet, often stayed hungry. So early in life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise. Not only did we have our big garden, but we raised chickens.
[k327] As the visitors tapered off, she became very concerned about collecting the two insurance policies that my father had always been proud he carried. He had always said that families should be protected in case of death. One policy apparently paid off without any problem–the smaller one.
[k331] The company that had issued the bigger policy was balking at paying off. They were claiming that my father had committed suicide. Visitors came again, and there was bitter talk about white people: how could my father bash himself in the head, then get down across the streetcar tracks to be run over?
[k343] She would go into Lansing and find different jobs–in housework, or sewing–for white people. They didn’t realize, usually, that she was a Negro. A lot of white people around there didn’t want Negroes in their houses.
She would do fine until in some way or other it got to people who she was, whose widow she was. And then she would be let go.
[k372] But there were times when there wasn’t even a nickel and we would be so hungry we were dizzy. My mother would boil a big pot of dandelion greens, and we would eat that.
[k420] This was my first lesson about gambling: if you see somebody winning all the time, he isn’t gambling, he’s cheating. Later on in life, if I were continuously losing in any gambling situation, I would watch very closely. It’s like the Negro in America seeing the white man win all the time. He’s a professional gambler; he has all the cards and the odds stacked on his side, and he has always dealt to our people from the bottom of the deck.
[k494] All I had done was to improve on their strategy, and it was the beginning of a very important lesson in life–that anytime you find someone more successful than you are, especially when you’re both engaged in the same business–you know they’re doing something that you aren’t.
[k500] Eventually my mother suffered a complete breakdown, and the court orders were finally signed. They took her to the State Mental Hospital at Kalamazoo.
[k502] We were “state children,” court wards; he had the full say-so over us. A white man in charge of a black man’s children! Nothing but legal, modern slavery–however kindly intentioned.
[k516] I truly believe that if ever a state social agency destroyed a family, it destroyed ours. We wanted and tried to stay together. Our home didn’t have to be destroyed. But the Welfare, the courts, and their doctor, gave us the one-two-three punch. And ours was not the only case of this kind.
[k523] I have rarely talked to anyone about my mother, for I believe that I am capable of killing a person, without hesitation, who happened to make the wrong kind of remark about my mother.
[k592] They all liked my attitude, and it was out of their liking for me that I soon became accepted by them–as a mascot, I know now. They would talk about anything and everything with me standing right there hearing them, the same way people would talk freely in front of a pet canary. They would even talk about me, or about “niggers,” as though I wasn’t there, as if I wouldn’t understand what the word meant. A hundred times a day, they used the word “nigger.” I suppose that in their own minds, they meant no harm; in fact they probably meant well.
[k603] What I am trying to say is that it just never dawned upon them that I could understand, that I wasn’t a pet, but a human being. They didn’t give me credit for having the same sensitivity, intellect, and understanding that they would have been ready and willing to recognize in a white boy in my position. But it has historically been the case with white people, in their regard for black people, that even though we might be with them, we weren’t considered of them. Even though they appeared to have opened the door, it was still closed. Thus they never did really see me.
This is the sort of kindly condescension which I try to clarify today, to these integration-hungry Negroes, about their “liberal” white friends, these so-called “good white people”–most of them anyway.
[k612] But I was no more than vaguely aware of anything like that in my detention-home years. I did my little chores around the house, and everything was fine.
[k640] The one thing I didn’t like about history class was that the teacher, Mr. Williams, was a great one for “nigger” jokes.
[k643] Later, I remember, we came to the textbook section on Negro history. It was exactly one paragraph long. Mr. Williams laughed through it practically in a single breath, reading aloud how the Negroes had been slaves and then were freed, and how they were usually lazy and dumb and shiftless.
[k649] Basketball was a big thing in my life, though. I was on the team; we traveled to neighboring towns such as Howell and Charlotte, and wherever I showed my face, the audiences in the gymnasiums “niggered” and “cooned” me to death. Or called me “Rastus.”
[k772] Mr. Ostrowski looked surprised, I remember, and leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. He kind of half-smiled and said, “Malcolm, one of life’s first needs is for us to be realistic. Don’t misunderstand me, now. We all here like you, you know that. But you’ve got to be realistic about being a nigger. A lawyer–that’s no realistic goal for a nigger. You need to think about something you can be. You’re good with your hands–making things. Everybody admires your carpentry shop work. Why don’t you plan on carpentry? People like you as a person–you’d get all kinds of work.” The more I thought afterwards about what he said, the more uneasy it made me. It just kept treading around in my mind.
[k781] They all reported that Mr. Ostrowski had encouraged what they had wanted. Yet nearly none of them had earned marks equal to mine.
It was a surprising thing that I had never thought of it that way before, but I realized that whatever I wasn’t, I was smarter than nearly all of those white kids. But apparently I was still not intelligent enough, in their eyes, to become whatever I wanted to be.
It was then that I began to change–inside.
[k800] I went every Saturday to see my brothers and sisters in Lansing, and almost every other day I wrote to Ella in Boston. Not saying why, I told Ella that I wanted to come there and live.
I don’t know how she did it, but she arranged for official custody of me to be transferred from Michigan to Massachusetts, and the very week I finished the eighth grade, I again boarded the Greyhound bus for Boston.
[k803] No physical move in my life has been more pivotal or profound in its repercussions.
[k807] Whatever I have done since then, I have driven myself to become a success at it. I’ve often thought that if Mr. Ostrowski had encouraged me to become a lawyer, I would today probably be among some city’s professional black bourgeoisie, sipping cocktails and palming myself off as a community spokesman for and leader of the suffering black masses, while my primary concern would be to grab a few more crumbs from the groaning board of the two-faced whites with whom they’re begging to “integrate.”
All praise is due to Allah that I went to Boston when I did. If I hadn’t, I’d probably still be a brainwashed black Christian.
[k822] Ella still seemed to be as big, black, outspoken and impressive a woman as she had been in Mason and Lansing.
[k1088] This was my first really big step toward self-degradation: when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man’s hair. I had joined that multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that the black people are “inferior”–and white people “superior”–that they will even violate and mutilate their God-created bodies to try to look “pretty” by white standards.
[k1131] White customers on the shine stand, especially, would laugh to see my feet suddenly break loose on their own and cut a few steps. Whites are correct in thinking that black people are natural dancers. Even little kids are–except for those Negroes today who are so “integrated,” as I had been, that their instincts are inhibited. You know those “dancing jibagoo” toys that you wind up? Well, I was like a live one–music just wound me up.
[k1171] People like the sleep-in maid for Beacon Hill white folks who used to come in with her “ooh, my deah” manners and order corn plasters in the Jew’s drugstore for black folks.
[k1426] Hundreds of Negro soldiers and sailors, gawking and young like me, passed by. Harlem by now was officially off limits to white servicemen. There had already been some muggings and robberies, and several white servicemen had been found murdered. The police were also trying to discourage white civilians from coming uptown, but those who wanted to still did.
[k1440] It didn’t take me a week to learn that all you had to do was give white people a show and they’d buy anything you offered them. It was like popping your shoeshine rag.
[k1480] I never would forget that–that I couldn’t have whipped that white man as badly with a club as I had with my mind.
[k1599] Harlem’s numbers industry hummed every morning and into the early afternoon, with the runners jotting down people’s bets on slips of paper in apartment house hallways, bars, barbershops, stores, on the sidewalks. The cops looked on; no runner lasted long who didn’t, out of his pocket, put in a free “figger” for his working area’s foot cops, and it was generally known that the numbers bankers paid off at higher levels of the police department.
[k1705] This shouldn’t reflect too badly on that particular building, because almost everyone in Harlem needed some kind of hustle to survive, and needed to stay high in some way to forget what they had to do to survive.
[k1713] I got my first schooling about the cesspool morals of the white man from the best possible source, from his own women.
[k1723] Domineering, complaining, demanding wives who had just about psychologically castrated their husbands were responsible for the early rush. These wives were so disagreeable and had made their men so tense that they were robbed of the satisfaction of being men. To escape this tension and the chance of being ridiculed by his own wife, each of these men had gotten up early and come to a prostitute.
[k1729] More wives could keep their husbands if they realized their greatest urge is to be men
[k1737] All women, by their nature, are fragile and weak: they are attracted to the male in whom they see strength.
From time to time, Sophia would come over to see me from Boston. Even among Harlem Negroes, her looks gave me status.
[k1787] The white woman wanted to be comfortable, she wanted to be looked upon with favor by her own kind, but also she wanted to have her pleasure. So some of them just married a white man for convenience and security, and kept right on going with a Negro.
[k2455] He had never been able to keep a white woman any length of time, though, because he was too good to them, and, as I have said, any woman, white or black, seems to get bored with that.
[k2498] Looking back, I think I really was at least slightly out of my mind. I viewed narcotics as most people regard food. I wore my guns as today I wear my neckties. Deep down, I actually believed that after living as fully as humanly possible, one should then die violently. I expected then, as I still expect today, to die at any time. But then, I think I deliberately invited death in many, sometimes insane, ways.
[k2704] The girls got low bail. They were still white–burglars or not. Their worst crime was their involvement with Negroes. But Shorty and I had bail set at $10,000 each, which they knew we were nowhere near able to raise.
[k2711] Before the judge entered, I said to one lawyer, “We seem to be getting sentenced because of those girls.” He got red from the neck up and shuffled his papers: “You had no business with white girls!”
Later, when I had learned the full truth about the white man, I reflected many times that the average burglary sentence for a first offender, as we all were, was about two years. But we weren’t going to get the average–not for our crime.
[k2717] But people are always speculating–why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth, must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient.
[k2735] I got ten years.
The girls got one to five years, in the Women’s Reformatory at Framingham, Massachusetts.
This was in February, 1946. I wasn’t quite twenty-one. I had not even started shaving.
They took Shorty and me, handcuffed together, to the Charlestown State Prison.
[k2758] With some money sent by Ella, I was finally able to buy stuff for better highs from guards in the prison. I got reefers, Nembutal, and Benzedrine. Smuggling to prisoners was the guards’ sideline; every prison’s inmates know that’s how guards make most of their living.
[k2817] In prison, where so little breaks the monotonous routine, the smallest thing causes a commotion of talk. It was being mentioned all over the cell block by night that Satan didn’t eat pork.
[k2822] My brothers and sisters in Detroit and Chicago had all become converted to what they were being taught was the “natural religion for the black man” of which Philbert had written to me. They all prayed for me to become converted while I was in prison.
[k2865] “The devil is also a man,” Reginald said.
“What do you mean?”
[k2867] “Them,” he said. “The white man is the devil.”
[k2871] I said, “Without any exception?”
“Without any exception.”
[k2874] The white people I had known marched before my mind’s eye.
[k2898] When Reginald left, he left me rocking with some of the first serious thoughts I had ever had in my life: that the white man was fast losing his power to oppress and exploit the dark world; that the dark world was starting to rise to rule the world again, as it had before; that the white man’s world was on the way down, it was on the way out.
[k2908] They were all Muslims, followers of a man they described to me as “The Honorable Elijah Muhammad,” a small, gentle man, whom they sometimes referred to as “The Messenger of Allah.” He was, they said, “a black man, like us.” He had been born in America on a farm in Georgia. He had moved with his family to Detroit, and there had met a Mr. Wallace D. Fard who he claimed was “God in person.”
[k3020] I was to learn later that Elijah Muhammad’s tales, like this one of “Yacub,” infuriated the Muslims of the East. While at Mecca, I reminded them that it was their fault, since they themselves hadn’t done enough to make real Islam known in the West. Their silence left a vacuum into which any religious faker could step and mislead our people.
[k3034] The hardest test I ever faced in my life was praying.
[k3038] I had to force myself to bend my knees. And waves of shame and embarrassment would force me back up.
For evil to bend its knees, admitting its guilt, to implore the forgiveness of God, is the hardest thing in the world.
[k3047] I’ve never been one for inaction. Everything I’ve ever felt strongly about, I’ve done something about.
[k3097] Available on the prison library’s shelves were books on just about every general subject. Much of the big private collection that Parkhurst had willed to the prison was still in crates and boxes in the back of the library–thousands of old books.
[k3105] No university would ask any student to devour literature as I did when this new world opened to me, of being able to read and understand.
[k3116] The teachings of Mr. Muhammad stressed how history had been “whitened”–when white men had written history books, the black man simply had been left out. Mr. Muhammad couldn’t have said anything that would have struck me much harder. I had never forgotten how when my class, me and all of those whites, had studied seventh-grade United States history back in Mason, the history of the Negro had been covered in one paragraph, and the teacher had gotten a big laugh with his joke, “Negroes’ feet are so big that when they walk, they leave a hole in the ground.”
[k3193] America’s U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson complained not long ago that in the United Nations “a skin game” was being played. He was right. He was facing reality. A “skin game” is being played. But Ambassador Stevenson sounded like Jesse James accusing the marshal of carrying a gun. Because who in the world’s history ever has played a worse “skin game” than the white man?
[k3701] The black people, God’s children, were Gods themselves, Master Fard taught. And he taught that among them was one, also a human being like the others, who was the God of Gods: The Most, Most High, The Supreme Being, supreme in wisdom and power–and His proper name was Allah.
[k3839] (People don’t want to believe the sums that even the minor underworld handles. Why, listen: in March 1964, a Chicago nickel-and-dime bets Wheel of Fortune man, Lawrence Wakefield, died, and over $760,000 in cash was in his apartment, in sacks and bags…all taken from poor Negroes…and we wonder why we stay so poor.)
[k3890] And then we discovered the best “fishing” audience of all, by far the best-conditioned audience for Mr. Muhammad’s teachings: the Christian churches.
[k4155] Two white policemen, breaking up a street scuffle between some Negroes, ordered other Negro passers-by to “Move on!” Of these bystanders, two happened to be Muslim brother Johnson Hinton and another brother of Temple Seven. They didn’t scatter and run the way the white cops wanted. Brother Hinton was attacked with nightsticks. His scalp was split open, and a police car came and he was taken to a nearby precinct.
The second brother telephoned our restaurant. And with some telephone calls, in less than half an hour about fifty of Temple Seven’s men of the Fruit of Islam were standing in ranks-formation outside the police precinct house.
[k4169] Harlem’s black people were long since sick and tired of police brutality.
[k4175] We wouldn’t learn until later that a steel plate would have to be put into Brother Hinton’s skull. (After that operation, the Nation of Islam helped him to sue; a jury awarded him over $70,000, the largest police brutality judgment that New York City has ever paid.)
[k4222] In late 1959, the television program was aired. “The Hate That Hate Produced”–the title–was edited tightly into a kaleidoscope of “shocker” images…Mr. Muhammad, me, and others speaking…strong-looking, set-faced black men, our Fruit of Islam…white-scarved, white-gowned Muslim sisters of all ages…Muslims in our restaurants, and other businesses…Muslims and other black people entering and leaving our mosques….
Every phrase was edited to increase the shock mood.
[k4231] Here was one of the white man’s most characteristic behavior patterns–where black men are concerned. He loves himself so much that he is startled if he discovers that his victims don’t share his vainglorious self-opinion.
[k4271] “The guilty, two-faced white man can’t decide what he wants. Our slave foreparents would have been put to death for advocating so-called ‘integration’ with the white man. Now when Mr. Muhammad speaks of ‘separation,’ the white man calls us ‘hate-teachers’ and ‘fascists’![”]
[k4280] “Mr. Malcolm X,” those devils would ask, “why is your Fruit of Islam being trained in judo and karate?”
[k4308] The reporters would try their utmost to raise some “good” white man whom I couldn’t refute as such. I’ll never forget how one practically lost his voice. He asked me did I feel any white men had ever done anything for the black man in America. I told him, “Yes, I can think of two. Hitler, and Stalin. The black man in America couldn’t get a decent factory job until Hitler put so much pressure on the white man. And then Stalin kept up the pressure–”
[k4317] But instead of abating, the black puppets continued ripping and tearing at Mr. Muhammad and the Nation of Islam–until it began to appear as though we were afraid to speak out against these “important” Negroes. That’s when Mr. Muhammad’s patience wore thin. And with his nod, I began returning their fire.
[k4901] The American black man should be focusing his every effort toward building his own businesses, and decent homes for himself. As other ethnic groups have done, let the black people, wherever possible, however possible, patronize their own kind, hire their own kind, and start in those ways to build up the black race’s ability to do for itself. That’s the only way the American black man is ever going to get respect.
[k5001] These “angry revolutionists” even followed their final instructions: to leave early. With all of those thousands upon thousands of “angry revolutionists,” so few stayed over that the next morning the Washington hotel association reported a costly loss in empty rooms.
Hollywood couldn’t have topped it.
In a subsequent press poll, not one Congressman or Senator with a previous record of opposition to civil rights said he had changed his views. What did anyone expect? How was a one-day “integrated” picnic going to counter-influence these representatives of prejudice rooted deep in the psyche of the American white man for four hundred years?
[k5025] I never experienced one college session that didn’t show me ways to improve upon my presentation and defense of Mr. Muhammad’s teachings.
[k5028] At the outset, always I’d confront such panels with something such as: “Gentlemen, I finished the eighth grade in Mason, Michigan. My high school was the black ghetto of Roxbury, Massachusetts. My college was in the streets of Harlem, and my master’s was taken in prison. Mr. Muhammad has taught me that I never need fear any man’s intellect who tries to defend or to justify the white man’s criminal record against the non-white man–especially the white man and the black man here in North America.”
[k5038] Question-and-answer periods are another area where, by now, again blindfolded, I can often tell you the ethnic source of a question. The most easily recognizable of these to me are a Jew in any audience situation, and a bourgeois Negro in “integrated” audiences.
My clue to the Jew’s question and challenges is that among all other ethnic groups, his expressed thinking, his expressed concerns, are the most subjective. And the Jew is usually hypersensitive. I mean, you can’t even say “Jew” without him accusing you of anti-Semitism. I don’t care what a Jew is professionally, doctor, merchant, housewife, student, or whatever–first he, or she, thinks Jew.
[k5045] But I know that America’s five and a half million Jews (two million of them are concentrated in New York) look at it very practically, whether they know it or not: that all of the bigotry and hatred focused upon the black man keeps off the Jew a lot of heat that would be on him otherwise.
For an example of what I am talking about–in every black ghetto, Jews own the major businesses. Every night the owners of those businesses go home with that black community’s money, which helps the ghetto to stay poor. But I doubt that I have ever uttered this absolute truth before an audience without being hotly challenged, and accused by a Jew of anti-Semitism. Why? I will bet that I have told five hundred such challengers that Jews as a group would never watch some other minority systematically siphoning out their community’s resources without doing something about it. I have told them that if I tell the simple truth, it doesn’t mean that I am anti-Semitic; it means merely that I am antiexploitation.
[k5927] That morning was when I first began to reappraise the “white man.” It was when I first began to perceive that “white man,” as commonly used, means complexion only secondarily; primarily it described attitudes and actions. In America, “white man” meant specific attitudes and actions toward the black man, and toward all other non-white men. But in the Muslim world, I had seen that men with white complexions were more genuinely brotherly than anyone else had ever been.
[k6047] Despite my firm convictions, I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.
[k6281] I remember that in the press conference, I used the word “Negro,” and I was firmly corrected. “The word is not favored here, Mr. Malcolm X. The term Afro-American has greater meaning, and dignity.” I sincerely apologized. I don’t think that I said “Negro” again as long as I was in Africa.
[k6675] The first thing I tell them is that at least where my own particular Black Nationalist organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, is concerned, they can’t join us. I have these very deep feelings that white people who want to join black organizations are really just taking the escapist way to salve their consciences. By visibly hovering near us, they are “proving” that they are “with us.”
[k6682] Aside from that, I mean nothing against any sincere whites when I say that as members of black organizations, generally whites’ very presence subtly renders the black organization automatically less effective. Even the best white members will slow down the Negroes’ discovery of what they need to do, and particularly of what they can do–for themselves, working by themselves, among their own kind, in their own communities.
[k6715] My father and most of his brothers died by violence–my father because of what he believed in. To come right down to it, if I take the kind of things in which I believe, then add to that the kind of temperament that I have, plus the one hundred percent dedication I have to whatever I believe in–these are ingredients which make it just about impossible for me to die of old age.
[k6768] When I am dead–I say it that way because from the things I know, I do not expect to live long enough to read this book in its finished form–I want you to just watch and see if I’m not right in what I say: that the white man, in his press, is going to identify me with “hate.”
[k6773] I will be labeled as, at best, an “irresponsible” black man. I have always felt about this accusation that the black “leader” whom white men consider to be “responsible” is invariably the black “leader” who never gets any results.
[k6780] And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America–then, all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine.
[k6784] During nineteen fifty-nine, when the public was becoming aware of the Muslims after the New York telecast “The Hate That Hate Produced,” I was in San Francisco, about to retire after twenty years in the U.S. Coast Guard.
[k6793] “You’re another one of the white man’s tools sent to spy!” he accused me sharply. I said I had a legitimate writing assignment and showed him my letter from the magazine stating that an objective article was wanted, one that would balance what the Muslims said of themselves and what their attackers said about them.
[k6798] Around the Muslim’s restaurant, I met some of the converts, all of them neatly dressed and almost embarrassingly polite. Their manners and miens reflected the Spartan personal discipline the organization demanded, and none of them would utter anything but Nation of Islam clich
[k6802] He said that I should talk about an article with Mr. Muhammad personally.
[k6803] The slightly built, shy-acting, soft-voiced Mr. Muhammad invited me to dinner with his immediate family in his mansion.
[k6809] My article entitled “Mr. Muhammad Speaks” appeared in early 1960, and it was the first featured magazine notice of the phenomenon.
[k6878] For perhaps a month I was afraid we weren’t going to get any book. Malcolm X was still stiffly addressing me as “Sir!” and my notebook contained almost nothing but Black Muslim philosophy, praise of Mr. Muhammad, and the “evils” of “the white devil.” He would bristle when I tried to urge him that the proposed book was his life.
[k6971] I’ve just become aware how closed my mind was now that I’ve opened it up again. That’s one of the characteristics I don’t like about myself. If I meet a problem I feel I can’t solve, I shut it out. I make believe that it doesn’t exist. But it exists.”
[k7030] There was something about this man when he was in a room with people. He commanded the room, whoever else was present.
[k7279] A few days later, however, he wrote in one of his memo books this, which he let me read, “Children have a lesson adults should learn, to not be ashamed of failing, but to get up and try again. Most of us adults are so afraid, so cautious, so ‘safe,’ and therefore so shrinking and rigid and afraid that it is why so many humans fail. Most middle-aged adults have resigned themselves to failure.”
[k8065] I tried to be a dispassionate chronicler. But he was the most electric personality I have ever met, and I still can’t quite conceive him dead. It still feels to me as if he has just gone into some next chapter, to be written by historians.
New York, 1965