Controversial leaders rarely make the pages of history books. Especially Black leaders. This year marks fifty-five years since the release of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Spoken by Malcolm X as told to writer Alex Haley, the famous work profiles the life of the then thirty nine year old former member of Nation of Islam from his humble beginnings to his thoughts of where his life was going, not knowing that moments later it would be cut short.
The book started in 1963 when Haley, then a writer for Playboy, was hired to write about X. Haley an X met in a Harlem restaurant known to the Nation of Islam community. Writer Todd Burroughs in his 2015 article for The Root “50 Years Later, the Autobiography of Malcolm X is Still Must Read”, writes, “Haley and Malcolm spent a large part of several days in that restaurant, talking… both men had the hot, current-affairs hand. Haley had established himself as a full-time freelancer in his four years out of the U.S Coast Guard… Haley had done articles on the Nation before, but this one-on-one with Minister Malcolm in Playboy- a dramatic telling of the man’s life in Lansing, Michigan, and on the streets of Harlem before he was saved by NOI leader Elijah Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, got book publishers interested”.
Remember, this was before Haley became known for his later work on the Black experience, Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Malcom X had a significant about of notoriety at this time for his decision to break away from the Nation of Islam. Many say that was the impetus behind his murder. His story was an unusual one as stories written by Black authors that spoke out against the mainstream white narrative were slowly beginning to pick up traction in the later half of the twenty-first century. Burroughs continues to say, “the Civil Rights movement was well under way, and black writers like Haley, James Baldwin, and Gordon Parks took full advantage of the new need to educate white elite America on the increasingly angry Negro mood.”
Fifty-five years later, the legacy of Malcolm X still has an immense impact on Black culture. X has become a rhetorical symbol of rebellion and his speeches and philosophies have been referenced through all mediums, from television and film to music and poetry. The Autobiography of Malcolm X has found itself on bookshelves of many academics and will continue to stand the test of time as its rhetoric continues to be reborn.