In keeping with the spirit of Black History Month – and to get my mind off the fact that three of his and Betty Shabazz’s daughters are reportedly feuding over her $1.4 million estate – I offer to BAW readers the following list of books that are must reading for anyone who wishes to learn more about Malcolm X, his life and his legacy.
1. “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (1965). I have a bias against autobiographies. They tend to be heavy on the auto and light on the bio. This one is no different, but it’s as good a starting point as any.
2. “Malcolm X Speaks” (1965). This book contains the famous “Message to the Grassroots” speech Malcolm gave in Detroit late in 1963, before his break with the Nation of Islam. The remainder of the speeches in the book are those Malcolm made after the split.
3. “Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America” by Bruce Perry (1991). The publisher billed this book as the first “complete biography” of Malcolm X. It contains some revealing and engrossing information, but a better biography is …
4. “The Death and Life of Malcolm X” by Peter Goldman (1973, 1979). Goldman was a Newsweek reporter who knew Malcolm personally. This book gives significant biographical information and Goldman’s account of the relationship he, a white reporter, had with “the angriest black man in America.”
An interesting side note about Goldman’s book: In the 1973 version, he was convinced that Malcolm’s assassins were the three men convicted of fatally shooting him on Feb. 21, 1965. But in the 1979 version, Goldman had changed his mind and presented his argument about why two of the men convicted may have been innocent.
5. “The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad” by Karl Evanzz (1999). Although a biography of Elijah Muhammad, this book has some darned insightful stuff about Malcolm as well.
6. “The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X” by Karl Evanzz (1992). If you’re one of those who doesn’t buy the official version of Malcolm X’s assassination, this is the book for you. Evanzz gives all the sordid details about which FBI informants may have had a hand in giving the order for a Nation of Islam hit squad from Newark, N.J. to blast Malcolm into oblivion as he gave a speech in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom.
7. “Seventh Child: A Family Memoir of Malcolm X” by Rodnell Collins (1998). Collins is Malcolm’s nephew, the son of Malcolm’s sister, Ella Collins, about whom Malcolm spoke so fondly of in his autobiography. Collins writes not only about his famous uncle, but also of the influence his mother had in making Malcolm X the firebrand he was in the 1950s and 1960s.
An interesting note: Collins gives details that show at least two of Malcolm’s ancestors were the dreaded “house Negroes” Malcolm was always excoriating. Collins also gives the reason why his mother and other family members all but disappeared in Spike Lee’s movie “Malcolm X.”
8. “Remembering Malcolm” by Benjamin Karim with Peter Skutches and David Gallen (1992). This is my favorite book about Malcolm X. Karim was Malcolm’s assistant at Harlem’s Mosque Number Seven. When Malcolm bolted from the Nation of Islam, Karim went with him. This book gives a darned good portrait of what Malcolm was like as a husband, father, minister and teacher in classes held at the mosque.
9. “The End of White World Supremacy: Four Speeches by Malcolm X” (1971). This is the most fascinating book about Malcolm X, mainly because of the last speech, for which the book is named.
This was the speech that Malcolm made about two weeks after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In the question-and-answer session, Malcolm made his infamous and controversial “chickens coming home to roost” comment about Kennedy’s slaying. NOI leader Elijah Muhammad suspended Malcolm for the comments, leading to the historic split.
In his autobiography, Malcolm tried to play the victim role, claiming his comment was a much-needed observation about the climate of hatred and violence in America circa 1963. The question about Kennedy, he claimed, “inevitably” came up.
Inevitably hell. Malcolm made no fewer than 10 references to Kennedy in the speech, all of them negative. The question about Kennedy’s assassination didn’t “inevitably” come up; Malcolm skillfully maneuvered – dare I say, “suckered”? – the assembled press members into asking the very question he wanted them to ask.
See why I don’t trust autobiographies?