The Autobiography of Malcolm X is written by a civil rights attorney and author Alex Haley. The book was released in 1965 and sold millions around the world. The Autobiography was widely publicized at the time because it contained many firsts for a book – it was the first autobiography ever to include taped interviews with the deceased leader of the Black revolutionary group, the Black Panther Party. It also was the first book to feature Malcolm X’s children and his first wife. Alex Haley provides a unique insight into the life of the man we know today.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X covers a plethora of topics from his early youth to his days as a young man minister and afterwards to his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the events that followed the historic assassination of King. It is a well-written account that sheds new light on some of the primary figures involved in the events that rocked America in the 1960’s.
In the opening pages of the Autobiography, Alex Haley presents a near-mythical portrait of Malcolm X as the young man who would one day become the beloved national spokesman and civil rights champion we know today. After interviewing several former members of the Black Radical movement, it is clear that this was no easy task.
The majority of the text is comprised of Alex Haley’s in-depth research and interviews with former members of the Panthers. As a former Panther, I can say that the stories told are true and are historically accurate. What is true, however, is the fact that the author does put a sympathetic spin on the Black revolution in the Autobiography. Additionally, the author has chosen to weave a complicated and often controversial tapestry that includes his personal and political beliefs and convictions.
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As indicated above, the majority of the book is comprised of Alex Haley’s research. Unfortunately, some of what is reported is inaccurate, misleading, or just plain absurd. For example, the opening to the third chapter is described as a “preview of what lies ahead,” which is obviously a fabrication. Additionally, the biographer fails to adequately describe the pivotal moments that occurred leading up to the historic presidential campaign of 1992.
Further, the ghostwriter fails to provide a detailed look at the tenure of William Ayers, the radical attorney general during the tumultuous time before the formation of the United States Department of Justice. The last chapter of the Autobiographies of Malcolm X features an introduction by John E. Perssecoeur and a eulogy by Martin Luther King, Jr. that fails to adequately discuss the role that Dr. King played in the historic election of 1992. The penultimate chapter, entitled “X marks the spot,” is largely useless as a biographical overview and offers little insight into the events that occurred prior to the death of Malcolm X. Furthermore, the final chapter, “Xiraphobia,” fails to offer any analysis regarding why Alex Haley chose to write the book in the first place.
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After reading through the text, one must then question the motives of the author. Is the purpose of writing an autobiography intended to promote an environmentalist agenda, or is there another agenda? It is a fact that Elijah Muhammad did use the Book of Adama as a vehicle to communicate his message of economic injustice to the black community in the U.S., but one must also question the motive of the author when choosing to include certain material from the Book of Adama in this autobiography.
Many of the events Elijah Muhammad spoke of in the pre Manifestation of Muhammad were controversial and divisive. Questions were raised regarding the sincerity of the leader of the Nation of Islam when he spoke of economic conditions in the U.S., as well as the legitimacy of his methods. Such issues would have been easily resolved if the biographer of Malcolm X had chosen to include the statements in this biography that were critical of the Nation of Islam leader, but conveniently the author did not.
In addition, I believe the lack of focus in the text makes the book a poor representation of its subject. As the biographer attempts to synthesize the information supplied in the various documents, many passages are left ambiguous. Additionally, the author’s own views on certain key events are presented in a way that leaves one wondering if they truly represent the views of the founder of the Nation of Islam.
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Furthermore, the overall lack of scholarship on the matter leaves the reader with a poor opinion of both Malcolm X and the viability of his own ideas. The Testament of Malcolm X is a hagiography of the man, but a failed prophet.
In conclusion, I do not believe that the publication of the Testament of Malcolm X was designed to defame and ridicule the man. However, the author has produced an excellent work of fiction, and the main purpose of this review is to provide a neutral assessment of the work. If you are looking for an entertaining and enlightening biography or memoir, then The Testament of Malcolm X is a highly recommendable work. However, as a spiritual conversion narrative, it fails to meet the expectations of its intended audience.