It’s the stuff of recent Malcolm X legend! Born with the name “Malcolm Little,” he was a Muslim minister and human rights activist. He is also one of the most important figures in the 20th century, known for the book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which was finished and published shortly after his assassination in 1965 — without three chapters, which were considered especially controversial.
While there is some anecdotal evidence that the chapters still existed, as part of Alex Haley’s papers. According to The New York Times, “one biographer was allowed a 15-minute look at some of the papers, but otherwise they have been mostly locked away, surrounded by a haze of cultivated mystery.” That is, until now.
While there’s no mention of the entirety of the missing material, the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture purchased at least one “lost” chapter, entitled “The Negro” at auction. Then they negotiated the purchase of “nearly a dozen other unpublished fragments.
The (re)appearance of previously “missing” or “lost” manuscripts is always exciting to scholars and academics. In this case, in particular, the papers could offer further insight into Malcolm X — the controversies of his life and writings.
Why The Controversy – Banned Book?
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is banned due to its controversial societal views on racism, violence, and politics. Alex Haley put together the book based on a series of interviews he’d conducted in 1963 and 1965. There has been some debate as to how much influence Haley really had on the “voice” of Malcolm X (some sources even refer to Haley as a ghostwriter), but there’s a wealth of evidence to substantiate his views on many of the his most controversial topics, including: black pride, black nationalism, and pan-Africanism.
Of course, even with the combination of controversial and incendiary ideas, the book is regularly regarded as one of the most influential books in American literature. Still, critics have called for banning and censoring The Autobiography of Malcolm X for fear that it would incite violence or intensify the racial divide.
In 1993, parents challenged the book under claims that it “disrupted racial harmony,” and Jacksonville students were only allowed to check the book out of the library if they had a permission slip from their parents.
Education of Malcolm X
Some critics have also denounced the Autobiography as dangerous due to his views on education. Some point to his criticism of a “one paragraph” depiction of black history in his school textbook, through which his teacher laughed as he read aloud about “slaves and then were freed, and how they were usually lazy and dumb and shiftless…”
With such a rich history of controversy, the unpublished material may offer even more insight into Malcolm X. As Kevin Young said when he purchased the unpublished writings, “To have the version with Malcolm X’s corrections, and to be able to see his thoughts taking shape, is incredibly powerful.”