I first read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley, while in high school. At that time, what stood out were his experiences as a young man putting lye on his hair to straighten it out (which, he points out, is the kind of self-inflicted pain some blacks put on themselves to conform to white notions of beauty), his reading habit picked up in prison and details like his statement that he always wore a watch because he knew his time was limited and that, in restaurants, he always sat facing the door so he could see who was coming in. Of course, knowing that he feared for his life and that he was killed only added to the sense of urgency of the book.
Most of all, what I took away from the book was his final transformation that was sparked by his hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. In seeing Muslims of all colors from all nations, he rejected his previous anti-white statements and recognized a universal humanity and that fighting racism was a human struggle. Soon after, though, he was killed.
Since first reading the book, I have also incorporated portions of it into college writing courses I have taught over the years, especially the passages when, in prison, he states that reading transformed him, beginning with copying out the dictionary by hand.
I suppose it was inevitable that as my word-base broadened, I could for the first time pick up a book and read and now begin to understand what the book was saying. Anyone who has read a great deal can imagine the new world that opened. Let me tell you something; from then until I left that prison, in every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading on my bunk. … In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life. … No university would ask any student to devour literature as I did when this new world opened up to me, of being able to read and understand.
The previous authors and writings featured on this blog:
“The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano”
“Our Nig” by Harriet Wilson
“Twelve Years A Slave” by Solomon Northup
“The Souls of Black Folks” by W.E.B. Du Bois
“Cane” by Jean Toomer
“The Great Negro Plot” by Mat Johnson
“Passing” by Nella Larsen
“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass