Malcolm X (also known as Malcolm Little,
Detroit Red, and El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz)
The narrator and subject of the autobiography. As
a young boy Malcolm is bright and popular but feels excluded by
white people. He becomes a ruthless hustler on the streets of Boston
and New York but undergoes a change of heart during his time in
prison. After his release, he develops into an aggressive and persuasive
spokesman for the Nation of Islam. As an independent and international political
leader, he is tolerant, meditative, and ambitious.
The spiritual leader of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm
treats Elijah with immense respect even before he knows him, writing
him letters daily while still in prison. Though he seems like a
benevolent father figure, Elijah Muhammad becomes a jealous and defensive
leader as his health fails and as Malcolm becomes more powerful.
wife, a quiet and strong woman. The autobiography does not emphasize
Betty’s role, though she acts as Malcolm’s secretary, housekeeper,
and confidante. Betty endures his busy traveling and work schedule,
gives birth to five of his children, and witnesses his assassination.
best friend during his Boston years. Shorty is a musician who at
first leads and then follows Malcolm into a life of crime. Shorty
is a foil for Malcolm: while Malcolm converts to an aggressive hustler
lifestyle, Shorty leads a comparatively normal life. The differences
between the two men is clear in Shorty’s surprise at Malcolm’s foul
language and violent tendencies, which he witnesses when Malcolm
returns to Boston from New York.
half-sister on his father’s side. When Malcolm is an adolescent,
Ella provides him with a model of female strength and black pride.
She represents family unity within the autobiography. She welcomes
Malcolm into her home in Boston and always supports him, later lending
him money for his pilgrimage to Mecca.
father. A preacher and political organizer from Georgia, Earl is
a tall and outspoken authority figure in Malcolm’s early years.
Earl’s assassination by whites for preaching the Black Nationalist
ideas of Marcus Garvey makes him a martyr for black nationalism.
fair-skinned, black mother, who endures the worst of the Great Depression.
For Malcolm, Louise represents the harm that the white government does
even when it claims to be acting charitably. Welfare agents separate
Louise from her children and put her in a mental hospital, and Malcolm’s
insistence on visiting her regularly shows his strong commitment to
white girlfriend. Malcolm and Sophia do not love each other but
rather use each other as status symbols. Sophia represents the tempting
allure of white women for black men, and the emptiness of her relationship
with Malcolm shapes Malcolm’s skepticism about interracial romance.
first date, a quiet, middle-class black girl from Roxbury Hill.
When Malcolm dumps Laura for Sophia, Laura becomes involved with
drugs and prostitution. Laura is an innocent victim of the ruthless and
self-hating behavior that Malcolm observes in urban black communities.
Sammy the Pimp
A Harlem pimp and drug dealer. As close friends,
Malcolm and Sammy work together until tension develops between them
over Malcolm’s assault on one of Sammy’s girlfriends. This episode
shows that even the closest friendships easily crumble when gambling,
drugs, and violence are involved.
West Indian Archie
An older Harlem hustler. Archie pays Malcolm for
helping him run an informal gambling system in Harlem until they
break violently over a misunderstanding. Archie’s photographic memory
and aptitude in math exemplify the wasted potential of the black
prison inmate. Bimbi, the most vocal of Malcolm’s fellow inmates,
makes speeches that gain him the respect of guards and prisoners
alike. He demonstrates to Malcolm the power of independent thought
and persuasive argument, and thus serves as an inspiration to Malcolm
when Malcolm converts to Islam.
Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali)
The world heavyweight boxing champion. Generous and
understanding, Clay provides a place for Malcolm to stay during
the first days of Malcolm’s split from the Nation of Islam.
Malcolm’s younger brother. Malcolm takes Reginald
under his wing from an early age and continues to protect him in
Harlem. Malcolm’s later justification of Reginald’s eventual insanity
as retribution for sinning shows Malcolm’s commitment to the principles