The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Chapters Twelve & Thirteen
Summary—Chapter Twelve: Savior
Yes! Yes, that raping, red-headed devil was my grandfather! . . . . I hate every drop of the rapist’s blood that’s in me!
In August 1952, the prison releases Malcolm on parole into the custody of his brother Wilfred. Malcolm buys a wristwatch, a suitcase, and a pair of eyeglasses. In Detroit, Malcolm instantly appreciates the warmth and order of Wilfred’s strictly Muslim household. The solidarity and austerity of his first Nation of Islam temple meeting excites Malcolm. In Chicago Elijah Muhammad publicly likens Malcolm to the biblical figure Job, inviting everyone to watch the strength of Malcolm’s faith now that the safety of prison is gone and he is back out among the temptations of the real world. At dinner that night, Malcolm asks Elijah Muhammad about recruitment techniques, as he is eager to work to attract new members in Detroit. Elijah Muhammad advises Malcolm to court young people.
In Detroit Malcolm has little luck at first, persuading only a few neighborhood youth to visit the temple. Over several months, however, membership triples. During this period, Malcolm replaces his last name with “X” to represent the unknown African name he would have had if his ancestors not been kidnapped and enslaved. Malcolm begins to speak at temple meetings and gains confidence as an orator. He is surprised, humbled, and flattered when Elijah Muhammad appoints him as the assistant minister at the Detroit temple.
Malcolm soon learns Elijah Muhammad’s life story. Born in Georgia in 1897, Elijah Muhammad was small of stature but bold, especially when it came to issues of race. He mediated fights between his siblings and was frank but nonconfrontational with white employers. In 1931, in Detroit, Elijah Muhammad met Wallace D. Fard, a peddler and self-proclaimed prophet who converted him to his version of Islam. By the time Fard disappeared in 1934, Elijah Muhammad was at the helm of the Nation of Islam. Death threats from jealous rivals, however, compelled Elijah Muhammad to move himself and his family from city to city for seven years. He spent time in prison, supposedly for draft evasion, although he was in fact too old to serve in the military. Only in the 1940s did he reclaim his position as the head of the Nation of Islam.
Summary—Chapter Thirteen: Minister Malcolm X
Elijah Muhammad needs ministers for his growing nation, so Malcolm X quits his job at the Ford Motor Company and begins extensive training. During this time, Malcolm fully develops his rhetorical style. When Malcolm is ready, Elijah Muhammad sends him to Boston to aid in the founding of a temple there. Malcolm visits his old haunts and tries to convert Shorty, who loves white women and pork too much to be persuaded. Ella is amazed at Malcolm, and although she does not convert, she is happy to see he has changed. Once the Boston temple is up and running, Elijah Muhammad sends Malcolm to Philadelphia. Early in the summer of 1954, Muhammad appoints Malcolm to found the small New York Temple. As in Boston, Malcolm seeks out his old crowd. He discovers that Sammy the Pimp is dead and that West Indian Archie is dying. The lack of response to his initial teachings frustrates Malcolm, but he continues, and the temple grows. Malcolm and his followers develop techniques for drawing blacks from black nationalist rallies and churches that advocate a return to Africa. Malcolm has so much luck winning over Christians that he refines his speaking style with them in mind, emphasizing Christianity’s role in the oppression of blacks.
In 1956 a woman named Betty joins the New York temple. For ten years, Malcolm has been celibate and fully devoted to his work. He hardly courts Betty, but he approves of her from a distance. Malcolm introduces Betty to Elijah Muhammad, and then proposes marriage abruptly from a payphone in Detroit. They marry and settle in Queens, New York, and have four children while Malcolm is alive; a fifth child is born after Malcolm’s death.
In 1958, Malcolm’s half-sister, Ella, converts to the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam gets public recognition when police attack one of its members. The “Fruit of Islam,” the Nation’s elite youth group, leads a mass demonstration, standing ominously before the precinct house where the bleeding victim is being held and then before the hospital to which Malcolm has demanded the victim be taken. Later, the Nation of Islam wins $70,000 in a lawsuit against the city. Malcolm is so busy that the Nation buys him a car to use for his travel between cities. Having taken a vow of poverty, Malcolm has access to the Nation’s substantial resources but personally owns almost nothing. By 1965, there are sizable temples in Chicago, Detroit, and New York.
Analysis—Chapters Twelve & Thirteen
Malcolm’s purchase of a wristwatch, suitcase, and eyeglasses upon leaving Massachusetts state prison symbolizes his newfound time-conscious efficiency, tireless drive, and mature vision. If Malcolm’s earlier peaceful surrender to the Boston detective marks the beginning of his prison conversion, then the purchase of these amenities marks the completion of this same conversion as well as the beginning of his career of religious and political authority. Whereas his initial surrender to the detectives is a passive act of submission, this purchase is an active act of self-possession. Malcolm’s statement that “without fully knowing it, I was preparing for what my life was about to become” shows his instinctive determination. In picking up the tools of his trade as soon as he is released from prison, Malcolm makes a symbolic commitment to a life of authority and responsibility with the Nation of Islam and beyond.
The wristwatch, suitcase, and eyeglasses each symbolize an important aspect of Malcolm’s career as a Muslim minister and political figure. The wristwatch represents his obsession with efficiently managing his busy daily schedule. He is committed to the people and events of his daily life, not distanced from them as Elijah Muhammad and other religious leaders are. The suitcase represents Malcolm’s commitment to a life of constant work and frequent travel in the name of spreading Islam. His travel allows him to interact with other blacks nationwide and other minorities worldwide, and such experiences help him develop a more mature perspective on the struggle against oppression. Malcolm’s eyeglasses represent his newfound clarity of vision on race in America. Though the glasses serve the practical purpose of correcting the vision problems Malcolm has developed from years of reading in prison, they also serve the symbolic purpose of correcting his understanding of the issues at hand. His statement that “in all my years in the streets, I’d been looking at the exploitation that for the first time I really saw and understood” shows that his time in prison has made him see the race problem clearly. With his commitment to his message, connection to his people, and understanding of the problems plaguing his people, Malcolm is prepared to launch himself into a new and productive life.
In Chapter 12, “Savior,” both Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad compare Malcolm’s faith in Islam to Job’s faith in God, each using the biblical parable to make a different point. As the story goes, Satan challenged God to test Job’s faith by making him suffer through various trials. While Elijah Muhammad uses the story to highlight Malcolm’s ability to resist the temptations of his former life once released from prison, Malcolm uses the story to draw attention to the trial of his faith that his difficult relationship with Elijah Muhammad creates. Though these comparisons serve different purposes, both point out Malcolm’s ability to stand behind his ideological convictions and carry on a prolonged struggle against difficult odds.
Malcolm’s discussion of his relationship with Elijah Muhammad reveals that he sees Elijah Muhammad more as a god than as a human. Elijah Muhammad’s assertion that Malcolm will remain a faithful Muslim out of prison reciprocates and intensifies Malcolm’s faith in Elijah Muhammad. Elijah Muhammad’s confidence inspires years of near-absolute devotion from Malcolm, and Malcolm describes having more faith in Elijah Muhammad than in any other man. Malcolm foreshadows how this great faith in Elijah actually proves the downfall of their relationship with his statement that “I know today that I did believe in him more firmly than he believed in himself.” This quote implies that Allah’s greatest trial for Malcolm is Elijah Muhammad himself. Although Elijah Muhammad inspires Malcolm to persist in the face of adversity, his own faltering in the face of adversity later becomes an obstacle in their relationship.
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