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The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Malcolm X & Alex Haley

Chapters Fourteen, Fifteen & Sixteen

Chapters Twelve & Thirteen

Chapters Fourteen, Fifteen & Sixteen, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary—Chapter Fourteen: Black Muslims

In 1957, after visiting the black-run Herald Dispatch in Los Angeles, Malcolm founds Muhammad Speaks, the Nation of Islam’s own newspaper. A surge of publicity comes in 1959, when a man named C. Eric Lincoln publishes a book called The Black Muslims in America and a program on the Nation called The Hate that Hate Produced airs on television. Both titles enrage Malcolm, who realizes that the media will spin everything for shock value. Soon, mainstream publications, including Life and Time, feature articles about the Nation of Islam. Malcolm now spends hours a day on the telephone defending the Nation and attacking his interviewers with countercharges, clarifications, and assertions of bias. Increasingly, organizations invite Malcolm to represent Elijah Muhammad on panels and lecture circuits.

In the fall of 1959, Malcolm travels as an emissary to places where leaders are becoming interested in the Nation of Islam project: Egypt, Arabia, Sudan, Nigeria, and Ghana. Exposed to more radical ideas, he becomes increasingly critical of black civil rights leaders, calling them “integration-mad Negroes” and “Uncle Toms.” At first, Elijah Muhammad discourages any disparagement of other black leaders, but when attacks on the Nation become too frequent, he lets Malcolm vent his feelings publicly. By 1960, the Nation of Islam starts holding mass rallies with Elijah Muhammad as the main attraction. At first the Nation admits no white people to these rallies, but eventually they admit the white press and then anyone with curiosity.

The size and militance of the Nation attracts the attention of the FBI and the police, who begin infiltrating rallies and tapping the telephones of higher-ups, including Malcolm X. Part of this government interest comes from the high proportion of Nation of Islam members who are or were in prison. Convicts embrace the Nation because their prison experiences have conditioned them both to take an especially grim view of white society and to excel at the discipline and austerity that the codes of the Nation demand. The Nation also succeeds in reforming drug addicts.

Summary—Chapter Fifteen: Icarus

On the recommendation of the aging Elijah Muhammad’s doctors, the Nation buys Elijah Muhammad a home in Arizona, where he begins to spend most of the year. Elijah Muhammad’s geographical distance and diminished health, as well as the growing administrative demands of the Nation, lead Malcolm to make a greater number of decisions without notifying Muhammad. By 1963 both the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X are inundated with publicity. Now the second most sought-after university lecturer in America, Malcolm X savors the excitement of the intellectual confrontations that follow his speeches at top universities. Elijah Muhammad disapproves of the university lecture circuit, while other Muslims frequently accuse Malcolm of trying to take over the Nation of Islam. Malcolm notices that his name is appearing less and less in Muhammad Speaks, the newspaper he himself founded. He begins turning down publicity opportunities in Life and Newsweek, hoping to reduce Elijah Muhammad’s jealousy.

Summary—Chapter Sixteen: Out

Malcolm’s relationship to the Nation of Islam becomes more complex when Elijah Muhammad faces paternity suits from two temple secretaries. At first, Malcolm pretends that he does not know about the allegations and changes his temple teachings to skirt the issue of the moral code. Eventually, however, he approaches Elijah Muhammad for advice. Elijah Muhammad compares himself to the great men of scripture whose accomplishments outweigh their occasional transgressions. Malcolm accepts this explanation and assumes that Elijah Muhammad will confess and explain himself to the Nation. Elijah Muhammad does not publicly confess, however.

Relations worsen between Malcolm and the Nation of Islam after President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. Malcolm breaks an order by Elijah Muhammad that no minister comment on the assassination. He calls the murder in Dallas a case of “the chickens coming home to roost,” a statement that implies that the murder was somehow justifiable. To distance the Nation from such a controversial stance, Elijah Muhammad silences Malcolm for a ninety-day period. Malcolm soon realizes, however, that Elijah Muhammad’s outrage over the Kennedy quote is merely an excuse for the Nation to cast him off, as it has been plotting to do for some time. Malcolm is deeply shocked at Elijah Muhammad’s betrayal of him, describing it as a sudden divorce after twelve years of beautiful marriage.

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