By: Jennifer Peltz
NEW YORK — Decrying American race relations as a near-war, Malcolm X expressed hope that his tumultuous life story could help blacks and whites, according to a never-published introduction to his best-selling autobiography.
The introduction, read publicly for the first time Wednesday, May 19th, underscores the ambition, personal-as-political power and foreboding of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” published shortly after the civil rights leader was assassinated in 1965. The date marked Malcolm X ‘s Birthday.
“I’m writing this book for the best interests of the Negro and the white man in America,” begins the introduction, read by a Detroit lawyer who bought it from the estate of the autobiography’s collaborator, Alex Haley.
“Most sincerely I want my life story to do as much good for America and for both races as it possibly can. … I give my life to be used to benefit America and humanity, that America will learn that the Negro’s problem is a challenge to America’s consciousness and that the Negro is America’s problem.”
The existence of the introduction, and three other unpublished chapters apparently intended for the 19-chapter political classic, has been known since entertainment attorney Gregory J. Reed bought them at a 1992 auction of Haley’s estate. Some pages have been exhibited in a Detroit museum.
But Reed on Wednesday read it publicly for the first time, to an audience of hundreds at the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center. The organization was founded by the civil rights leader’s late widow and housed in the building where he was killed.
It’s unclear why the introduction or the other chapters weren’t in the book, said Morgan Entrekin, who heads the autobiography’s original publisher, Grove Press. Now called Grove/Atlantic Inc., the publisher is talking with Reed about possibly releasing the unpublished sections.
The introduction echoes the themes of the book, which traces Malcolm X’s evolution from a child who lost his parents to violence and mental illness, to a teenager lured into ghetto vice and crime, to a burglary convict drawn to a burgeoning black Muslim movement, and finally to a fiery voice for black empowerment.
Portraying his experience as a reflection of racial oppression, Malcolm X says he aims “to end the white man’s enslavement of the black man’s mind.” Apparently written in 1964, it describes the state of American race relations as “just this side of war.”
It also reflects Malcolm X’s sense that his life was at risk.
“Today I have not the time to write a book merely with the ambition to excite or stimulate some readers’ minds,” he observes, foreshadowing haunting predictions of his violent death.
Reed said he bought the unseen autobiography chapters, as well as the manuscript of the published book, to ensure their conservation. He spent more than $120,000, “a lot of money for me, but at the same time, it was really a steal for mankind,” he said in an interview.
He has occasionally given talks about some of the material, including an unpublished chapter setting out a 13-point plan for blacks to achieve economic, social and cultural independence as a prelude to “true integration.”
The missing chapters delve into Malcolm X’s philosophy and ideas for improving the country, rather than focusing on events in his life, Reed says.
One of the civil rights era’s most controversial and compelling figures, Malcolm X rose to fame as the Nation of Islam’s chief spokesman, proclaiming the black Muslim organization’s message at the time: racial separatism as a road to self-actualization. He famously urged blacks to claim civil rights “by any means necessary” and referred to whites as “devils.”
But after breaking with the Nation of Islam in 1964 and making an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, he espoused a more internationalist approach to human rights and began emphasizing that he didn’t view all whites as racists. He also took the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
He was shot to death on Feb. 21, 1965, as he began a speech at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom, now the Shabazz center. He was 39.
The only man ever to admit involvement in the assassination, Thomas Hagan, 69, was paroled last month from a prison work-release program. Two men convicted with him — who he said were not among his four accomplices — were paroled in the 1980s. No one else has ever been charged.
Hagan has said the assassins acted out of rage at Malcolm X’s criticism of the Nation of Islam’s then-leader, Elijah Muhammad.
Often branded a demagogue and extremist during his lifetime, Malcolm X was celebrated with a postage stamp a quarter-century after his death. The autobiography and Spike Lee’s 1992 film, “Malcolm X,” helped build his stature as an agent of social change.
Ilyasah Shabazz, one of Malcolm X’s daughters, and William Alex Haley, the author’s son, said at the reading they appreciated Reed’s efforts to preserve the civil rights leader’s legacy.
As for the missing chapters, “it doesn’t matter what happened to them,” Haley said. “It matters that we can read them today.”