Personal storytelling could be a means for collective liberation.
Indeed, the weight given to Malcolm’s political vision in the book at times led to tensions with Haley.
Whatever the reasoning, “The Negro” is a fragment of the book Malcolm today.
We will never fully know that book, of course, but “The Negro” chapter forces us, finally, to engage with it.
• • • Haley excitedly wrote that “The Negro” was “guaranteed to upset the NAACP and [White] Citizens Councils, alike.” But the chapter, crucially, is more than just provocation.
Today the essay’s title may sound like the product of a bygone era, but to Malcolm the term was always outdated, an ideological fiction of white supremacy.
As political philosopher Brandon Terry reminded us in these pages on the fiftieth anniversary of King’s death this year, “There are costs to canonization.” The primary vehicle of canonization in Malcolm’s case has been The project first took shape in 1963, when Malcolm signed an agreement with journalist Alex Haley to co-author the book for Doubleday Press.
(It was the first book for both writers.) The contract stipulated that Malcolm would have ultimate say over the final version: “Nothing can be in the manuscript, whether a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter, or more that you do not completely approve of.” But Malcolm would never see the final book, which was published instead by Grove Press after his assassination in 1965.
Malcolm Little, born one of seven children in 1925 to disciples of Pan-African activist Marcus Garvey, was imbued with black self-reliance during his childhood in Lansing, Michigan.
His father, Earl, was killed under suspicious circumstances—many suspect the Black Legion, a white hate group—when Malcolm was six years old.