NEW YORK – Malcolm X unpublished thoughts on race, his life and his work were unveiled just a few feet from where an assassin’s bullet struck him down 45 years ago.
After decades of languishing in obscurity, portions of previously unseen chapters of The Autobiography of Malcolm X were revealed as part of a celebration commemorating the slain civil rights leader’s 85th birthday.
The event, held Wednesday night at the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial & Education Center—the former Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, was the first time that the three rediscovered chapters — “The Negro”, “End of Christianity” and “Twenty Million Muslims” — had been made public.
“Most sincerely, I want my life story to do as much good for humanity as it possibly can for both races in America,” Gregory Reed, a Michigan-based lawyer who now owns the lost chapters, read aloud from the lost portions of the book. “That is the reason for this interim chapter.”
Reed said in 1992 he purchased the original autobiography manuscript along with the three lost chapters from Alex Haley’s estate.
“I have been laboring for 18 years to get this work out,” Reed said, adding, “It is my mission, to make sure that we view him in the proper context.”
Reed wouldn’t say exactly how much he paid, but acknowledged that the price was more than $100,000.
He read chapter excerpts to the packed, yet enraptured crowd—some of whom stood during the three-hour event, hosted by Extra correspondent AJ Calloway and featuring spoken word poetry, music, prayer and stories about the impassioned orator and civil rights colossus.
“My life has been a mirror of what the black ghetto across America present as a community of despair,” Reed read from the chapters, “and a way of life that warps millions of Negro minds into social problems of broken homes and families and tragedies. The word ‘ghetto’ today often meets our eyes and ears, but not even those who live there can convey its actual horror to anyone who lives somewhere else. I can only hope that the reporting of my life will show what happened to me. And that one can transform his circumstances to better one’s self and their children.”
The lost chapters consist of essays Malcolm wrote for inclusion in the autobiography, Reed said. But Grove Press released the book in October 1965 without the additional text. The additional chapters are scheduled to be published, although it’s unclear when or whether they’ll be included in the original autobiography. By 1977, The Autobiography of Malcolm X had sold six million copies. The tome later spent 19 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list in 1992 around the time when Malcolm X, the Spike Lee movie, was released.
Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audubon on Feb. 21, 1965, and Wednesday would have been his 85th birthday. At the event were some of Malcolm X’s contemporaries, including his bodyguard, Sidney Sealy and members of the Organization for Afro-American Unity, which Malcolm X founded in 1964.
In chapter excerpts Reed read, Malcolm railed against strained race relations in America and wrote how he hoped his life and work would help solve the problem.
“The races in America have just declared war with each other,” Reed read. “The black man is accusing and bitter. The white man is guilty, alarmed and confused. In this turmoil for them both, I think that when my life is looked upon in the right way, there might be drawn from it something of value for humanity.”
In other excerpts, Reed read, Malcolm also reflected on his own life.
“Today, it is my mission to end the white man’s continuous enslavement and imprisonment of America’s black man’s mind,” Reed read. “When I was for a decade, another ghetto hustler, once called Detroit Red, talking out of the side of my mouth. Today, the New York Times reports me as the second most sought after speaker on university campuses, after Barry Goldwater.”
In another excerpt, Malcolm wrote, “Today, the FBI and other agencies watch me wherever I go. Once every word I uttered was slang, or foul and today I am interviewed and quizzed by panels or experts on the major television and radio programs.”
After receiving a standing ovation, Ilyasah al-Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter and the author of Growing Up X, spoke about her father’s life and his legacy.
“By the time of his thirties, my father would be revered as an international icon and respected around the world as a brilliant man of integrity,” Shabazz said, “who would not compromise, despite relentless surveillance, harassment and threats by our government and the misappropriation of his image.”
She said one of her biggest concerns was the way her family story—and particularly her father—had been distorted over the years.
“That’s right! That’s right! Make it plain!” one onlooker shouted.
William Alex Haley, Haley’s son, also spoke at the event, and said Malcolm X and Haley spent about three years meeting on Grove Street in Greenwich Village in order to complete the autobiography. He said he soon planned to release his father’s FBI file, where Malcolm is often mentioned.
“They were friends,” he said.
Haley said without the Autobiography of Malcolm X, Roots wouldn’t have happened. “His (Alex Haley) legacy is tied to Malcolm,” Haley said.
Many attendees said they were blown away by the insight the additional chapters offered on Malcolm X’s life.
Carlos Riquelme, 52, immigrated from Peru two years ago and said he studied Malcolm X while learning to speak English.
“I read a lot about him,” Riquelme said. “I think he was a grand leader. He worked for the rights of black people.”
Janice Page and her daughters, Typhanie, 14, and Ricquesha, 16 drove 12 and a half hours from Michigan to attend the commemoration celebration.
“I learned a lot from the few words that the attorney read,” Page said. “It’s excellent. An excellent piece of history.”
Typhanie said listening to the lost chapters taught her more about the slain leader’s life. “I think it was an amazing experience to know what he went through,” she said, adding, “He went from the streets to becoming something like a legend.”