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Free Study Guide-The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X-Free Notes
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Historical Information

The "Autobiography of Malcolm X" gives the reader information on the socio-economic and cultural life of the blacks in the US between the period 1925-1965. The book begins with the Ku Klux Klan threatening Malcolm's mother in Omaha, Nebraska a few months before Malcolm was born. The Klan men leave a warning for Malcolm's father because of his involvement in Marcus Garvey's organization. The scene reflects the tension that existed between the blacks and whites in America then. The 1920's witnessed the growth of the movement founded by Marcus Garvey. Through his organization, the UNIA, Garvey tried to develop racial pride among the blacks. He believed that the condition of blacks would not improve if they live in America. Therefore, he spoke about the need of establishing a new homeland in Africa for the black Americans. Though Garvey was imprisoned for mail fraud in 1925, his work was carried on, for some time by loyal and committed members like Malcolm's father Rev. Earl Little. The Garvey movement, which gathered momentum in the '20's, offered a new hope for many blacks who were deeply disturbed by the race riots of 1918 and 1919. Soon after World War I in the summer of 1919, a series of race riots broke out across the country. A black poet, James Weldon Johnson, has described this violent period as "the red summer" for at least a hundred people (mostly black) lost their lives and many more were injured in these riots.

In the book, young Malcolm's contact and friendship with black musicians reveal not just his love for music but also tells the reader of the times he was living in. The 1920's in America witnessed what is known as the Harlem Renaissance in American history. The Harlem Renaissance was an outpouring of black literature and music in America. It demonstrated that blacks had talent and could produce and participate in the fine arts, which not only blacks but also the whites in America can appreciate. Besides noted writers like Langston Hughes, black musicians also gained fame during this period. A black band leader, W.C. Handy, who had composed "St. Louis Blues" in 1914, came to be known as the father of blues. Jazz music grew out of black folk music and ballads. Two black band leaders, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, became world renowned jazz musicians.


The reader also gets an idea of the hardships that the common people, especially blacks, faced during the Great Depression. Malcolm's own experiences as a young schoolboy in Lansing, Michigan during this period tells the reader of what life must have been like for poor black families during the Depression years. Again, the reader is given a glimpse of the conditions prevailing during World War II. During this period all young men were expected to voluntarily join the armed forces. Malcolm's attempts to avoid the draft orders reflect the plight of many American youth who did wish to join the army then. This was true of many black youth then who had always felt discriminated and shunned by white society, but now during war, they were expected to sacrifice their lives for a country, which had never accepted them as her own.

About Alex Haley - Alex Palmer Haley (1921 -) was born in Ithaca, NY and grew up in Henning, Tennessee and other southern communities. He served in the Coast Guard from 1939 to 1959 and began to write articles and short stories. During this period he met Malcolm X to interview him on the Nation of Islam and its activities. This was the first of a series of meetings between the two men. Initially, Malcolm X, was wary of the writer and even called him "a tool of the white devils". Gradually Malcolm began to consider him as a friend he could trust during the most difficult phase of his life.

During his career as a freelance writer, Haley edited The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965). Alex Haley is a noted American author today whose book "Roots" (1976) is well known all over the world.

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