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Free Study Guide-The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X-Free Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

Chapter 1

Nightmare

Summary

The first chapter begins with an incident that occurs a few months before Malcolm's birth. One night, his mother is alone at home in Omaha, Nebraska, putting Malcolm's elder siblings to sleep. Some Ku Klux Klan member's ride up to the house and call out for Malcolm's father - Rev. Earl Little. Earl Little is a Baptist minister and a committed `organizer' for the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founded by Marcus Garvey. His mother, Louise Little, opens the door and stands where the men can see her pregnant condition. Standing there, she informs the hooded men that her husband is away preaching in Milwaukee. The Klansmen warn her that if her husband continues to arouse the "good" negroes of their town, he will pay for it with his life. Before the men gallop away into the dark night carrying flaring torches, they circle round the house shattering every windowpane in sight with their rifle butts. Malcolm learns about this incident from his mother some years later.

Malcolm is his father's seventh child. His father has three children from a previous marriage- Ella, Earl, and Mary. They all live in Boston. His marriage with Louise gives him a daughter and a son - Hilda and Philbert respectively. They are followed by Malcolm, who is born in an Omaha hospital. From Omaha, the Little family moves to Milwaukee, where Malcolm's little brother Reginald is born.

They do not stay long in Milwaukee. His father wants to find a place where they can raise their own food and maybe build a business of his own. This desire to set up a business is due to the teachings of Marcus, which stresses black economic independence from the white man.


The family moves to Lansing, Michigan where Earl Little buys a house and makes a living by doing freelance Christian preaching in the local black Baptist churches. His work requires him to be busy primarily on Sundays, so during the week he travels around spreading the ideas of Marcus Garvey. Once again a white racist group called the Black Legion harasses him. The members of this group wear black robes instead of white (the Ku Klux Klan members wore white robes and hoods). Soon after Malcolm's younger sister Yvonne is born, when Malcolm is barely four years old, another nightmarish incident occurs, which remains permanently etched in his memory. One night the family wakes up amidst gun shots and smoke. It is their father who had shouted and shot at two white men who were running away after having set their house on fire. Malcolm recalls standing out in the yard with his family that night, crying and yelling his head off, as their house is burned to the ground. The police arrived and stood watching as the fire raged on. After the fire, Malcolm recalls that his father was called to the police station and questioned about a permit for the pistol he used to fire shots at the men who had set their house on fire. The police frequently visited their house looking for the gun. They were never able to find it for it was hidden inside a pillow.

Earl Little managed to prevail on some of his friends to feed and care for his family until he was able to a find a place of his own in the outskirts of East Lansing. But they could not stay here for long since they were subjected to fresh threats and harassment. They then moved two miles out of town into the country. Earl Little built a four-room house here with his own hands. This is where Malcolm spent his childhood. His childhood memories consisted of constant friction between his parents. His father beat his mother often in fits of anger. His father was violent with the children too. However, Malcolm recalls that his father hardly ever hit him. This is because he was the lightest (in skin color) among the siblings at home. While the others were dark, he was the only one in the Little family, who was brown. Like many other other Afro-Americans, his father had learned to hate his own dark color and favor anyone who was lighter. Years later, Malcolm came to hate his brown color. Malcolm had got the light color from his mother who was extremely fair and with her straight black hair she hardly looked like a black woman. Louise's father was a white man back in West Indies - her native place. Louise was too ashamed to mention or talk about him. Malcolm, who as a child had always been proud of his light complexion, later came to hate every 'drop of that rapist's (his white grandfather) blood in him'.

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