In 1992, the original manuscripts of Malcolm X’s autobiography surfaced at an auction held by the estate of writer Alex Haley. The miscellaneous papers, alleged to include three missing chapters from the activist’s account, had been stashed away by Haley, the volume’s co-author, since Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965. Thanks to the sale, the public was finally being granted a tantalizing glimpse of these “lost” works—or so it seemed.
Gregory Reed, a prominent Detroit attorney who once represented civil rights activist Rosa Parks and singer Aretha Franklin, purchased the lot for more than $100,000 and promptly locked the papers away in his safe. They remained there, largely unseen by all except Reed (and one scholar who was granted a 15-minute peek at some of the documents), until the lawyer unexpectedly filed for bankruptcy last year.
Now, Jennifer Schuessler reports for the New York Times, the Malcolm X manuscripts are just weeks away from (actually) being made available to the public.
Last Thursday, the full 241-page manuscript of The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley, as well as a 25-page typewritten chapter entitled “The Negro” and a series of fragmented notes, reappeared as key lots in Guernsey’s “African American Historic and Cultural Treasures” auction. The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which already houses a substantial collection of Malcolm X’s writings, correspondence and personal papers, acquired the unpublished chapter for $7,000, and the manuscript and notes for an undisclosed sum.
Malcolm X’s autobiography has commanded intrigue since its posthumous publication in 1965. Produced by an unusual collaboration between the human rights activist and Haley, a pro-integrationist, liberal Republican whom biographer Manning Marable once described as “deeply hostile to Malcolm X’s politics,” the text has long been rumored to include unpublished sections cut after being deemed too controversial.
According to Guernsey’s, Haley allowed the book’s editors to chop three chapters from the final text despite having promised Malcolm X before his death that the pages would be included. The auction house notes that the back-and-forth annotations seen on the manuscripts suggest Haley often attempted to “soften X’s words or his views,” while the Times’ Schuessler further writes that “Haley urges him to pull back on the soapbox pronouncements or to tone down the fierce denunciations of white people.”
When Reed was custodian of the papers, he reportedly identified the missing chapters’ titles as “The Negro,” “20 Million Muslims” and “The End of Christianity.” He read excerpts of the text to an eager audience back in 2010, projecting scans of title pages marked “Urgent” in strident red ink, but according to event attendee Zaheer Ali, failed to offer many new insights. “I left thinking to myself, I don’t think this is going to be what people think it’s going to be,” Ali tells Schuessler.
It’s unclear which parts of the autobiography Reed revealed, but according to Schuessler, the Schomburg’s newly acquired chapter offers a sharp critique of the hypocrisies of white America and “delusions of ‘integrationist’ blacks … who seek its acceptance.”
In the text, Malcolm X writes, “We are like the Western deserts; tumbleweed, rolling and tumbling whichever way the white wind blows. And the white man is like the cactus, deeply rooted, with spines to keep us off.”
Kevin Young, director of the Schomburg Center, tells the Associated Press’ Verena Dobnik that it’s “too early to tell” what the loose papers purchased alongside the manuscript say, describing them simply as “literal fragments and literary fragments.”
Soon, members of the public will be able to judge these fragments, as well as the unpublished chapter and full manuscript, for themselves. According to a press release, the materials are set to arrive at the center in the coming weeks. They will be available to view by appointment.