Those among us who embrace the legacy of one of the 21st century’s most revolutionary thinkers nearly 40 years after his assassination have had much to ponder.
Beginning with last month’s parole of convicted Malcolm X shooter Thomas Hagan, also known as Talmadge Hayer – the only man caught in an alleged squad of five killers – we’ve recalled the days when Minister Malcolm rallied Harlem, traveled the world, and sought to wake us up to the truth of our greatness as people and our right to freedom “by any means necessary.” A few wonder what he’d say about Hagan’s release, particularly many who consider Malcolm’s murder one of the greatest crimes committed against Black people in modern times, and predict Hagan’s death since word of his parole became public. The record makes it simple: Malcolm, who accepted responsibility for teaching the blind faith to Nation of Islam members that Hagan says led him to fire gunshots that tragic 1965 day, would urge forgiveness. But this, of course, would be the more worldly, mature Malcolm X who could clearly reflect upon the period when he followed Elijah Muhammad, head of the Nation that Malcolm helped build in the 1950s and 1960s.
Detroit lawyer Gregory Reed is re-visiting Malcolm’s thought during perhaps America’s most turbulent time. Having bought three unpublished chapters of the manuscript to The Autobiography of Malcolm X from the late Alex Haley’s estate nearly 20 years ago, Reed recently announced plans to publish the writings that were created with Haley’s assistance. Promoting them as “lost,” Reed says the chapters were deliberately withheld after Malcolm’s death “to keep the masses in the dark and to maintain power and control over the majority by the few in power.” Without saying who was responsible, he adds that censoring the chapters was done to “maintain status quo and prevent any unification by the Black masses, and control the economic base.”
While no student of his life would dispute that Malcolm X sought precisely opposite goals, there’s no evidence that the reason Reed’s chapters were omitted had anything to do with this. Researchers including author Peter Goldman, who knew Malcolm personally and wrote the excellent The Death and Life of Malcolm X, say that the chapters weren’t “lost” at all.
“The chapters Reed is publishing were written by Haley before Malcolm’s hajj (Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca), when he still professed allegiance to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, even though they had parted ways,” Goldman says.
Those familiar with the best-selling Autobiography know of Malcolm’s split with Muhammad over the leader’s moral choices and what Malcolm later called false religious teachings. “The End of Christianity,” one of Reed’s chapter titles, indeed, suggests that it was written before Malcolm developed his own spiritual and political outlook, since, as a Nation of Islam spokesman he had attacked Christian doctrine. After visiting Mecca, he claimed friendships with Christians and support for people of all backgrounds so long as they respected human rights.
“Whatever chapters Haley had written, outlined or imagined then cannot be considered Malcolm’s final words on race in America,” Goldman says. “They were, rather, his last words as a minister of the Nation of Islam, and they were withheld at his instruction to Haley.”
It’s vital, then, as Reed addresses audiences this May 19, Malcolm X’s 85th birthday, and in this time that leads to renewed attention for the man Ossie Davis called “our Black, shining prince,” that we let Malcolm’s evolving truth shine in his memory. To do less than “hear” his words in speeches, interviews and their proper context would be to let him suffer a death worse than the physical one.