Who Wrote the Autobiography of Malcolm X

Seed Grant Semester Awarded
Spring
Seed Grant Award Year
2019

Although Malcolm X's friends, his family memers, reporters and biographers all question the accuracy of "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," they all claim or assume that Malcolm X wrote it (allongside his collaborator Alex Haley). Researching copious primary documents in five archival sites, I discovered, to the contrary, that the book's editors intervened significantly to shape the text.

They spurred Haley to eliminate African American Vernacular English. Afraid of being sued for libel, they dispatched drafted chapters to lawyers at a prestigious firm, whose attorneys persuaded Haley to scrub dozens of passages that they deemed too inflammatory. Ignoring Malcolm X's wishes to publish his travel diary as a separate book, someone spliced important segments of it into "The Autobiography of Malcolm X."

Despite assertions to the contrary, letters between Haley and the editors clearly reveal that they kept drafting and editing the book after Malcolm X's assassination. The Black Nationalist never read the final version. The book does not merit its status as the cornerstone of the national memory of Malcolm X. Hundreds of pages of untampered, archived documents reveal a far more radical figure than the one who appears in the diluted text that bears his name. 

Seed Grant Project Director(s)

Keith Miller | Professor | Department of English