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In his own words: Malcolm X

Slain leader's daughters donate papers to public library

From Phil Hirschkorn

Malaak and Attallah Shabazz, two of Malcolm Xs daughters, at a Tuesday news conference

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The daughters of civil rights leader Malcolm X have turned over the largest known cache of their father's private papers to a public library
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The daughters of civil rights leader Malcolm X have turned over the largest-known cache of their father's private papers and personal effects to a public library in Harlem, the predominantly black Manhattan neighborhood where he delivered his trademark, firebrand speeches in the 1960s.

The family announced the gift to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at a news conference Tuesday morning.

"That my father in his own living existence did not see the benefit of his words in his lifetime could matter some 30 or some 40 years later is a testament to the strength of what he stood for then," said Attallah Shabazz, his eldest of six daughters.

"The least we can do is walk with our heads up and allow the information to go through the right process, so that it can be available to all people," she said.

The collection includes Malcolm X speeches, diaries, letters, photographs, and recordings that filled two large crates weighing 697 pounds.

"We have some materials documenting his life, but nothing even remotely comparable to the things that are here in this body of material," said Howard Dodson, the director of Schomburg Center, a branch of the New York Public Library that specializes in black history.

'His voice'

"This is his record of his thought. This is what he has written. The edits he has made on his speeches and his radio programs and all the rest. This is his voice, captured in a textural form," Dodson said.

Malcolm X
Name at birth: Malcolm Little

Born: May 19, 1925, Omaha, Nebraska, the son of a Baptist minister who was killed in 1931. He was raised by different relatives before moving in with a half-sister in Boston, Massachusetts.

Life: Worked a series of odd jobs before engaing in petty crime. He served seven years for armed burglary.

Islam: Converted to Islam in prison, and became a spokesman for the Nation of Islam in 1952. In March 1964, he broke with the Nation of Islam and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. The next month, he journeyed to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest of Muslim shrines, and took the name El Hajj Malik El Shabazz.

Death: Assassinated February 21, 1965.

The collection is believed to be the biggest collection of Malcolm X's papers in one place, perhaps one-fourth of what survived 37 years after his death. His papers are scattered in smaller amounts at various institutions -- Columbia University, New York University, Emory University, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University -- and among more than 200 noteworthy private collectors.

"Malcolm is the great historical figure everyone knows but who has no archive," said Manning Marable, a historian at Columbia who is working on a Malcolm X biography.

"The retrieval of these rare documents is a moment for celebration, certainly for scholars, as well as those in black America who care for and love the legacy of a brilliant spokesperson for black freedom," Marable said.

The collection includes items readied for a public sale by Butterfield's auction house and eBay earlier this year. The sale was called off.

The Schomburg Center sits on a street named Malcolm X Boulevard. The library is just a few blocks from the mosque where Malcolm X once preached. He was a regular at a restaurant down the street. He was gunned down at the Audubon Ballroom a mile and a half away.

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in 1925 and grew up in Lansing, Michigan, the son of a Baptist minister who was killed in 1931. He and his seven siblings were split up among foster homes, and as a teen Malcolm moved in with a half-sister in Boston, Massachusetts.

He worked odd jobs from shining shoes to being a railroad porter, but eventually drifted into a life of petty crime. He served seven years in prison for burglary, converting to Islam behind bars and changing his surname from Little, which he considered a slave name, to X.

In the papers are a pair of letters to his brother Philbert, one from 1949 and one from 1950, that illustrate the change in his thinking.

One of the journals on loan to the museum
One of the journals on loan to the museum

Malcolm studied under Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammed, and after his release in 1952, he became a minister and then the group's national spokesman. The organization's membership multiplied as Malcolm preached a fiery message of self-help and separation from white America.

"Everyone appreciated the fact that he had the courage to speak the truth at the level that he did -- about the black condition, about the relationship between the races, about the contradictions within the black community itself between the middle and upper classes and the lower classes," Dodson said.

The personal papers include typed drafts of speeches from a pre-word processor age. One copy of "God's Judgment of White America" has visible handwritten changes in red ink -- in one entry, for example, he penciled in the word "late" before "President" after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

"It appears that he would frequently take a single speech and he would use it with a variety of audiences," Dodson said. " You should be able, through a critical reading of it, to see how he recrafted the basic core text for the different audiences that he was speaking to."

Malcolm split with the organization after discovering Elijah Muhammed was a philanderer who had fathered children out of wedlock. His March 1964 memo announcing his departure is among the papers.

"My chief concern is the plight of the 22 million American Negroes," the document says. He started his own religious and political groups.

Malcolm's last transformation came after his 1964 pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest Muslim shrine. His travel journals from that period are also among the papers.

After Mecca, Malcolm took the name El Hajj Malik El Shabazz. With his wife, Betty Shabazz, he had six daughters. Betty was pregnant with the last two, twins, when assassins killed Malcolm on February 21, 1965. He was 39. She died in 1997 from a fire set by one of their grandsons.

"It was devastating enough to lose our parents the way we did," said Malaak Shabazz, one of the twin daughters who never met their father. "But the larger tragedy was the potential of losing my parents' legacy and having it dispersed."

His posthumously published autobiography, as told to the late author Alex Haley, has sold more than 3 million copies and was named by Time magazine as one of the top 10 nonfiction books of the 20th century.

"So much that has been written and portrayed on Malcolm X has been a series of iconic, misleading images," said Marable. "He's been expropriated by everybody from the hip-hop generation to the U.S. Postal Service. Let's now document the true meaning of Malcolm through his own words."

The Schomburg Center plans to take 18 months to catalog its new collection before making it available to researchers, perhaps as early as May 19, 2004, which would have been Malcolm's 79th birthday.

"Anything that is of significance, I am real proud to share," said Attallah Shabazz. "I love who my father is, I'm proud of who my father is. I can't wait to fill in the blanks."

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