Scope and arrangement
The Malcolm X Collection is divided into nine series, the bulk of which range from 1961 to 1964. The papers consist of personal and family memorabilia, correspondence, writings and notes, selected organizational records and printed matter. They provide an in-depth documentation of Malcolm X as Black Muslim theologian, black nationalist ideologue, propagandist for the Nation of Islam, and skilled organizer — with occasional glimpses of his private or family life. Overall, the collection's original order has been preserved.
The The Malcolm X collection : papers are arranged in ten series:
This small group of personal items includes two address books (1958-1961), a notebook with details of the Shabazz family vacation in Miami in January 1964, hotel receipts from 1961 to 1965, and various items found in Malcolm X's heavily scored copy of the Quran and in one of the two address books. In this latter group are several newspaper clippings, some disparaging notes about Martin Luther King, Jr., described as the "hare in the bushes" without the desire "to run for self", and a 1961 letter from a member of Mosque No. 7 in New York who found himself "obligated to recognize the good work that you are doing for the Nation of Islam", while deploring that "with the pace of things going so fast, it is a rare occasion for me to see you, lest I interfere or detain you at your busiest moments". In his autobiography, Malcolm X explained how the demand on him to speak all over the country grew dramatically with the publication of C. Eric Lincoln's book, The Black Muslims in America in 1961. Letters, airline tickets, hotel bills, currency exchange slips, customs declarations, telephone messages, visitors' cards and an announcement for a public lecture in Ghana in the Middle East and West Africa Trip folder, amount to a day to day itinerary of Malcolm X's first major trip abroad in 1964.
Miscellaneous items in this and the next series include invoices for the Corona Mosque in Queens, a prescription for Phenobarbitol, one to be taken "as needed for nerves", an invoice for a new 1962 Oldsmobile, various receipts (camera shop, book stores, a master tailor), household expenditure lists in Malcolm X's hand, a message from one Dr. Adams at Bellevue Hospital, and an airline questionnaire where the subject listed the year of his first airline flight as 1956 and his highest level of education as elementary school.
This small but significant group of documents includes both incoming and outgoing correspondence, receipts and other household-related items. The earliest document in this series is a 1955 letter to a friend where Betty Shabazz, then Betty X Saunders, a nursing student, discusses the difficulty of conforming to the Nation of Islam's religious strictures against socializing with whites, whether at meal times, in class projects, or at a dance party her class was organizing. The outgoing correspondence also includes three letters to Elijah Muhammad, two of them written during the period of her husband's silencing. The earlier letter (February 18, 1963) was written at Muhammad's suggestion to "tell you what I thought about the trip to Philadelphia (critical points)". She went on to confide that "Ministers' wives have a full time job keeping the minister happy so he can do his job", but also felt that she could do other "constructive things" and was "wasting away". The second letter dated January 5, 1964 was an appeal "to come out to see you one week end", adding that "I have no one that I feel I can talk to but you". The last letter written three months later, three days before Malcolm X's official separation from the NOI, was an attempt to elucidate the charges against herself and against her husband "beside speaking against past President JFK". "In your letter, you stated my action toward the Muslims since my husband was sat down is deserving of time, how have I acted? " she wrote.
The incoming correspondence includes letters from Elijah Muhammad's wife and daughter, Clara and Harriett Muhammad, and Elijah Muhammad's special instructions for Ramadan in 1962. Orthodox Islam follows the lunar calendar in the observance of Ramadan, but Muhammad had set December as Ramadan month for his followers, "because we were once Christian believers and we used to worship this month as the month Jesus was born". His instructions called on married couples to "take no pleasure during this month", and on all his followers "not to forget in our prayers that the enemy has killed one of our brothers this year - the first we have lost since Allah's coming - due to the murderous hands of the devils". NOI member Ronald Stokes had been killed earlier that year in a police shooting at the Los Angeles Mosque. Letters to her from Malcolm X are filed in the next series. There are several letters from her adoptive mother in Detroit, ending typically: "Write when you feel like it. Your worried lonely mother". The Condolence file, more than 70 letters and cards, includes messages of sympathy from prominent figures across the country, many of which were read by Ruby Dee at the funeral service for Malcolm X. Other documents in the series include a selection of charity slips or receipts for contributions paid first to Muhammad's Mosque No. 7 and later to the Muslim Mosque, Inc.
The Writing series is divided into the following subseries: Major Addresses, Interviews, Radio Scripts, Religious Teachings, Diaries, and Speech Notes. For the most part the documents within each subseries have been kept in the order they were found. However, documents that reveal a clear relationship to another category have been moved to the appropriate subseries (i. e. alternate versions of a lecture, various drafts of a speech) and arranged chronologically when possible. In the main, the writings in this series are dated pre-December 12, 1963 or until Malcolm X's silencing. But there are several speeches, in addition to the travel diaries of Malcolm X's trips to Africa and the Middle East, that date after March 12, 1964, following his split from NOI.
Divided into General, New York Mosque and Other Cities subseries, these selected files and working papers are not the actual records of the Nation of Islam, nor are they necessarily the extent of NOI-related documents once in Malcolm X's possession. The General subseries opens with the form letter addressed to "W. F. Muhammad... Dear Saviour Allah, Our Deliverer", that new recruits were required to copy without fault before they would be granted an X as the replacement of their "slave name". Louis Lomax wrote that "The Black Muslims have little or no liturgy". The file "Lessons and Questions, Prayers" holds some of the few documents that form the NOI creed. "Actual Facts" and "Student Enrollment, Rules of Islam", are the first sets of questions and answers that the new convert had to memorize by rote and in sequence. Then came "Lesson No. 1" and "Lesson No. 2", which also came in the form of questions and answers, to be memorized textually. These basic documents, together with a selection of prayers and a glossary of some twenty words or concepts, were the cornerstone of the convert's new worldview. Also included here is a set of nine questions answered by Malcolm X on December 25, 1963, during the period of his silencing, "to the best of my knowledge and understanding of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad's Mission (message and work) among us". Two other documents, "English Lesson C-1" and "The Problem Book", and two additional texts distributed among Muslims, "The Sacred Ritual of the Nation of Islam" and a religious cryptogram, "Teachings for the Lost-Found Nation of Islam in a Mathematical Way", that only W. D. Fard, it was said, could interpret, are other tenets of the NOI dogma that are not available in this collection.
The Elijah Muhammad file consists of printed matter and carbon copies of pronouncements by and about Muhammad. Also included are letters and directives from Muhammad to his ministers across the country. A four-page introductory essay entitled "The Honorable Elijah Muhammad" argues that the historical Muhammad was not an actual prophet, or Allah's final messenger. "The Holy Quran was not meant for that Muhammad 1400 years ago in Arabia.... The Injil [New Testament] prophecies last right up to the resurrection, but how could the Holy Quran be the fulfillment (destroy) [sic] of the Injil prophecies when there was no resurrection in Muhammad's days 1400 years ago". Elijah Muhammad, on the other hand, was the last messenger, "raised up from among the dead" by the Mahdi (W. D. Fard or God in person). He and his followers were the real fulfillment of prophecy. "I am here to tell you", Muhammad wrote in a 1958 untitled pronouncement, "why America does not want you to accept Islam...not the 'old' Islam, but the 'New Islam'.... Ours is a new government and a new religion". Muhammad further clarifies that the United States was not alone in keeping the Black Man at the bottom of civilization. "I have seen the Black Man even in Africa and Asia working as the burden-bearer (doing all the heavy work) while the Brown Man sat in the shade". In a broadside, "What Is Un-American? Problems of the Black Man in Africa, Asia, America the Same", written in response to a 1961 report by the California State Senate Fact-Finding Subcommittee on Un-American Activities, he reaffirmed his Twelve-Point Program as the only salvation for African Americans.
The Muhammad Speaks file includes correspondence and typed articles by Abdul Naeem, a Brooklyn-based Pakistani immigrant who served as a go-between between Muhammad and the orthodox Islamic world, and articles by Charles P. Howard whose syndicated column, "United Nations Report", appeared in the NOI newspaper. Publicity Material in this subseries include leaflets, broadsides and a souvenir journal, advertising public appearances by Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. The Printed Matter file consists of articles and essays by scholars such as C. Eric Lincoln, August Meier, J. Schacht, professor of Arabic and Islamics at Columbia University, and by law enforcement agencies.
This series is very sketchy, containing many gaps in the documentation. The MMI survived its founder for about a year, at which point the papers were reportedly dispersed. Included here are several statements by Malcolm X (March 1964) announcing his separation from the Nation of Islam, and his rationale for launching a new group. Malcolm X insisted he did not leave NOI of his own free will, but that he had been driven out by the "Chicago officials". The philosophy of the MMI was to be Black Nationalism. The switch to orthodox Islam came during his pilgrimage to Mecca in April 1964. In statements issued in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, and in Lagos, Nigeria, the author told the story of his conversion to "true Islam", which "removes racism" and "concerns itself with the human rights of all mankind, despite race, color or creed". James Shabazz, Malcolm X's personal assistant and Vice-President of the new organization, handled the day-to-day business of the group. His list of twelve questions put to Malcolm X, indicating the areas of responsibility entrusted by the latter to his associates can be found here.
In this series is a group of letters Shabazz sent on May 14, 15 and 16, 1964, to a wide array of national and international contacts, thanking the latter for their assistance to the MMI leader during his pilgrimage, and expressing Malcolm X's new disposition for "mutual cooperation" with leaders of the civil rights movement. The only substantive response to these letters in the collection came from James Farmer, Executive Director of the Congress of Racial Equality. Malcolm X's itinerary during the Hajj, his schedule of activities immediately after his return to the U. S. in early June, and a log of telephone calls received by his office at the Theresa Hotel during that period, give a sense of the tremendous interest occasioned by Malcolm X's new orientation.
Also included is a copy of the certificate from the office of the Supreme Imam of Al-Azhar University designating Malcolm X as "one of the Muslim community...with his true and correct faith", with the responsibility "to propagate Islam and offer every available assistance and facilities to those who wish conversion to Islam". A leaflet in the same file boldly advertised twenty "stipend-bearing" scholarships to Al-Azhar University and fifteen additional scholarships to the University of Medina in Saudi Arabia, and called on people to join the MMI, the Organization of Afro-American Unity and the Organization of Afro-American Students. Malcolm X had developed a strong NOI chapter in Philadelphia and retained a strong base of support in that city. The Philadelphia file in this series gives some indication that the MMI leader was planning to develop an MMI chapter there with the help of a local barber, "Brother Aaron". The remaining files in the series deal with mosque attendance, donations and charity slips, and the sale of the Theresa Hotel. There are also leaflets and publicity material, including a March 22, 1964 Spanish-language flyer advertising a talk by Malcom X at the Rockland Palace on "El Nacionalismo de la Raza de Color en Harlem".
Malcolm X founded the OAAU to broaden the scope of the African-American civil rights movement into a struggle for human rights with international linkages. Partly due to his prolonged trips abroad, he only played a limited role in the day-to-day life of the new organization. An early draft of the OAAU's "Basic Aims and Objectives" called for organizing "the Afro-American community block by block", and proposed to join or to form political clubs, and to establish local businesses "to stop the flow of millions of dollars that leave our community weekly, never to return". But superimposed on that grassroots "organization of the people" was the expectation of a leadership structure "patterned after the letter and the spirit of the Organization of African Unity", with the purpose of uniting "Afro-Americans and their organizations around a non-religious, non-sectarian program for human rights". These two contrasting views are reflected in the collection through Malcolm X's statements from abroad and in local efforts to organize a membership base for the new organization.
The correspondence file includes carbon copies of Malcolm X's well-publicized June 30, 1964 telegrams to Martin Luther King, Jr. in St. Augustine, Georgia, and to James Forman, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, in Mississippi, proposing to "immediately dispatch some of our brothers there to organize our people into self-defense units capable of retaliating against the Ku Klux Klan in the only language it understands". Also included are OAAU acting chair, Lynn Shifflet's invitation, on behalf of Malcolm X, to representative African-American leaders and personalities, to a roundtable discussion on the so-called Harlem Riot of 1964; and a two-page letter from Ana Livia Cordero, Puerto-Rican independence activist and the wife of African-American expatriate writer Julian Mayfield, who had launched the first international branch of the OAAU in Ghana, on approaches to the Puerto Rican community in New York.
The file Working Papers consists of research material, and suggestions and recommendations from two OAAU research groups. At an initial May 30, 1964 meeting chaired by Malcolm X, it was decided that the new group would start work at the local level in Harlem. "When we control New York City, we will then be a model for other U. S. cities". The organization would try to mobilize mass resistance against Governor Rockefeller's "No Knock" and "Search and Seizure" laws, and against police brutality. In subsequent meetings, the group laid out its organizational structure, dealt with issues of membership and finances, debated the nature of its relationship with the civil rights movement, analyzed some of the "social, political and economic facts in Harlem", and attempted to define a basic policy on education, on self-defense and on culture. Also included are personal commentaries from Sara Mitchell, a prime contributor to this file.
The balance of this series comprises declarations and statements by Malcolm X upon launching the new organization. Included are his July 17, 1964 address to the OAU in Cairo, a series of research notes prepared by James Shabazz on the legality of rifle clubs in New York and elsewhere, copies of the OAAU newsletter, Blacklash, membership receipts, miscellaneous financial records, a complete set of the resolutions and recommendations adopted at the first OAU assembly of heads of state and government in Addis Ababa in July 1964, including a resolution against "Racial Discrimination in the United States of America", which is attributable to Malcolm X.
This is a broad mix of printed matter on individuals, organizations and subjects of interest to Malcolm X, and typescripts of stories written about Malcolm X, some of them after his death. The Africa file is a compilation of research papers by mostly black scholars on African Americans and Africa, African messianic movements, Africa in antiquity, and the African press. The Muhammad Ali file is mostly newspaper and magazine articles, including a two-page Associated Press report stipulating that "Scholars at Islam's 1,000 year-old university welcomed Cassius Clay's statement that he is a Moslem" but expressed "reservations about the 'Black Muslim' movement in the United States". The file dates from the mid-February 1964 period when the athlete was training for his championship fight against Sonny Liston, and attests to some of Malcolm X's activities and thinking during the later period of his silencing. Invited with his family for a winter vacation at the young boxer's training camp, Malcolm X is credited with recruiting Ali to the NOI. In a little known February 19, 1964 interview Malcolm X circumvented his silencing to tell the Miami News, through a third party, of his admiration for "The Champ", and to predict that "when warmer weather begins to appear in the North, the problem is going to get worse in 1964 than it was in 1963". Malcolm X presumably counted on his friendship with the young athlete to woo him to his side in the feud with his mentor, but the outspoken Ali quickly put any such hope to rest. "I don't know much what Malcolm X is doing", he told the Norfolk Journal and Guide, "but I do know that Muhammad is the wisest". (March 14, 1964).
Taken together, the Civil Rights files in this and the Printed Matter series attest to Malcolm X's intense preoccupation throughout 1963 with the nonviolence and integration movement represented by King. The annotated and underscored articles, noting every hesitation or setback, comforted the author in his claim that the civil rights movement was controlled by the white-Jewish "liberal establishment", and was running out of steam. The Education folder complements other materials in the NOI series. The Group on Advanced Leadership (GOAL) convened the November 1963 Grassroots Leadership Conference in Detroit at which Malcolm X delivered his celebrated speech, "Message to the Grassroots". The file documents the split between the GOAL group, led by Richard B. Henry, and the more conservative Detroit Council for Human Rights, which had initially called for a Northern Negro Leadership summit, with the exclusion of known nationalists and communists, including the Black Muslims. The Rev. Albert Cleague, who represented GOAL on the Council, insisted that "all black men, regardless of their views, should sit down and hammer out a concerted policy for a united civil rights push in the North".
The slim Martin Luther King file includes material by and critical of King's nonviolent strategy. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) folder consists mostly of educational or promotional material leading to and following the MFDP Challenge to the white Democratic delegation at the 1964 National Democratic Convention. The Monroe "Kidnapping" file includes a draft article by the same title by Julian Mayfield, and printed matter of the Committee to Aid the Monroe Defendants. The story of the Monroe incident is told in Robert F. Williams's Negroes with Guns (Third World Press, 1975). The Repatriation Commission file contains a 25-page report to Prime Minister Michael Manley of Jamaica by a 1961 "Back to Africa" mission that traveled to five African states to explore the conditions for "Africans living abroad" to return to the "ancestral land". The original manuscripts in this series include "A Fallen Star" by Ruby Williams, a disillusioned Black Muslim who aspired to tell "the naked truth" of some of Elijah Muhammad's shortcomings, and "Malcolm", a screenplay by Betty L. Rhea, completed in 1974.