Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2014, Volume 35

Alex Haley's Malcolm X: "The Malcolm X I Knew" and Notecards from The Autobiography of Malcolm X

by Amy E. Earhart

Alex Haley's "The Malcolm X I Knew" and Notecards from The Autobiography of Malcolm X

As a subject specialist in African American literature and a digital humanist, I am dismayed by the dearth of scholarly edited, digitized contemporary African American literary texts. Even extremely visible figures are not well represented by digital scholarly materials, a fact not fully excused by the difficulties of digitizing post-1923 authors due to copyright restrictions. For example, Alex Haley, who brought African American history to the larger American public through Roots, has no scholarly digital site dedicated to his work, with his main digital representation resting with the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation website, which focuses on African American genealogy, and the Alex Haley Tribute Site, a fan site that compiles portions of Haley's works.[1] Of course, Haley's case might be exacerbated due to accusations of plagiarism leveled against Roots; both Margaret Walker and Harold Courlander brought lawsuits against Haley claiming that he had plagiarized their work. Courlander's 1978 suit was successful and proved that eighty-one passages from Roots were copied from Courlander's 1967 book, The African, which subsequently led to decreased scholarly interest in Haley.[2] Malcolm X's work is also largely undocumented, though notable exceptions include Abdul Alkalimat's Malcolm website, the most comprehensive digital scholarly resource to date. Online since 1999, the site provides videos, timeline, selected texts, and a comprehensive bibliography.[3] Additional materials related to Malcolm X appeared online when Manning Marable began to write Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention and launched a support website. Now titled The Malcolm X Project at Columbia University, the site shares a varied group of historical and contemporary materials. The site developers also plan to launch a multimedia edition of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a much needed project.
Because Haley and Malcolm X are critical figures in twentieth-century literature and history, scholars should be invested in the digitization of their primary texts. This edition represents my attempt to intervene in the African American digital canon and to provide a broader set of open-source, scholarly edited, primary materials than previously available. Focused on Haley's Malcolm X work, this set of materials includes an unexamined essay that Haley published shortly after X's death, titled "The Malcolm X I Knew," and notes, forty-one handwritten and thirty-two typed, that were compiled by Haley as he wrote The Autobiography. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, houses the primary repositories of Haley work related to The Autobiography: the Alex Haley Papers and the Anne Romaine Papers. Anne Romaine was appointed by Haley to be his biographer, and her papers include substantial information that documents the interaction between X and Haley according to Manning Marable, who used the Romaine Papers extensively for his recent biography of Malcolm X.[4] While the Romaine Papers offer some insight into Haley's work and are accessible to scholars, the Haley Papers held at the University of Tennessee are notoriously difficult to access, requiring researchers to gain permission from the trustee governing Haley's work for each item of interest. Therefore, the open access release of even some of the materials that Haley used while writing his important work on X, such as the attached notes, adds substantially to scholarly knowledge.

Manuscript and Publication Information

The typed manuscript of the essay and the handwritten and typed notecards from which these materials are transcribed are housed in the Alex Haley Papers held by Cushing Library, Special Collections, at Texas A&M University. During the year and a half of interviews conducted by Haley to gain information for the book, both Haley and Malcolm X would jot down notes on scrap paper, Haley in green ink and X in red.[5] Haley collected the scribbles, transcribed them into typed and written notes, and eventually pieced together the notes to write The Autobiography of Malcolm X, published in November 1965, nine months after X's death. A portion of Haley's typed and handwritten notes are included in this edition. From the contents listed on this set of notecards, and the telltale green ink, it appears that the notes were written by Haley during interviews conducted during the last six to twelve months of X's life. The related essay that is included was originally published by Saga magazine in November 1965, the same month The Autobiography was published. Saga was a pulp men's magazine published by New York's Gambi Publications from 1950 until 1981, and in 1963 it had a circulation of 280,647. A men's adventure magazine similar to other pulps of the same period, including Adventure, Real, and True, Saga focused on lurid tales of sex and adventure targeted at working-class men. For example, Saga's submission call in the July 1964 Writer's Digest described the magazine as "principally interested in strong-action picture-stories on non-war adventure themes; man against nature, man against beast, man against man. We try to stress the 'man triumphant' idea whenever possible."[6] Articles such as "Confessions of an Auto Spy," "How Sex Can Take You to the Top," and "Love Among the Beach Boys" are contained in the same volume as Haley's essay along with drawings of scantily clad women and ads promising to remedy baldness. The larger pulp fiction context in which Saga resides is a rich area of study but beyond the purview of this essay. There is no indication that scholars are aware of the essay or the small holding of notecards at Texas A&M University, as even Manning's carefully researched recent biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, does not reference these materials. It is not clear when Haley contracted with Saga to publish the essay "The Malcolm X I Knew," but we do know that Haley was in severe financial distress prior to the publication of The Autobiography and was looking to quickly publish materials to increase his cash flow.[7] According to Marable, Haley was slow to produce a finished draft of The Autobiography and failed to meet his publisher's deadline of the 1964 presidential election. X's break from the Nation of Islam further delayed completion of the volume.[8] In constant contact with Doubleday, Haley reassured the publisher that the book would not only be complete but would sell. Marable believes that Doubleday, careful to protect their financial investment in the book, was heavily involved with Haley's decision to remove certain controversial statements from the text. Lawyers for Doubleday vetted the materials that Haley submitted, striking and reworking sections deemed problematic, concerned about the potential for libel lawsuits.[9] Regardless of Haley's attempts to shape the text in a way that Doubleday would approve, the publisher dropped the contract after Malcolm X's death. As David Remnick notes, "The publisher, Nelson Doubleday, fearing for the lives of his staff, cancelled his deal with Haley," leaving Haley in an even more precarious financial situation.[10] During this same period Haley mined the text for the Saturday Evening Post story on Malcolm X entitled "I'm Talking to You White Man." Given his Post story and his financial distress, it wouldn't be surprising if Haley mined the volume for another one-off publication in Saga, a publication that suggests a quick turnaround as the quality of editing in the magazine is poor, with misspellings of Malcolm X's name common ("Malcom"). The published version in Saga is dissimilar to the longer manuscript reproduced in this edition. The final print version of the essay has been heavily cut and is about half the size of the original, with the first seven pages of the manuscript almost entirely missing from the published version. Some stories are included in both documents, including X's boxing match and the encounter with a train porter. Left out of the final document are the more controversial Malcolm X statements, including his take on education, Jews, and race, surprising given Saga's propensity to use the lurid to spur sales. What is of question, though, is why Haley dropped the controversial segments. One would hope to find records of such discussions with the editor of Saga, Al Silverman. However, the Silverman Archive, housed at the New York Public Library, has revealed no correspondence between Haley and Silverman. While I have not been able to reproduce the published version of the Saga text due to copyright restrictions, the manuscript version should provide new information for scholars interested in Malcolm X and Haley's impact on his legacy.

Cover of November 1965 Saga magazine.

Malcolm X and Alex Haley

It is my hope that the materials here published will prove useful to the interpretation of the complicated relationship between Haley and Malcolm X. Critics from Arnold Rampersad to William Andrews have questioned Haley's political agenda and the shaping of X's representation in The Autobiography.[11] Marable has cautioned that The Autobiography was "more Haley's than its author's: because Malcolm died in February 1965, he had no opportunity to revise major elements of what would become known as his political testament." As a "liberal Republican, Haley held the Nation of Islam's racial separatism and religious extremism in contempt, but he was fascinated by the tortured tale of Malcolm's personal life."[12] Haley was not alone in attempting to control the representation of X. Malcolm X himself was invested in reinvention. He "continuously and astutely refashioned his outward image, artfully redesigning his public style and even language, to facilitate overtures to different people in varied contexts."[13]
Alex Haley first met Malcolm X when he was interviewing him for a March 1960 Reader's Digest article, "Mr. Muhammad Speaks." The first meeting of the two men would presage the gulf in understanding that would define their relationship. Haley reported that when he initially met Malcolm X, X noted, "You're another one of the white man's tools sent to spy!"[14] Haley, recently retired after twenty years in the U.S. Coast Guard, was an aspiring writer. X was the increasingly popular and visible New York minister of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, a black militant pseudo-Islamic religious group. The two men could not have held more divergent political views. Regardless, Haley continued to focus on X in articles published in the Saturday Evening Post and Playboy, eventually approaching Malcolm X about a coauthored autobiography. With Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad's permission, X met with Haley for multiple interviews, developing a working relationship that lasted until X's death. In addition to The Autobiography, Haley would publish several essays on Malcolm X over the course of his literary career, including "The Malcolm X I Knew" and a 1983 Essence magazine article titled "Alex Haley Remembers Malcolm." Haley's interest in X seems to have been as a promising research subject that would generate popular interest and, by extension, publishing contracts for Haley. From X's critique of the pacifist Civil Rights Movement to his infamous "chickens coming home to roost" comment after John F. Kennedy's assassination, Malcolm X proved a visible, controversial, and popular subject. Regardless of the way in which their relationship began, they would share much during the two years that they worked together. In part, their relationship seems to be spurred by X's difficult break from the Nation of Islam in 1964 and subsequent encounter with Islam during his Hajj, his life-changing pilgrimage to Mecca. Even if the two men didn't see eye to eye, Malcolm X shared his experiences with Haley during this crucial period, sending postcards and letters to Haley when X was on his trip to Mecca. In fact, almost every night of X's trip abroad, Betty Shabazz, X's wife, would call Alex Haley to learn of her husband's travels.[15] While Haley would call Malcolm X a friend in the essay here published, it is not clear if X ever felt the same about Haley. The best indication we have of his feelings toward Haley is a late-night call when X declared that he trusted Haley 70 percent.[16] The essay and notes provide additional textual evidence that should aid scholars in their examination of the complicated relationship between the men.

Interpretive Gaps

Ever in debate with The Autobiography is the control that Haley asserted on the narrative. For example, Garrett A. Felber argues that much of the final shape of the book is contrary to Malcolm X's wishes, particularly the introduction and epilogue.[17] William Andrews's "Editing 'Minority' Texts" reveals a complicated evolution of the text, noting that the "epilogue more than hinted at interesting tensions, and perhaps even pivotal struggles for control of the text, between the writer and the subject of Malcolm's memoir."[18] Andrews goes on to situate the "as told to" approach of The Autobiography within the context of "a well-established tradition in African American autobiography."[19] Other scholars including Manning Marable and John Edgar Wideman are very critical of Haley's role in the text creation, viewing the final document as presenting a sanitized version of X's radicalism. The notes provide valuable clues to the construction of The Autobiography, crucially important because we now know that three chapters penned by Malcolm X titled "The Negro," "The End of Christianity," and "Twenty Million Black Muslims" were removed prior to publication. Selections of the missing materials have been read in public and portions of the manuscripts have been briefly viewed by a handful of scholars, but no scholar has read the chapters in their entirety. It is unclear if the chapters will ever be released due to copyright and ownership issues. One of the great mysteries of the missing chapters is X's political agenda post-Mecca. Marable notes: "It seemed rather odd that there's only a fleeting reference to the OAAU (The Organization of Afro-American Unity) inside of the book that's supposed to be his political testament. And I wondered about this. And it seemed like something was missing. Well, as a matter of fact, there is: three chapters. And those three chapters really represent a kind of political testament that are outlined by Malcolm X."[20] Yet the OAAU is not absent from the notes that Haley took during his interviews. Other notes are equally revealing. While there is only one documented case of Malcolm X supporting labor unions—a 1962 hospital worker strike—one note indicates that X thought unions had the potential to create change. Note 54 records that Malcolm X thought that if Martin Luther King "could have had the attitude of the labor leaders, what changes he could have wrought. Now they sit down at bargain as equals. Back in the 30s, before Roosevelt, looked upon as scum, radicals, anarchists. Now they are respectable. Labor Building today in Washington overlooks the White House." Notecard 80 mentions the M1 carbine that Malcolm X was famously pictured with in a 1964 issue of Ebony magazine. Interpreted as a sign of X's militancy, the note reveals that X had "instructed (his) wife to use" the gun to defend their home from possible attack. The notes also reference passages in The Autobiography. For example, Haley recounts one interview session during which X "was gesturing with his passport in his hand; he saw that I was trying to read its perforated number and suddenly he thrust the passport toward me, his neck flushed reddish: 'Get the number straight, but it won't be anything the white devil doesn't already know. He issued me the passport.'"[21] The passport number is recorded in Haley's hand on notecard 37. As scholars work with the notes, other such gems will emerge, and we will have a better sense of the creation of the final text.

Editorial Approach

This project grew out of an English/Africana Studies undergraduate course in which I was interested in embedding a hands-on digital project. I am interested in developing new models of student participation in digital humanities research and textual recovery and this project is my first experiment in so doing. The course examined the digitization of a wide set of Africana cultural materials and considered crucial issues of representation, ownership, and access. As the students engaged with the materials, they recognized that Africana materials are underrepresented in the digital literary canon. The Malcolm X project represented one way that they would be able to alter such a discrepancy. Working in small, collaborative groups, students transcribed, edited, researched, applied structural TEI/XML markup, and composed simple notes. For undergraduates, mastering the concept of basic TEI encoding included the understanding of how to represent paragraphs, page breaks, people, and places. I did not ask them to think critically about applying TEI to editorial decisions. Undergraduate student evaluations revealed that students thought the digital project was the highlight of the course and the experience invaluable. Most pointed to the activist nature of the project, of making a difference in the literary field and representing important cultural materials to a larger public. The project was so successful that I decided to ask my graduate students to return to the materials. While the undergraduates had made a first pass through the documents, there was additional proofing, standardization of annotations, and extended TEI markup of editorial items—such as strikethroughs, additions, and unclear sections—to complete. As part of a graduate-level class titled "Introduction to Digital Humanities," I teach my students how to encode materials with TEI/XML. Instead of completing exercises, graduate student worked with the Haley materials to add more robust TEI. Stairstepping a project across multiple semesters, classes, and levels of students has allowed a large group of students to participate in an important published project and has also convinced me that applied digital humanities work should be central to the classroom. As project leader, I have rechecked materials for accuracy and consistency, regularized the markup, and added the introduction. Texts have been imaged, transcribed and marked with TEI P5.[22] We have indicated changes made to the base text and, where possible, identified deletions and strikethroughs.
The essay and notes are treated with diplomatic transcriptions. We have not altered mistakes or corrected spellings. Undecipherable passages are marked as such with the TEI gap tag and marked as illegible, and strikethroughs, additions, and deletions are noted. While it would have been useful to include the published version of "The Malcolm X I Knew," we could not secure copyright to do so. Therefore, only the typed manuscript version is included. Students provided initial transcriptions, some annotations, and basic TEI. I have added robust annotations and standardized TEI markup. Annotations are included for historical events, people, and places. When possible I have included annotations that connect Haley's notes to the Autobiography.
As I indicated at the start of this essay, contemporary texts are much more difficult to digitize because of copyright and ownership issues than those materials produced before 1923. When this project began, I had doubts that the Haley materials could be published. My search for ownership of Haley's literary rights revealed that his estate had gone bankrupt, and all interests and royalty rights were sold to John Palumbo, a Jacksonville investor, for $10,400.[23] Palumbo graciously agreed to the publication of the manuscript transcriptions and images of the materials. I thank him for his generosity. I would also like to thank Texas A&M University librarian Rebecca Hankins for her help and support throughout this process. Without her, this edition would not have been brought public.
Finally, and most importantly, the following participated in the transcription, editing, and markup of the primary source materials:
Librarian:
Sarah Potvin.
Graduate students:
Karen Davis, Amber Dunai, Jessica Durgan, Elizabeth Grumbach, Tess Habbestad, Bailey Kelsey, Glynnis Lagarde, Shawn Moore, Laura Perrings, Noah Peterson, and Sarah Potvin.
Undergraduate students:
Maria Acosta, Britany Bennett, Clayton Armstrong, Karen Boyd, Lorena Cardenas, Stephanie Cue, Cedric Dadaille, Manuel De la Llata, Ashlee Guerra, Scott Hamilton, Cassandra Hanks, Kendall Hardgrove, William Hoferer, Nicole Janssen, Tia McKinney, Cooper Mclendon, Charles McWhinney, Anju Mohan, Kevin Monsees, Joshua Montemayor, Parysa Oskouipour, Eric Park, Kerri Prather, Caitlin Red, Lauren Reynolds, Megan Rhodes, Crystal Riles, Maranda Spinn, Stephanie Straight, Jose Torres, John Turner, Yiechia Warren, Alexandra Wentz, and Ryan Williams.

Notes

1. Alex Haley, Roots (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976); "Kunta Kinte–Alex Haley Foundation: The Genealogy Experience," http://www.kintehaley.org; "The Alex Haley Tribute Site," http://www.alex-haley.com. Go
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2. Herb Boyd, "Plagiarism and the Roots Suits," First World 2, no. 3 (1979): 31–33, 31–32. David Chioni Moore, in his review of the Alex Haley Roots Papers, notes that the plagiarism controversy seems to have contributed to the novel being ignored by literary critics. See Moore, "Revisiting a Silenced Giant: Alex Haley's Roots," Resources for American Literary Study 22, no. 2 (1996): 195–249.Go
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3. "The Malcolm X I Knew" essay does not appear on nor is it referenced by the site.Go
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4. Manning Marable, "Interview with Democracy Now!," February 21, 2005, http://www.democracynow.org/2005/2/21/the_undiscovered_malcolm_x_stunning_new.Go
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5. Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (New York: Penguin, 2011), 248.Go
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6. Adam Parfrey, It's a Man's World: Men's Adventure Magazines, The Postwar Pulps (Los Angeles: Feral House, 2003), 286, 287.Go
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7. Marable writes of the increasingly difficult financial situation of Haley during the completion of The Autobiography primarily due to the lack of progress that Haley made on the manuscript. Haley was looking for various sources of income and found one such revenue stream in a "one-shot sale" of a piece of The Autobiography for the Saturday Evening Post. Marable, Malcolm X, 351. It is possible that the Saga piece was also a quick way for Haley to earn some income. Go
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8. Marable, Malcolm X, 259.Go
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9. See Marable, Black Routes to Islam, ed. Aidi Hishaam (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 312, and Garrett A. Felber, "'A Writer Is What I Want, Not an Interpreter': Alex Haley and Malcolm X—Conceiving the Autobiographical Self and the Struggle for Authorship," Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society 12 no. 1 (2010): 33–53, 46.Go
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10. David Remnick, "This American Life: The Making and Remaking of Malcolm X," New Yorker, April 25, 2011, http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2011/04/25/110425crbo_books_remnick. For correspondence between Haley and Doubleday's Ken McCormick, see Garret A. Felber, "Alex Haley Correspondence (1965)," Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society 12, no. 2 (2010): 182–85.Go
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11. See the following: William L. Andrews, "Editing 'Minority' Texts," in The Margins of the Text, ed. David C. Greetham (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 45–56; Felber, “'A Writer Is What I Want, Not an Interpreter'"; Arnold Rampersad, "The Color of His Eyes: Bruce Perry's Malcolm and Malcolm's Malcolm" in Malcolm X: In our Own Image, ed. Joe Wood (New York: St. Martin's, 1992), 177–234; John Edgar Wideman, "Malcolm X: The Art of Autobiography," in Wood, Malcolm X, 101–16. Go
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12. Marable, Malcolm X, 9.Go
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13. Manning Marable, "Rediscovering Malcolm's Life:  A Historian's Adventures in Living History," in Souls:  A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society 7, no. 1 (2005): 20–35, 27. Go
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14. Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Chicago: Ballantine, 1987), 383.Go
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15. Marable, Malcolm X, 327.Go
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16. Haley, The Autobiography, 400.Go
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17. Felber, “'A Writer Is What I Want, Not an Interpreter.'”Go
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18. Andrews, "Editing 'Minority' Texts," 45–46.Go
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19. Andrews, "Editing 'Minority' Texts," 47.Go
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20. The OAAU is the Organization of Afro-American Unity, the organization that X founded in 1964 after his trip to Mecca as an international Africanist organization. "African American Historian Manning Marable Dies Days Before Publication of His Biography of Malcolm X," Democracy Now!, http://www.democracynow.org/2011/4/4/african_american_historian_manning_marable_dies Go
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21. Haley, The Autobiography, 388.Go
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22. TEI P5 guidelines are located at http://www.tei-c.org/Guidelines/P5/.Go
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23. "Haley's Literary Rights Sold to Duval Investor," Florida Times-Union, http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/091002/met_10407259.html. Go
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