Today is the 52nd anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. I was five at the time and I assume I didn't hear about it, or if I did, I wouldn't have known who he was until that moment.
For years I had a paperback copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X (written with Alex Haley), but I never got around to reading it. It may still be here somewhere, but I suspect not. I'm not sure why I never read it.
For all of these reasons — twinges of guilt for not reading his autobiography, knowing that he came from the Midwest, and empathy for the kid he was in this racist county — I recently read the book X: A Novel, written by his daughter Ilyasah Shabazz with young adult novelist Kekla Magoon.
The book covers his life from childhood to the time when he went to prison in his 20s, ending just around the time he became part of the Nation of Islam. From the book I learned:
- While he was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, his family moved to Lansing, Michigan, when he was pretty young.
- His father and mother were organizers for Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association and the back-to-Africa effort.
- His father was killed by a street car, possibly murdered for his political work.
- After his father died, his family sometimes went hungry.
- His mother was harassed by social service workers and finally committed to a mental institution, with the kids placed into foster care.
- Malcolm went to Boston to live with an older half-sister when he was only about 15. There, he worked several jobs and became part of the zootsuit scene. His nickname was Red.
- When he moved to Harlem a few years later, he was a numbers runner and his nickname shifted to Detroit Red to differentiate him from other guys called Red. (Detroit, Lansing, they're both in Michigan... close enough.)