Book Review: Malcolm X, by Alex Haley, voiced by Laurence Fishburne part 1/2

Laurence Fishburne voices Malcolm X’s autobiography on audible.

If you want to know more about the life story and motivations of one of American history’s most prolific civil rights activists, then this is the book for you. At 16 hours, this audiobook will take an investment of your time and attention. Thankfully this one is narrated by the talented Laurence Fishburne. Audiobooks are always better when they’re voiced by someone you enjoy listening to, and this one zips along like a Mississippi freight train.

I wonder what Malcolm X would have made of this headline in the press this week – young black people are three times as likely to be jobless as their white peers.

Malcolm X was a champion of the African American plight as second-class citizens in the 1960s. Later in life he called for a pan-African brotherhood among the African diaspora, to internationally and collectively challenge oppression. He was a prolific and passionate public speaker, who learned the art in the prison debating society.

This is a man who dined with Saudi Arabian royalty, African presidents and Cassius Clay, and vociferously spread the word of Islam, while championing the civil rights of African Americans.

How did the boy from Michigan do it?

Like father like son

Malcolm Little’s father was murdered while he was still a boy in Michigan. His Dad was a controversial preacher of the teachings of Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican who was the first President General of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. He was controversial because some considered him a proponent of black supremacy.

Malcolm Little, along with this 7 siblings and widowed mother, struggled on welfare, but eventually his mother couldn’t cope and was committed, by white social workers who Malcolm felt interfered more than helped.  

Malcolm’s mother was the result of a rape by a white landowner, and she never spoke of it. Oddly, Malcolm Little grows up under the impression that he is treated more favourably because his skin is paler than his siblings, probably because he notices how African Americans are treated differently in his hometown; the white people have the good careers and live in affluent, white neighbourhoods, whereas the black people are shoe shiners and servants.

Begins a life of crime in Detroit

After his mother is committed, he becomes disillusioned and moves to Detroit with a family friend, and he meets more African Americans, and feels more at home among “his own people.” He makes a good living hustling and goes from a “green” country boy, to earning the nickname “Detroit Red”, and avoids the army draft by doing his best madman impersonation at the sign-up.

I’m not even going to pretend to understand the hustles ‘Detroit Red’ describes in this book, suffice to say I would have probably been relieved of my wallet if I met him back then. In fact, he’s so good at hustling he moved to NYC, The Big Apple, where if you can make it as a hustler, you can make it anywhere.

The Big Apple

In Harlem, he hangs with the coolest cats, in the hippest bars, with the coolest performing artists, and everyone knows his name. Inevitably, he’s so prolific at hustling that his crimes eventually catch up with him and he’s staring down the barrel of a 10-year prison sentence.

It was in prison where things turnaround for Malcolm X. In fact, you could see his life in two halves, with prison being his truning point.

Read part 2 of my précis of Malcolm X’s life here.

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From tiny acorns mighty oaks grow.

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