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Schomburg Center to House Malcolm X Archival Material

Schomburg Center to House Malcolm X Archival Material


A large collection of Malcolm X’s diaries, photos, letters and other materials have been placed on long-term deposit at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where they will be made available to researchers. The materials provide unprecedented insight into the viewpoints and personal reflections of the dynamic and vastly influential figure who spearheaded a vigorous and often controversial fight for the rights of African Americans in the 1960s.

The documents placed on deposit at the Schomburg Center include those that were offered for sale last spring by San Francisco-based auction house Butterfields (see Black Issues, April 11, 2002). When the Shabazz family became aware of the auction, they asserted their ownership rights and threatened legal action to prevent the sale of their father’s property. Adding to the family’s voice were those of researchers and scholars, who expressed concern that materials of such historic importance might be purchased by individual collectors and dispersed to multiple owners. Criticized for its role in the controversy, Butterfields withdrew the documents from sale. Recently, the family reached an agreement with Butterfields and others claiming rights to the property, which allows the family to recover the entire collection.

Joseph Fleming, the attorney for the estate of Betty Shabazz and the Shabazz family, said “the family was prepared to use every means available to it to ensure that they remained the sole proprietors of their father’s legacy.” It was that determination that led to the recovery and now the preservation of the collection. In the current arrangement with the New York Public Library, the Shabazz family is depositing the papers at the Schomburg Center for a period of 75 years.

“We have worked closely with the family of Malcolm X to ensure that this archive will be available to researchers here at the Schomburg Center, rather than go into private hands or be dispersed,” says Howard Dodson, director of the center. “It is significant that the collection will be located in Harlem — on Malcolm X Boulevard — in the neighborhood where much of the drama of Malcolm X’s life unfolded,” Dodson adds.

“This is one of the single most important collections to come to the New York Public Library in the last decade,” says Dr. Paul LeClerc, president of the library. “It is also one of the only significant collections of archival materials on Malcolm X,” adds LeClerc. “The path blazed by Malcolm X led African Americans to greater freedom and respect in our society. It is important that the history of his efforts be preserved and made accessible to future generations.”

The majority of the collection arrived at the Schomburg Center on Dec. 31, with additional materials due to arrive later this month. The papers will be available to researchers after approximately 18 months of processing and preservation work is completed.

The materials in the collection include a wide range of speeches, letters, diaries and other documents handwritten or typed by Malcolm X. In addition, there is a collection of photographs, many of which are presumed to have been taken by Malcolm X, and others that show various aspects of his life, including pictures of him with his family and dignitaries.

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