In January, we as a nation set aside a day, the third Monday, to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — as we should do. Yet no such day exists to honor the memory of Malcolm X, whose role in the struggle for the rights and dignity of African Americans is equally valuable.
If that is not already obvious from the lessons of history, it becomes clearer in a diary kept by the Muslim thinker and leader in his waning time on earth. On Nov. 1, 2013, Third World Press announced the forthcoming publication of The Diary of Malcolm X, edited by Herb Boyd, a prolific writer and historian, and Ilyasah Al-Shabazz, the third eldest daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz.
As the black theologian James H. Cone writes in an afterword to the book, understanding Malcolm is essential to understanding and appreciating Martin. He explains that while the latter was a “political revolutionary,” the former was a “cultural revolutionary,” who helped Negroes to redefine, rename and reclaim our black selves and our history, thus getting us ready to accept the freedoms and to live the dream Martin secured.
Malcolm X, soon to be El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, kept a diary in 1964, from mid-April to the end of May and from July to November covering his pilgrimage to Mecca and travels through the Middle East and Africa after his departure from the Nation of Islam and less than a year before he was assassinated on Feb. 21, 1965.
The diary records Malcolm X’s movements and reactions during his extraordinary trip to take part in the pilgrimage and his travels to meet with African leaders to build momentum for a movement that put the black American’s civil-rights quest in an international and pan-
African context within the larger struggle for human rights.
It chronicles his impressions of ordinary people he met and reflects his profound awe over the warm reception he receives as a leader and American Muslim meeting people of many colors and races who seem far more able to live in harmony and unity than his fellow citizens were at the time.
“Never in America had I received such respect and honor as here, in the Muslim world, just upon learning I am a Muslim – people white, black, brown, red & yellow, all act alike, as one, as brothers,” he writes. “People with blue eyes to blonde hair, bowing in complete submission to Allah, beside those with black skin & kinky hair. As they give the same honor to the same God they in turn give same (equal) honor to each other.”
He also details many of his encounters with such leaders and activists as Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie, and Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah. The book includes a foreword by Haki R. Madhubuti, founder of Third World Press, an introduction by Boyd, and epilogue by Ilyasah Al-Shabazz, commentary, annotations and a chronology of Malcolm X’s life, in addition to the afterword by Cone. Ilyasah Al-Shabazz writes of her father’s legacy and her feelings of connection to him after her own pilgrimage to Mecca.
In an advance endorsement of the book, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., director of the Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, wrote:
“The publication of The Diary of Malcolm X is a great historical event in African American intellectual history. Reading these entries has the effect of overhearing a profound thinker’s most private and uncensored thoughts about everything from his split with Elijah Muhammad to the cost of 16mm film in Accra. I found this a riveting and deeply moving experience, one that only made me even sadder at the senselessness of his assassination. Every student of Malcolm X, and the history of black political leadership, should read this compelling book.”
The diary is part of a collection of Malcolm X’s papers, housed on loan at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. Some of the papers somehow had ended up in a storage bin in Florida and the collection was about to be auctioned off when it was rescued through legal action by the Shabazz family and lent to the Schomburg. The diary has been available to scholars, including Dr. Manning Marable, who drew on it extensively for his biography Malcolm X, A Life in Reinvention.
Publication of this book would make the diary widely available to the reading public. Unfortunately, this version may never be seen by the masses. As a book reviewer, I received “an advanced uncorrected copy” or proof shortly after the book was announced. However, days before the scheduled release of The Diary of Malcolm X, a corporation representing other heirs of Malcolm X, known as X Legacy LLC, won a temporary restraining order in Manhattan federal court against the book’s publisher, Third World Press, to halt its publication. A New York judge then extended the ban on sales of the book until a challenge can be heard later this year.
X Legacy represents heirs of Malcolm X and his wife, Betty Shabazz, who died in 1997.
The heirs opposing publication now said they had planned to release the diaries in 1965 on the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination.
X Legacy is challenging Third World Press, a Chicago-based independent black publishing house, claiming it does not have the right to publish the diary. According to Publishers Weekly, a leading trade journal, Bennett Johnson, vice president of Third World Press, the publisher has a valid, signed contract for publication. Publishers Weekly said scholars consider the book to be of “incalculable” historical value.
Johnson indicated to the Chicago Tribune in late November that the dispute caught the company off guard.
“Ilyasah signed the contract with us as the agent of X Legacy,” Johnson said, according to the Tribune. “We were totally unaware of anything else. We assumed she was the agent because of that, and the contract was drafted to the six daughters and the proceeds would be distributed to them.”
Other heirs to the family include lyasah’s sisters, Attallah, Qubilah, Gamela-Lamumba, Malikah and Malaak.
The Tribune said that 10,000 books were sitting in a distribution warehouse and that some copies had been released before the restraining order was issued and had been sold by Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Johnson told the Tribune that it was not clear how many books have been sold or how many advance copies were distributed.
Boyd, the co-editor, is the author and editor of over 10 books including By Any Means Necessary: Malcolm X Real, Not Reinvented (Third World Press, 2012). He contributes to the New York Amsterdam News and teaches black studies at City College in Manhattan. Ilyasah Al-Shabazz is the author of Growing Up X; A Memoir By the Daughter of Malcolm X (One World/Ballantine, 2003), and is an activist and lecturer.
In September, Third World Press launched an Internet crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo.com to help finance publication and promotion of the high-profile book.
Third World Press was founded in 1967 by Madhubuti, a poet and educator, then known as Don L. Lee, and publishes books about the African American, African and Black Diasporan condition. It has published books by such leading writers as Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, Mari Evans, Sonia Sanchez, Derrick Bell, Chancellor Williams, John Henrik Clarke, Lerone Bennett, Jr. and Gloria Naylor.
In a statement on the crowd-funding website, http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-diary-of-malcolm-x–3, Madhubuti writes:
“We are very grateful that Malcolm’s children have granted us the opportunity to publish The Diary; it is the most important volume we have ever brought to the public, after more than 46 years in publishing. I am presenting this information to you because we need your help to do this in the manner that honors and respects the importance of Malcolm…… In it we see the deep reflections of this transformative figure as he developed a new vision for the elevation and integration of the African Diaspora in the context of the world-changing events that are having so great an impact on today’s headlines, both in the United States and throughout the world.”
The Diary of Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, 1964, edited by Herb Boyd and Ilyasah Al-Shabazz, ISBN: 978-0-88378-351-1, List price: $31.95, Third World Press, pp. 260.
Diversebooks.net hopes to carry this edition at discount when it becomes available.