Between the World and Me

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Malcolm X Character Analysis

Although Malcolm X does not play an active role in the narrative, he is undoubtedly the most important historical figure in the book. Coates discovers Malcolm X’s work as a teenager, and it is the experience of reading about Malcolm’s life and beliefs that awakens Coates to the reality of racial injustice in America. Born Malcolm Little in 1925, Malcolm became a member of the Nation of Islam during a period of incarceration. Malcolm went on to become a key figure in the black power movement, refusing to acquiesce to the strategy of nonviolent resistance advocated by some members of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1964 Malcolm broke ties with the Nation of Islam, and the following year he was assassinated by three of its members at the age of 39.

Malcolm X Quotes in Between the World and Me

The Between the World and Me quotes below are all either spoken by Malcolm X or refer to Malcolm X. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Spiegel & Grau edition of Between the World and Me published in 2015.
Part 1 Quotes

Perhaps I too might live free. Perhaps I too might wield the same old power that animated the ancestors, that lived in Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Nanny, Cudjoe, Malcolm X, and speak––no, act––as though my body were my own.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker), Malcolm X
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

Coates has recalled that, as a teenager, he was a huge admirer of Malcolm X. Malcolm’s words felt like an antidote to the messages Coates received at school and in the wider world, which discouraged resistance to racist injustice and left Coates feeling powerless. In this passage, Coates explains that he was inspired by the revolutionary spirit of African-American leaders and activists who came before him. Although at times it can feel as if Coates is alone facing the impossible pressures of police brutality, street violence, inequality of opportunity, and the dishonesty of the Dream, he is also connected to the rich heritage of black resistance. Through the precedent set by those who came before, Coates is able to imagine the possibility of having and feeling control over his own body.

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Malcolm X Character Timeline in Between the World and Me

The timeline below shows where the character Malcolm X appears in Between the World and Me. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Black Bodies Theme Icon
Captivity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
...remarks that he is not alone on this journey toward political consciousness. The work of Malcolm X is being taken up within the developing hip hop community, just at the point when... (full context)
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Black Bodies Theme Icon
Captivity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
...solid sense of himself, guided by the things he is learning and the precedent of Malcolm X . He is accompanied on this journey of self-discovery by his friend Ben, whom he... (full context)