The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcolm X Chapter 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Two different groups approach Malcolm about projects on the Nation of Islam. Louis Lomax, a black journalist, proposes a documentary film, while C. Eric Lincoln, a scholar at Boston University, would like to write his dissertation on the Nation of Islam. With Elijah’s blessing, Malcolm gives both projects the go ahead.
The events at the police station in Harlem have attracted more attention to the Nation, but Malcolm is wary of how these first major media projects may present the Nation to the country at large.
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Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad have both written columns for the Amsterdam News—the Harlem newspaper—but Malcolm wants to expand the Nation of Islam’s media capabilities to have their own full-fledged newspaper. While traveling in Los Angeles, he goes to visit the offices of the Herald Dispatch to see the workings of a newspaper. Upon returning to New York, he starts practicing taking and developing pictures, and then founds the newspaper Muhammad Speaks to be sold and distributed on New York’s streets.
Malcolm is not content to have the news about the Nation be spread by outside media organizations. Instead, he takes the initiative to found an independent newspaper so that Muslims can learn about the latest developments within the Nation. However, this could also make it very biased and a powerful source of propaganda.
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At this time, Malcolm travels as Elijah Muhammad’s representative to many nations, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Nigeria, and Ghana, who have begun to recognize the Nation of Islam as an important group among black liberation movements.
Malcolm does not elaborate much about these journeys, so the reader can infer that his experiences were mostly professional and concerned with representing the Nation.
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Towards the end of 1959, Louis Lomax’s documentary airs, titled “The Hate that Hate Produced.” Intended to shock and awe the American public, there is instant negative outcry against the Muslim community, especially in New York (Malcolm predominately blames the title for the negative reaction). Over time, the press reactions to the film become more one-sided, and then black leaders began to denounce the Nation of Islam as a hate-cult in the press.
Malcolm does not offer an opinion on the content of the film. Instead, he focuses on the title, saying its double usage of the word “hate” made the Nation sound bad, no matter what the content. The public’s superficial reading of the film is similar to how bigotry works in general—oversimplifying and judging by only examining the outside.
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Malcolm spends hours a day on the phone talking to the press, all of whom are looking for a reaction to the negative coverage. Though he is angry, he remains reserved in his responses, on Elijah’s orders. Malcolm particularly notes that American journalists push the “hate-cult” narrative more than European ones do, and he attributes this to an unconscious guilt and projection of their own bigotry and hatred.
If a group of people have been historically involved in the oppression of another group, then they will certainly have some prejudices in their points of view, but it is easier to justify these prejudices if one can blame the oppressed group for also being “hateful.”
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Malcolm defends the Nation’s preaching as aimed at uplifting black people and raising their self-worth. He also defends their support of separation rather than integration as sensible and as what most white people actually want. In particular, he defends the Fruit of Islam as an innocuous defense group, rather than some foreboding paramilitary force.
In Malcolm’s mind he is not presenting a radical ideology, but rather an honest depiction of what white society wants in reverse. Instead of white supremacy, the forced separation of races, and the NRA, the Nation espouses black supremacy, the voluntary separation of races, and the Fruit of Islam.
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Utilizing his knowledge of history, Malcolm defends Elijah against claims of being a “demagogue” by explaining that a demagogue means “teacher of the people” in Ancient Greek. Therefore, if he is a demagogue, then he is part of a group including Socrates, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther, and Gandhi. But the reporters respond even more negatively to history lessons, and turn away.
Malcolm has a keen awareness of the importance of history and context in our everyday lives. Just as a reporter must know the history of a term to use it effectively, one must know the history of oppression to oppose it effectively, which is perhaps the core idea behind his self-education.
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While Malcolm mostly does battle with the press, his personal anger is reserved for the black leaders who attack the Nation. Elijah asks Malcolm and the others to avoid lashing back at them, as this is what the white man wants and will further divide the black population. However, after the attacks continue unabatedly, Elijah gives Malcolm the go ahead.
Since journalists at the time were mostly white, Malcolm expected confrontations with them. But attacks by other black leaders hurt him personally, as he sees this as a form of betrayal against black solidarity.
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Malcolm attacks these black leaders as “Uncle Toms” and as “Black bodies with white heads.” He charges them as out of touch with the realities of poor black communities in America, and instead simply saying what their white benefactors and bosses want them to say. These leaders to do not take these attacks well, and respond even more aggressively.
Malcolm sees these confrontations as having a strong class dimension. These black leaders either cannot understand the situation of the poor or are intentionally hiding it in order to protect their own privileged positions.
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Soon, the radio and television stations start asking Malcolm to come on and debate with both white and black scholars to defend Elijah Muhammad and the Nation. Passionately furious, he agrees with no hesitation. As Malcolm goes to the studios, he sees that the black commentators are very friendly with the white producers and hosts, something he takes as proof of their collusion to keep black people ignorant.
At this point in his life, Malcolm appears to think of himself as a Warrior for Elijah Muhammad, fighting the entire world on his teacher’s behalf. He seems to follow the rule, “If you aren’t with me, then you’re against me.”
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Malcolm begins his appearances by introducing himself as a way to control the tone and the narrative. Then, when he is asked a question, he refuses to stop until he has made his point. For example, when asked about separation, he argues that it is different from segregation, because in segregation, somebody else controls one’s life and liberty, while separation happens as a choice between equals.
In his battle against the media and more moderate black pundits, Malcolm realizes that he is being demonized and made to look crazy. He counters this by making sure that his logic is always clear, rather than letting himself be cut off before he can make his point.
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Malcolm repeatedly assures the reader that while he went on television and radio, even if he was the one on camera, his entire goal was to represent Elijah Muhammad to the best of his abilities and to never accept any praise for himself.
Malcolm against insists on his entirely pure intentions. He certainly believes what he says here, but the reader should also be wary of fully trusting an autobiographer’s self-portrayal.
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Dr. C. Eric Lincoln’s book The Black Muslims in America comes out, and the press immediately seize on the phrase “Black Muslims,” despite Malcolm’s attempts over the next two years to kill its usage.
As when the documentary came out, a bad label gives the Nation an insidious persona in the white media.
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Around this time, the Nation begins to have mass rallies around the country, which become a phenomenal success. Now, instead of small caravans of ten cars going to Chicago to hear Elijah Muhammad speak, there are whole fleets of buses coming from the East Coast cities. The events, which are only open to black people, boast as many as ten thousand attendees. The events are guarded by Fruit of Islam members, who conduct careful security checks, looking for weapons that may threaten Elijah Muhammad’s life.
The size and frequency of these meetings attest to the Nation’s growing presence throughout the country. Malcolm is especially proud of the fact that the audiences were all-black. In a way, these rallies were small examples of the Nation’s eventual political goal of achieving a separate, all-black state within the U.S.
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While most of the attendees are Muslims, the Nation always make sure to leave a section at the front for “dignitaries,” invited leaders from the black community (many of whom had attacked the Nation). Another section is accessible only to black journalists; Malcolm credits the Nation with jumpstarting the careers of many black journalists.
By inviting journalists and other black leaders, the Nation hoped to reach out to the people within the black community who had the most visibility and power to spread their message – if they chose to do so.
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The ministers and leaders of the Nation sit up on stage behind Elijah Muhammad’s chair. As the event gets ready to begin, new and old ministers alike greet each other, and a generally festive atmosphere surrounds the event. For Malcolm, seeing these ministers from so many Temples that he personally helped found or organize gives him a strong sense of pride. Not only that, but the sight of the large crowds reminds him of the visions Elijah told him about; he described seeing large crowds, waiting to hear Allah’s message.
Beneath the festive atmosphere, there is a fundamental tension at these rallies. Elijah has envisioned himself as the leader of a great movement and as giving speeches to the crowds, but it’s Malcolm who does most of the work of spreading the Nation’s message.
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Malcolm goes up to the microphone to warm up the crowd for Elijah, addressing them as “black people of all faiths.” The main point he underlines is that Elijah Muhammad has finally opened their eyes to the identity of their enemy, the white man. According to Malcolm, he had been the first leader with the courage to say publicly what they had all been suffering privately their entire lives.
Malcolm’s message is addressed to all black people, not just the Muslims, and it centers on racial solidarity. This has been a key part of his belief system ever since the days of his father’s involvement with Black Nationalism.
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Then, as Malcolm continues to speak, Elijah Muhammad begins to approach the stage through the center aisle. A slight, fragile man, his meekness inspires adoration from the crowd, who call him, “Little Lamb!” Malcolm himself is often overcome at the sight of the man who had rescued him and treated him like a son after he had felt so lost in prison.
Malcolm sometimes chastises Christians as being overly emotional and jubilant during religious services, but here he describes a predominantly Muslim crowd, himself included, as they go wild at the sight of their human leader. The idea of Elijah as a “little lamb” also connects him to Jesus, the “lamb of God,” adding to Elijah’s status as a kind of messiah for his followers.
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Elijah Muhammad then speaks, and the Muslim crowd yells out their praises as he pauses. Then, as the energy grows and he continues his criticism of the white men who trick and oppress black people into serving them for so little, the Christians in the crowd begin to join in. Even as his frail strength starts to fade, Elijah carries on, much to the anxiety of his ministers. Suddenly, when he can go on no longer, he abruptly stops and is led away by Fruit of Islam ushers.
The parallels to a traditional Christian revival are once again very strong. The preacher (Elijah) goes to the front and denounces the “devil” (white society) in strong words as the crowd shouts along, until he collapses in spiritual and physical exhaustion.
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One of the Nation’s greatest points of pride is that Elijah Muhammad does not accept financial backing from any white organizations or donors. They only accept donations from black people in order to maintain their intellectual independence. As Malcolm explains this, the collection plates go around and soon fill up.
As black America has been economically oppressed, it can be difficult to start organizations without support from white donors, but this often leads to those donors going on to control the organization’s message.
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As they hold more rallies, Elijah Muhammad starts to allow a small section for white press, and then a small visitor’s section for a white audience. Those who come are generally students and scholars, eager to learn about the “Black Muslims.” Meanwhile, Malcolm also keeps a close eye on the visiting black leaders in attendance; in their faces, he believes he sees the recognition that they have been puppets of white men, working against the betterment of their own people.
Throughout the book, Malcolm shows great respect for young college students of all races, as he sees them as the most open to understanding and opposing racist oppression. While at this point in his life he believes in the separation of races, he nonetheless also thinks white students can learn from the Nation’s message, and perhaps vice versa.
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Meanwhile, the F.B.I. and the police constantly watch and follow them. The phones of the Nation’s branches and of its leaders’ houses are all tapped. Yet Elijah tells them to have no fear, for they have the truth on their side.
Malcolm shows contempt for state surveillance by barely talking about it. The police may be following him every day, but he only gives them a passing mention.
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In addition to the surveillance, black agents are sent to infiltrate their ranks. Some of them, upon hearing the Muslims’ message, confess their roles and convert to Islam; of these, some even start to counterspy to inform the Nation on what law enforcement agencies are saying about them. One of their authorities’ concerns is the increasing number of prisoners who, like Malcolm, convert to Islam while in prison.
Malcolm has an unfailing belief in the power of the truth. Even if the enemy has been sent amongst their ranks, if they speak the truth, then the spy won’t be able to help himself in turning to support them.
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Malcolm also claims that the Nation had a very good track record at getting people to quit heroin. Their program is built around having ex junkies go back into their old environments and convince their friends to quit their habit. They try to explore and explain to them why it is they use dope, which they say has a strong connection to racist oppression in America. Once they agree to participate, they are brought to the Nation’s local restaurant and become part of a support network within the Nation to gradually build their confidence and sense of self-worth. Then the addict goes cold turkey while the Muslim brothers watch over him and nurse him back to health. Once he is well, he is sent back into the community to help others quit their own addiction.
Many addiction treatment programs have a strong community-focused aspect. The Nation’s program combines that community based support with a religious dimension (like AA often does, for example). In a nutshell, this is the same structure as the Nation of Islam in general: a strong sense of black community and mutual support is combined with a common faith to combat problems brought on by racial oppression.
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In 1961, the Nation is flourishing. A brand new Islamic Center is to be built in Chicago as the headquarters of the nation. Elijah Muhammad travels to the Middle East, and then directs that all Temples be known as mosques from now on. Furthermore, more and more Muslim businesses begin to open up with the objective of keeping profits within the black community. Elijah Muhammad’s influence continues to grow as his speeches are broadcast on the radio, and the two Universities of Islam (in Chicago and Detroit) teach black history to school children.
Elijah and Malcolm both see the Nation of Islam as extending beyond the mosque. Rather, they believe that its ideology and faith should serve as a foundation for the education, health care, and employment of African Americans throughout the Nation. By its very nature it is a very political and practical religion.
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Thanks to Malcolm’s hard work and fundraising throughout the Nation, Elijah’s eight children all become full-time employees of the Nation, serving in different offices. This is largely a symbolic victory, as it keeps Elijah’s children from having to work for white businessmen.
Malcolm has naively installed all of Elijah’s children in important offices within the Nation, something which could easily decrease his influence significantly if he ever has a rift with Elijah.
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Elijah’s bronchial cough, which has bothered him for many years, becomes enflamed after so many public appearances. Finally, the doctors tell him he must move to a drier climate, so the Nation buys him a house in Phoenix. However, his relocation in no way affects his administrative responsibilities within the Nation; in fact, they only increase. As a consequence, Elijah is forced to transfer more responsibility and independence to Malcolm regarding his public appearances, a burden Malcolm humbly takes on. Elijah urges Malcolm to become famous so that the Nation will be famous—but he also warns that fame always attracts jealousy.
This passage reflects a central problem with the text: should the reader trust the narrator? Malcolm portrays himself as a humble servant, simply becoming famous for the sake of the Nation. After their split, the Nation will blame Malcolm as having been power-hungry and obsessed with his own fame. But did the others become jealous of the selfless Malcolm, or did Malcolm himself become greedy or self-important and just not admit it?
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