The Autobiography of Malcolm X Book Summary

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The first chapter presents events happening before Malcolm’s birth, during the time his mother was pregnant with him. Then, his mother was attacked by white supremacists because Malcolm’s father, Earl Little, was involved in a movement that supported the return to Arica of those who wanted it. Malcolm was the lightest skinned child in the family and his father began to take him with him to the UNIA meetings. His mother meanwhile stayed and home and cooked and cleaned for the family because she was unable to find work despite being very light skinned.


The family then moves to Lansing in 1929 but they don’t escape the problems being black brings. Their home is burned to the ground by white extremists and when Malcolm turn six, his father is killed. The Great depression also starts during those times and Malcolm’s mother is sent to a mental hospital after she refuses to accept free pork claiming that they can’t eat it because they are members of the Seventh Day Adventists.

Malcolm moves with a white foster family names Swerlins in 1937. Despite being good at school, his teachers don’t think that he will be able to achieve his dreams of being a lawyer. Over the years, Malcolm works as a dish washer and visits his mother and siblings as often as he can. In 1940, Malcolm moves with his half-sister Ella in Boston in a wealthy black neighborhood. While the Swerlings don’t understand his decision, Malcolm feels that he will be stuck in a menial job if he remains with them and so he decides to leave. Malcolm is fifteen when he decides to look for a job, knowing that he will able to pass as being several years older.

Chapter three presents Malcolm in Boston, exploring the new city and observing the differences between the wealthier blacks and the poor blacks. Malcolm criticizes the wealthier blacks because they try to imitate the whites and thus Malcolm is drawn to the poor population that remained true to who they really are. Malcolm meets Shorty while frequenting a pool hall and Shorty gets Malcolm a job in a ballroom where he works.


At the Ballroom, Malcolm shines men’s shoes, tends the men’s bathroom, sells condoms and passes towels while also learning that the ballroom’s income comes primarily from selling marijuana and serving as an intermediary between black dealers and white customers.

During his stay there, Malcolm changes drastically and he begins to drink, use drugs and he also changes the way he used to dress until then. After a while, Malcolm quits his job there and becomes a regular customer.

Malcolm begins to work as a clerk at a drugstore and it there where he meets Laura. Malcolm tells Laura about his dreams of becoming a lawyer and she encourages him to follow his dreams. Laura likes dancing and during one time when Malcolm and Laura are dancing at the Roseland, Malcolm meets Sophia, a white woman. Malcolm dumps Laura for Sophia and he begins to enjoy the status he has by dating a white woman.


Malcolm moves in with Shorty and after a few years he finds that Laura never recovered after Malcolm dumped her and she eventually became a prostitute. Malcolm begins working various jobs washing dishes or selling sandwiches until he earns enough money in the numbers racket. Malcolm also meets Sammy the Pimp and they soon become friends.


Malcolm moves into a rooming house where he learns many things about men in general from prostitutes. Malcolm’s life takes a turn for the worst when he loses his job after offering a cop to take him to a prostitute and losing his job. Malcolm begins to sell marijuana but the police prevent him from expanding his business. Malcolm soon becomes addicted and because he is unable to sell the product in his area, Sammy suggests that he should try and alternate between trying to sell marijuana in one place and then move to another area.

World War II begins and because many white men left for war, the population is more reluctant to accept interracial relationships. Malcolm continues to meet in secret with a white woman named Sofia while also escaping being drafted by the military.

Malcolm becomes unable to travel by railroad after an incident where he threatened someone with a gun during a train ride and because the police began to know him and his drug dealing business, he also became unable to sell drugs. As a result, Malcolm begins to traffic guns and be involved in robberies while also starting to use harder drugs.

Malcolm’s brother Reginald moves in with him and Malcolm arranges for him to sell different products on the streets. Things changed drastically in Harlem and the Savoy Ballroom is shut down, riots take place and prostitutes and hustler remain with no other choice but to find a legal job. Malcolm is also affected by this changes and he finds himself forced to live on what Reginald makes on the streets.

Malcolm works various illegal jobs and even gets involved with bootlegging with a Jewish man but that didn’t last long either because the man soon disappeared. After a disagreement Malcolm had with a man against who he betted, Malcolm is forced to run away to Boston in order to save his life. Shorty and Ella are amazed to see how much Malcolm has changed and Malcolm continues his relationship with Sophia while Shorty starts seeing Sophia’s younger sister.

In order to earn some money, Malcolm, Shorty and an Italian man named Rudy form a burglary ring and they rob the houses of rich white people with Sophia’s help. Malcolm is caught when one day he sees Sophia on the streets with one of her husband’s friends and blows her cover. Malcolm is eventually sentenced to serve ten years in prison.

During his time spent inside the Massachusetts state prison, Malcolm meets Bimbi who helps Malcolm grow by pushing him to learn more and use the small library in the prison to learn about various subjects. When Malcolm is moved to another prison with a bigger library, he continues to teach himself using the books he has. Malcolm also becomes a Muslim in prison and accepts the Nation of Islam’s principles.

During his stay in prison Malcolm becomes a member of a debate group and during his debates he always finds a way to bring the theme of racism into his speeches and begins to be obsessed with the idea of converting as many as he can to Islamism.

Malcolm’s brother, Reginald, goes insane after he is thrown out of Nation of Islam for being caught sleeping with a secretary and Malcolm believes that Reginald was punished for his sins.

Malcolm is released in 1952 and he contacts the Nation of Islam. Malcolm is taken as an example and he asks Elijah Muhammad how to attract more people to the faith but has little success in Detroit. He attracts more people as time passes and thus Malcolm changes his last name to “X” to symbolize the names that were robed through slavery. Eventually Malcolm is named assistant minister in Detroit and is sent to different locations to start new temples and to attract more people to the faith. Malcolm marries a woman named Betty who joined the temple in 1956 and with whom he has five children. In 1958, Malcolm’s half-sister Ella also joins the Nation of Islam and by the year 1965, numerous temples exist in Chicago, New York and Detroit.


Starting from 1957, Malcolm, the Nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammad begin to be attacked in the media. In 1959 Malcolm is sent as an emissary to other countries and it is also during those times when he begins to attack other black civil rights leaders. In 1960 mass rallies are being held by the Nation of Islam and even though at first they don’t allow white people to participate, they soon ease up and let them participate.

Malcolm also starts a newspaper and slowly he takes over the Nation of Islam when Elijah Muhammad becomes too old to travel as he did before. Malcolm also starts a circuit in which he held lectures at universities but because Elijah became jealous of his success, Malcolm gives up some of his activities.

The relationship between Elijah and Malcolm suffers again when Elijah becomes involved in two paternity suits. Elijah doesn’t confess and the relationship between Malcolm and the Nation of Islam breaks more. When Malcolm makes a comment towards president’s J.F. Kennedy’s assassination the temple is displeased and he soon starts to hear rumors about a possible warrant for his death. Because of this Malcolm moves to Florida temporally where he stays with a boxer names Cassius Clay who will take the name Muhammad Ali after his victory.


Malcolm forms his own religious group called the Muslim Mosque in Harlem and plans to make a trip to Mecca. Because Malcolm no longer has a job, Ella is willing to pay for his trip. Malcolm arrives in Cairo but there his passport is confiscated until it can be proven that he is indeed a Muslim. Omar Azzam, the friend of an influential Muslim helps him and Malcolm is able to continue his trip to Mecca where he is impressed to see everyone living in harmony. Malcolm changes his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and he continues his trip, going from Mecca to Lebanon, Liberia, Morocco and Senegal before returning to New York.

During his travels, black began to riot and the press implied that Malcolm may be the one responsible. Malcolm continues to travel and he also expresses his fears that he will suffer a violent death and that he will not be able to see the autobiography finished, this being also the last chapter narrated by Malcolm.

The last chapter in the autobiography is the epilogue told from Alex Haley’s point of view and he recalls how he gained Malcolm’s and Elijah’s trust that eventually led to the writing of the autobiography. He also describes the death threats Malcolm received in his last days and ended with his assassination. The autobiography ends with the sheikh’s words that were present at Malcolm’s funeral, hinting that Malcolm was accepted into heaven.



Shout out to Nicola Francisc and gradesaver.com for doing this written summary

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