Interview with Alex Haley



Um, one cannot very well talk about Malcolm, as a matter of fact I don't think one should not talk about Malcolm without making reference to the Nation of Islam, colloquially the Black Muslims, which had brought him to public fame. Ah, he had prior to that time all the things he had done and Malcolm, it is said, and I certainly agree, lived more than the average 10 men in his few years, relatively few years, his young years. And nobody knew about him except the people right around him, you know, in, in all those earlier years. It was only via the Nation of Islam and its drama that brought Malcolm to public notice. I know that he in turn, he thought of himself totally as the embodiment of the Nation of Islam and what it could achieve. Ah, he would say, he loved to tell about how other people's lives had been changed but none so dramatically he would say, as my own. And then he would tell you about having been in prison, having been a hustler and having done this and that and the other, and he said and look at me now, you know, and, and he was now the, the epitome, if you might say that, of, of loyalty to the Nation of Islam. I guess the most graphic illustration I could give of, of that at, at least in my experience was that when I began to interview Malcolm for the book that would later be called "The Autobiography of Malcolm X", [ah, the book was to be about him. It had taken a great deal of effort to get him to agree to do such a book. And he would come down to my place, I lived in Greenwich Village, at the time at 92 Grove Street off Sheridan Square. I had a basement apartment. And he would come down there and he was, he had big feet and he would pace the floor, he was like a caged tiger. And night after night after night when he'd come down, which was about twice a week that he would come 'round 9 at night,] he would talk about the greater glories of Mr. Elijah Muhammad, his leader and about the Nation of Islam, and there was nothing else he would talk about. And finally I began very delicately as I could to say to him, "Mr. Malcolm this book is to be about you so I, I, I know about them, you've told me, I've written with you about them, but we need now to go into your life." And he would always get first testy about it and then he got distinctly annoyed about it, and finally, he would get angry. [This was over a period of weeks. And then finally, a story I can tell you that is not in this direct line but what, what, what changed that was one of the most moving experiences I ever had with Malcolm. Was one night I had been interviewing him for about two and a half months and I had come to the private thought that since I couldn't get him to say anything about himself, all he would talk about was Mr. Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, that I was going to have to go to the publisher and tell him this and say, "You know, you either need to try another writer who may be able to get through to him or you need to drop the project. If that's what decision you want to make, it was OK with me, fine, whichever." And then this night Malcolm came, I only remember that it was deep snow, knee deep snow, and Malcolm had had something happen that day that really had churned him up. He was furious and he walked the floor and he walked. And that night, late, I guess about 11 o'clock after he had walked and fumed at one or another thing, he stopped talking long enough that I said something to him. I said ah, "Mr. Malcolm, once again I must ask you, could you please say something about yourself? We have to, have to do the book about you." And then, now he just blew up. He was furious, he glared at me, he grabbed his coat. I remember it was a little houndstooth coat, gray in color, and I remember thinking that coat's too light for this weather. That was just my own thought. And he started charged toward to the door and when he got to the door and reached and got in his, the knob in his hand and started to jerk it open, I said something to him. I don't know where it came from, I certainly didn't have time to think it, and it was not the kind of thing you would ask of Malcolm, particularly an angry Malcolm. But I remember saying to him as he started to jerk the door open,] I said, "Mr. Malcolm, could you tell me something about your mother?" And I will never ever forget how he stopped almost as if he was suspended, like a marionette, [and he gave me the oddest look and he turned and he began to walk back in the reverse direction, but slowly now. And he walked around that room I suppose, the room was ob--oblong, and he must have walked say three times around the room before he spoke. And now his voice was a little bit higher of register.**