Interview with Alex Haley



Ah, the words came out of my mouth, you know how sometimes you hear yourself saying something that you hadn't really thought about, it just involuntarily came. I said, "Mr. Malcolm, could you tell me something about your mother?" And he turned, he gave me a very odd look, and he began to walk in the reverse direction. And he, I had this oblong room so it gave him some walking distance. And I guess he circuited the room three times before he spoke again and this time his voice was higher of register, was kind of a stream of consciousness manner,] and he said, ["It's funny you should ask me that.] I remember the kind of dresses she used to wear, they were old and faded and gray." And then he walked some more. And he said, "I remember how she was always bent over the stove trying to stretch what little we had." And that was the beginning that night of his walking. He walked that floor until just about daybreak.** I never asked him a question, I was just taking notes furiously, I had a silent typewriter, they call them silent, they don't make too much noise, and I'm just going as fast as I could, capturing as best I could in kind of que blis form what spilled out of Malcolm X. That night he said totally involuntarily just about everything that is now in the first chapter of "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" in the chapter titled "Nightmare". A story of a little boy, I think he was about seven at the time, ah, amidst his siblings whom his mother was trying to keep together. The father, her husband had been murdered. Ah, he was a baptist minister, he'd been thrown under a streetcar and the state now was trying to split up the family, and the mother was fighting desperately to keep her family together. And her--under the strain, her mind was beginning to, to loosen or tauten or whichever is correct. And Malcolm from years later now that night was remembering and recalling all this the way it went. He talked about each of his brothers and sisters and so on. And in subsequent years I have come to know some of them who would recall the same time and make commentary on what Malcolm said. And as a matter of fact ah, ah, about, I'd say within the past year, I met Malcolm's mother who is living up in Michigan with, ah, his sister Yvonne. And Malcolm's mother talked to me about Malcolm. And the one thing she reacted to mostly was that something I, I said Malcolm had often said that he learned early as a little boy that if something happened, he would holler immediately and he'd get more attention. And he said it was always something he'd learned, that the hinge that squeaks the loudest get the grease. And she smiled and she said "Yes, that was Malcolm, that he would holler first, more than anybody else." And then Malcolm's relationship with his mother, I should tell you also, was after that night when he talked about his mother, about two weeks later he told me he was going away for a week and that, you know, he was always going for some time to do work of the Nation of Islam. And this time when he came back, he had that patented, copyrighted Malcolm X grin. His daughter Attallah has got the same grin today. Attallah's my Goddaughter, and I was telling her not long ago in Los Angeles she grin just like her daddy. And he now grinned and said to me that he had been to Michigan and with his brother Philbert who was a minister in the Nation of Islam, they had gone to whatever institution it was where their mother had been for a long time, more than a decade, and they had undertaken the initial steps to have her brought out. And, and, it, it sort of got its genesis from him talking about it, and he later told me that he, it had been pent up in him all these years. He didn't want to think about it, he didn't, certainly didn't want to talk about it because he did not feel good about it. But he felt so great when he and his brother and others of the family came together to have their mother released.

Ah, you said the best story about Malcolm and his power upon people. I, I would say one day Malcolm said to me would I like to ride with him. Periodically he would ask me that. He had a blue Oldsmobile and, ah, he liked to drive around, just tool around in Harlem. It was not sort of like he called it patrolling his beat, it was among his people and he genuinely enjoyed it. People would recognize him and they would wave, in some areas he was like Sugar Ray Robinson driving around, you know. And one such day in an afternoon we were in Harlem up in the 130ths area and all of a sudden Malcolm slapped his big foot on the brake, the car just jolted to a stop, screeched. And I said, "Oh my God, I knew we were shot," 'cause you know, Malcolm was, was a target to, in, in lots of areas. And before I knew really what was happening he had burst out of the door, the driver's side door and was over against, near the wall of a building and he's standing like an avenging devil over three young Black men who would be say 18, 19, in that area, maybe 20, and his finger's out and it was the angriest I ever saw Malcolm. He was shaking his finger at them, and he was just raging at them. He was something like, ah, "Beyond these doors is the greatest collection of information about Black people in the world and other people and they're studying about you, and the best you can do is be out here shooting craps against the door. You should be ashamed of yourself, or yourselves." And um, these young men got up and I tell you literally they went slinking away. Now the, the significant part is, these were young men who probably would have cut the throat of anybody else who would have dared come up and accost them in such a manner. But they recognized Malcolm and such was Malcolm's image, such was his power in th--image terms, that their reaction was just to slink away. They were embarrassed, they were guilty, he, as charged. And it he fumed about it. He had a way of coming, coming up on something that would really get to him and then he would just mutter and go on about it until it kind of wore down. But he was furious about that and he was also furious, ah, about anything that he came upon that he interpreted as Black people, particularly younger Black people, shirking opportunities to learn about themselves, about anything. He said unless we get equipped with information that is taught, we will not be able to cope in this society. That was his general thematic thing.