Interview with Alex Haley


In the late fall of 1964 Malcolm had been to Mecca, he had been to Africa, West Africa, and he had had experiences in both places which had contributed toward his returning to this country with a new perspective and with a new message, as it were: broadly speaking, pan-Africanism. And Malcolm was personally, at least in my perception, I was still working with him of course, by this time I was writing on the book, the research largely having been done, and we would communicate, you know, I'd have questions say, ask to fill in something or something he just wanted to volunteer, things like that. Ah, and he had this sort of experience that he shared about, I remember one what he was particularly impressed with w--was that in Mecca he had found himself amidst a great majority of, y--you know, White or lighter skinned people. And I remember there was one expression of his something like, "That I set with brothers whose eyes were bluer than blue, whose skin was fairer than fair," or something of that order, "and we were all the same brothers." And then he came, he came to Africa and I remember of his numerous experiences there, he met African leaders, various ones, ah, I have subsequently met some of the people whom he contacted in his African journey: Dr. Carlos Moore from Martinique, I remember was one who, who translated for Malcolm in, in, ah, one of the countries. Carlos speaks French and other languages fluently. And then I remember the thing that hurt Malcolm so much was at some place, I don't remember which country, he had met, ah, I believe it was in Ghana, he had met ah, ah, Muhammad Ali who had earlier been almost, they had been like Muhammad Ali was like his younger brother, little brother. He was very, very proud of him. I remember Malcolm calling me from somewhere in Florida where, I believe it was in Florida, where he had, Muhammad Ali had just won one of his decisive battles and ah, Malcolm was boasting about how his little brother had done so marvelously well. And I could hear the noise in the background and Malcolm spoke to Muhammad Ali and said for him to holler something at me over the phone, which he did, you know, and so, it was kind of like you tell a melee backstage after the fight. And now he went to West Africa and in Ghana he and Muhammad Ali happened to be crisscrossing in their journeys in West Africa and now Muhammad Ali did not look in his direction though they passed right by each other, nor speak. And Malcolm was deeply hurt, wounded by that. And so he came back in a sort of down, depressed frame of mind. He was such a public figure that he couldn't show this publicly, so he would, you know, he had always the standard stock statements to make and the press was always asking him something. And he had his, ah, just a, ah, like a, a bibliography of the proper statement that would sound OK to get him by. But the bottom line truth was that Malcolm was now in a situation where he had, he and the Malcolm--he and the Nation of Islam had broken up. That had been for years his power base, that was what gave him strength. He spoke for them and they were a powerful group indeed. But now they were no longer with him, they were no longer behind him, so he's on his own. He is Malcolm X but without a structure under him. He was trying to create his own organization. I think he called it the OAAU, the Organization of Afro-American Unity. And he had a sort of an office up on the mezzanine of the Theresa Hotel. I, I have the impression that it wasn't an office for which he paid because Malcolm didn't have very much money at that time that, but it was an office I think that had been kind of donated to him. And he would go, I would go with him. He'd invite me some nights to go with him up there after we had interviewed or, or by now I was writing as I say so it wasn't so much interview, but just go with him. You know, when you're with a subject as long as I had been with him, you just kind of need to touch and be close to each other and commune, sometimes without even talking. And Malcolm had a way that I came to know, that if he was annoyed or vexed or even angry, he would seldom say it. He w--was a great believer in discipline. This was one of his keystone things for himself. Discipline, self-discipline. And he would never speak his anger but he had a way as he would quickly bite his lower lip, like that, and you could see him do it and you knew something had upset him. And I saw him numerous nights go into the office in the Theresa mezzanine and look on the desk and that lip would get bitten because now there was work that should have been done which nobody had done. Now that people who said they were with him, who somebody had said they'd come in and type or fix this or make up cards or do something, somehow something else had been of more priority that day, and so it wasn't done. And there was Malcolm. And I remember one night he and I went up there and there was something he had wanted to make announcements about but envelopes hadn't been typed, and he bit the lip. And he was supposed to sign letters or sign, it was printed, ah, fliers that he was going to mail and he was going to sign each one to give it a little personalization. So I just said to him well, well, "Mr. Malcolm why don't you just go ahead and sign them and I type pretty well, and give me the list." And so he looked at me, he gave me the list, and I sat down and typed his envelopes, typed th--the names and addresses for him. And there were little things like that, but what you saw, what I was seeing was a man who was valiant beyond belief, whose structural world was tottering and he was trying to hold it together. See what he needed, and what he wanted, and what he was trying to do was somehow to maintain a public presence, but in a manner that would not get him into difficult trouble say like with something like the government or with other strong forces until he could build up his own organization. That's what he was into. As a matter of fact when he, up to his death, that was his general, as I perceived it, his general position and effort and struggle. Hm hmm.