Malcolm X's papers resurface at auction

Missing parts of civil rights activist's The Autobiography Of Malcolm X go on sale in Manhattan

The manuscript and unpublished pages from The Autobiography Of Malcolm X at Guernsey’s auction house in New York this week. Only one item – the 25-page typescript of The Negro – resembles a full chapter.
The manuscript and unpublished pages from The Autobiography Of Malcolm X at Guernsey’s auction house in New York this week. Only one item – the 25-page typescript of The Negro – resembles a full chapter. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • For a quarter-century, they were the stuff of myth among scholars - three missing chapters from The Autobiography Of Malcolm X, reputedly cut from the manuscript after the civil rights activist's assassination in 1965 because they were deemed too incendiary.

Their possible existence was first teased in 1992, when a private collector at an estate sale scooped up material belonging to Mr Alex Haley, Malcolm X's collaborator on the book.

Years later, a biographer was allowed a 15-minute look at some of the papers, but otherwise they have been mostly locked away, surrounded by a haze of cultivated mystery.

But now, the unpublished material, or at least some of it, has suddenly emerged and was offered for sale on Thursday at a Manhattan auction house, along with another artefact which scholars have never seen - the manuscript for the published book, which bears dense traces of Mr Haley and Malcolm X's complex negotiations over the finished text.

At the auction, an unpublished chapter called The Negro was picked up by the New York Public Library's Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Culture for US$7,000 (S$9,540). There were no offers on the manuscript for the published version, which had a minimum opening bid of US$40,000.

But after some hushed conversations in side rooms, it was announced that the Schomburg - in Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, and already home to a large collection of material that had been held by the activist's family - had acquired the manuscript for an undisclosed sum, along with nearly a dozen unpublished fragments that had also gone unsold.

"The Autobiography is one of the most important books of the 20th century," Mr Kevin Young, director of the Schomburg, said after the auction.

"To have the version with Malcolm X's corrections, and to be able to see his thoughts taking shape, is incredibly powerful."

Since Malcolm X's assassination by members of the Nation of Islam, there have been battles over the meaning of his life, in particular during the tumultuous last year, when he broke with the Nation of Islam, travelled to the Middle East and renounced his philosophy of racial separatism.

There have been equally fierce battles over his literary remains. However, the manuscripts for The Autobiography remained in the possession of Mr Haley and, when he died in 1992, they went to auction to settle claims against his estate.

They were sold for more than US$100,000 to Mr Gregory Reed, a Detroit-area lawyer who has represented civil rights activist Rosa Parks and various Motown musicians.

The material landed at Guernsey's auction house as part of a complex bankruptcy proceeding involving Mr Reed.

Over the years, he had offered teasing glimpses of the missing chapters, which he said were titled The Negro, 20 Million Muslims and The End Of Christianity.

The scholar Manning Marable, in the run-up to the publication of his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2011 biography of Malcolm X, described meeting Mr Reed in a Detroit restaurant and being given a mere 15 minutes to look at some unpublished pages.

Marable - who died in 2011 just before his biography was published - said it was unclear why the material had been cut from the book, which was published after Malcolm X's death.

But he emphasised how the book had been profoundly shaped by Mr Haley's own integrationist, liberal Republican point of view.

"He was deeply hostile to Malcolm's politics," Marable said in a 2009 interview.

It remains to be seen what scholars will make of the material and how it relates to Mr Reed's long-standing claim of having found three missing chapters.

The manuscript for the published book, held in a black binder, is missing some pages. There are a number of unpublished fragments, including some that Guernsey's offered as single pages or slips of paper that bore marks where staples had held them to another page.

Only one item - the 25-page typescript of The Negro, bought by the Schomburg - resembles a full chapter.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2018, with the headline 'Malcolm X's papers resurface at auction'. Subscribe