Book Quotes: The Autobiography of Malcolm X

January 4th, 2014

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

As Told to Alex Haley

A lover of language, my father believed very much in the power of words to influence and transform lives.”
Pg. ix
“ ‘By any means necessary’ meant examine the obstacles, determine the vision, find the resolve, and explore the alternatives toward dissolving the obstacles.”
Pg. xiii
If you write honestly, the hero will emerge.”
Pg. xx
It is essential for people to trust–even through long periods when dreams may appear to have been deferred, delayed, and overshadowedthat there comes a time when an unwavering will, a strong belief, and endless prayers bring great visions to realization.”
Pg. xxiv
“Thirty years of experience as a reporter in Western and Eastern Europe had taught me that the forces in a developing social struggle are frequently buried beneath the visible surface and make themselves felt in many ways long before they burst out into the open. These generative forces make themselves felt through the power of an idea long before their organizational forms can openly challenge the establishment. It is the merit of European political scientists and sociologists to give a high priority to the power of ideas in a social struggle.”
Pg. xxvi
“All I had done was to improve on their strategy, and it was the beginning of a very important lesson in life – that anytime you find someone more successful than you are, especially when you’re both engaged in the same business – you know they’re doing something that you aren’t.”
Pg. 21
“Even though they appeared to have opened the door, it was still closed. Thus they never did really see me.”
Pg. 28
“It was a surprising thing that I had never thought of it that way before, but I realized that whatever I wasn’t, I was smarter than nearly all of those white kids. But apparently I was still not intelligent enough, in their eyes, to become whatever I wanted to be.”
Pg. 38
Whatever I have done since then, I have driven myself to become a success at it.”
Pg. 40
“It has never ceased to amaze me how so many Negroes, then and now, could stand the indignity of that kind of self-delusion.”
Pg. 42
“The main thing you got to remember is that everything in the world is a hustle. So long, Red.”
Pg. 51
I never would forget that – that I couldn’t have whipped that white man as badly with a club as I had with my mind.”
Pg. 81
“No Negroes in the world were more white-woman-crazy in those days than most of those musicians. People in show business, of course, were less inhibited by social and racial taboos.”
Pg. 96
“I told Reginald what I had learned: that in order to get something you had to look as though you already had something.”
Pg. 108
We had selected one of those situations considered “impossible.” But wherever people think that, the guards will unconsciously grow gradually more relaxed, until sometimes those can be the easiest jobs of all.”
Pg. 118
“Looking back, I think I really was at least slightly out of my mind. I viewed narcotics as most people regard food. I wore my guns as today I wear my neckties. Deep down, I actually believed that after living as fully as humanly possible, one should then die violently. I expected then, as I still expect today, to die at any time. But then, I think I deliberately invited death in many, sometimes insane, ways.”
Pg. 141
“When I opened the subject of a hustle with Shorty, I started by first bringing him to agree with my concept – of which he was a living proof – that only squares kept on believing they could ever get anything by slaving.”
Pg. 142
“ ‘I’m doing this, showing you I’m not afraid to die,’ I told them. ‘Never cross a man not afraid to die . . . now, let’s get to work!’ “
Pg. 146
“But people are always speculating – why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth, must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient.”
Pg. 153
This white man’s Christian religion further deceived and brainwashed this “Negro” to always turn the other cheek, and grin, and scrape, and bow, and be humble, and to sing, and to pray, and to take whatever was dished out by the devilish white man; and to look for his pie in the sky, and for his heaven in the hereafter, while right here on earth the slave-master white man enjoyed his heaven.”
Pg. 166
“It was because of my letters that I happened to stumble upon starting to acquire some kind of a homemade education.
I became increasingly frustrated at not being able to express what I wanted to convey in the letters that I wrote. [. . . ] Many who today hear me somewhere in person, or on television, or those who read something I’ve said, will think I went to school far beyond the eighth grade. This impression is due entirely to my prison studies. [. . .] I saw the best thing I could do was get hold of a dictionary – to study, to learn some words. [. . .] I spent two days just riffling uncertainly though the dictionary’s pages. I’d never realized so may words existed! I didn’t know which words I needed to learn. Finally, just to start some kind of action, I began copying.”
Pg. 174-175
“Book after book showed me how the white man had brought upon the world’s black, brown, red, and tallow peoples every variety of the sufferings of exploitation. I saw how since the sixteenth century, the so-called “Christian trader” white man began to ply the seas in his lust for Asian and African empires, and plunder, and power. I read, I saw, how the white man never has gone among the non-white peoples bearing the Cross in the true manner and spirit of Christ’s teachings – meek, humble, and Christ-like.
I perceived, as I read, how the collective white man had been actually nothing but a piratical opportunist who used Faustian machinations to make his own Christianity his initial wedge in criminal conquests. First, always “religiously,” he branded “heathen” and “pagan” labels upon ancient non-white cultures and civilizations. The stage thus set, he then turned upon his non-white victims his weapons of war.
I read how, entering India – half a billion deeply religious brown people – the British white man, by 1759, through promises, trickery and manipulations, controlled much of India through Great Britain’s East India Company. The parasitical British administration kept tentacling out to half of the subcontinent. In 1857, some of the desperate people of India finally mutinied – and, excepting the African slave trade, nowhere has history recorded any more unnecessary bestial and ruthless human carnage than the British suppression of the non-white Indian people.
115 million African blacks – close to the 1930’s population of the United States – were murdered or enslaved during the slave trade. And I read how when the slave market was glutted, the cannibalistic white powers of Europe next carved up, as their colonies, the richest areas of the black continent. And Europe’s chancelleries for the next century played a Chess game of naked exploitation and power from Cape Horn to Cairo. Ten guards and the warden couldn’t have torn me out of those books. Not even Elijah Muhammad could have been more eloquent than those books were in providing indisputable proof that the collective white man had acted like a devil in virtually every contact he had with the world’s collective non-white man. I listen today to the radio, and watch television, and read the headlines about the collective white man’s fear and tension concerning China. When the white man professes ignorance about why the Chinese hate him so, my mind can’t help flashing back to what I read, there in prison, about how the blood forebears of this same white man raped China at a time when China was trusting and helpless. Those original white “Christian traders” sent into China millions of pounds of opium. By 1839, so many of the Chinese were addicts that China’s desperate government destroyed twenty thousand chests of opium. The first Opium War was promptly declared by the white man. Imagine! Declaring war upon someone who objects to being narcotized! The Chinese were severely beaten, with Chinese-invented gunpowder.
The treaty of Nanking made China pay the British white man for the destroyed opium; forced open China’s major ports to British trade; forced China to abandon Honk Kong; fixed China’s import tariffs so low that cheap British articles soon flooded in, maiming China’s industrial development. [. . . ] Red China after World War II closed its doors to the Western white world. Massive Chinese agricultural, scientific, and industrial efforts are described in a book that Life Magazine recently published. Some observers inside Red China have reported that the world never has known such a hate-white campaign as is now going on in this non-white country where, present birth-rates continuing, in fifty more years Chinese will be half the earth’s population. And it seems that some Chinese chickens will soon come home to roost, with China’s recent successful nuclear tests.”
Pg. 180-181
“I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.”
Pg. 182
“ ‘What’s your alma mater’ I told him, ‘Books.’ “
Pg. 182
“Every time I catch a plane, I have with me a book that I want to read – and that’s a lot of books these days. If I weren’t out here every day battling the white man, I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity – because you can hardly mention anything I’m not curious about. I don’t think anybody ever got more out of going to prison than I did. In fact, prison enabled me to study far more intensively than I would have if my life had gone differently and I had attended some college. I imagine that one of the biggest problems with colleges is there are too many distractions, too much panty-raiding, fraternities, and boola-boola and all of that. Where else but in a prison could I have attacked my ignorance by being able to study intensely sometimes as much as fifteen hours a day?”
Pg. 183
“It’s a crime, the lie that has been told to generations of black men and white men both. Little innocent black children, born of parents who believed that their race had no history.”
Pg. 185
My reading had my mind like steam under pressure.”
Pg. 187
“I made up my mind to devote the rest of my life to telling the white man about himself – or die.”
Pg. 188
Even Samson, the world’s strongest man, was destroyed by the woman who slept in his arms. She was the one whose words hurt him.”
Pg. 230
“I wasn’t about to say any of that romance stuff that Hollywood and television had filled women’s heads with. If I was going to do something, I was going to do it directly. And anything I was going to do, I was going to do my way. And because I wanted to do it. Not because I saw somebody do it. Or read about it in a book. Or saw it in a moving picture somewhere.”
Pg. 234
“ ‘Christianity is the white man’s religion. The Holy Bible in the white man’s hands and his interpretations of it have been the greatest single ideological weapon for enslaving millions of non white human beings. Every country the white man has conquered with his guns, he has always paved the way, and salved his conscience, by carrying the Bible and interpreting it to call the people ‘heathens’ and ‘pagans’: then he sends his guns, then his missionaries behind the guns to mop up—‘
Pg. 246
“I remembered the countless meetings in living rooms where maybe seven would be a crowd; the gradually building, building – on up to renting folding chairs for dingy little storefronts which Muslims scrubbed to spotlessness.”
Pg. 255
“ ‘My black brothers and sisters – no one will know who we are . . . until we know who we are!’ “
Pg. 257
“I don’t have a degree like many of you out there before me have. But history don’t care anything about your degrees.”
Pg. 258 Elijah Muhammad
In fact, once he is motivated no one can change more completely than the man who has been at the bottom. I call myself the best example of that.”
Pg. 266
Here was, to my way of thinking, one of those ‘educated’ Negroes who never had understood the true intent, or purpose, or application of education. Here was one of those stagnant educations, never used except for parading a lot of big words.”
Pg. 272
I’m telling it like it is! You never have to worry about me biting my tongue if something I know as truth is on my mind. Raw, naked truth exchanged between the black man and the white man is what a whole lot more of is needed in this country to clear the air of the racial mirages, clichés, and lies that this country’s very atmosphere has been filled with for four hundred years.”
Pg. 278
The very fact that millions, black and white, believed in this monumental farce is another example of how much this country goes in for the surface glossing over, the escape ruse, surfaces, instead of truly dealing with its deep-rooted problems.”
Pg. 287
“I had enough experience to know that in order to be a good organizer of anything which you expect to succeed –including yourself—you must almost mathematically analyze cold facts.”
Pg. 316
But if you ever intend to do anything worthwhile, you have to start with a worthwhile plan.”
Pg. 322
“That morning was when I first began to reappraise the “white man.” It was when I first began to perceive that “white man,” as commonly used, means complexion only secondarily; primarily it described attitudes and actions. In America, “white man” meant specific attitudes and actions toward the black man, and toward all other non-white men. But in the Muslim world, I had seen that men with white complexions were more genuinely brotherly than anyone else had ever been.”
         Pg. 340
“Even I was myself astounded. But there was precedent in my life for this letter. My whole life had been a chronology of – changes.”
Pg. 346
I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it, I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.”
Pg. 347
We were truly all the same (brothers) – because their belief in one God had removed the ‘white’ from their minds, the ‘white’ from their behavior, and the ‘white’ from their attitude.
I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man – and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their ‘differences’ in color.”
Pg. 347
The American black “leader’s” most critical problem is lack of imagination! His thinking, his strategies, if any, are always limited, at least basically, to only that which is either advised, or approved by the white man.”
Pg. 353
I said that the white man’s efforts to make my name poison actually succeeded only in making millions of black people regard me like Joe Luis.”
Pg. 357
I came here to tell the truth – and if the truth condemns America, then she stands condemned!”
Pg. 362
The true Islam has shown me that a blanket indictment of all white people is as wrong as when whites make blanket indictments against blacks.”
Pg. 369
I told him, ‘I don’t mind shaking hands with human beings. Are you one?
Pg. 370
“I remembered how years later, when I was in prison, I used to lie on my cell bunk – this would be especially when I was in solitary: what we convicts called “The Hole”and I would picture myself talking to large crowds. I don’t have any idea why such previsions came to me. But they did. To tell that to anyone then would have sounded crazy. Even I didn’t have, myself, the slightest inkling . . .”
Pg. 372
“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it.”
Pg. 373
This is how the white man thrust himself into the position of leadership of the world – through the use of naked physical power. And he was totally inadequate spiritually. Mankind’s history has proved from one era to another that the true criterion of leadership is spiritual.”
Pg. 376
“That discussion with the ambassador gave me a new insight – one which I like: that the white man is not inherently evil, but America’s racist society influences him to act evilly. The society has produced and nourishes a psychology which brings out the lowest, most base part of human beings.”
Pg. 378
“I told him then right to his face he was a fool, that he didn’t know me, or what I stood for, so that made him one of those people who let somebody else do their thinking; and that no matter what job a man had, at least he ought to be able to think for himself. […] I said what I was against was straight-jacketed thinking, and strait-jacketed societies. I said I respected every man’s right to believe whatever his intelligence tells him is intellectually sound.”
Pg. 379
“One of the major troubles that I was having in building the organization that I wanted was that my earlier public image, my old so-called “Black Muslim” image, kept blocking me. I was trying to gradually reshape that image.”
Pg. 382
I have these very deep feelings that white people who want to join black organizations are really just taking the escapist way to salve their consciences.”
Pg. 383
Sometimes, I have dared to dream to myself that one day, history may even say that my voice—which disturbed the white man’s smugness, and his arrogance, and his complacency—that my voice helped to save America from a grave, possibly even a fatal catastrophe.”
Pg. 385
Everything I do today, I regard as urgent. No man is given but so much time to accomplish whatever is his life’s work.”
Pg. 385
“I have given to this book so much of whatever time I have because I feel, and I hope, that if I honestly and fully tell my life’s account, read objectively it might prove to be a testimony of some social value.”
Pg. 386
“I believe that it would be almost impossible to find anywhere in America a black man who has lived further down in the mud of human society than I have; or a black man who has been any more ignorant than I have been; or a black man who has suffered more anguish during his life than I have. But it is only after the deepest darkness that the greatest joy can come; it is only after slavery and prison that the sweetest appreciation of freedom can come.”
Pg. 387
“You only get action as a black man if you are regarded by the whit man as ‘Irresponsible.’ “
Pg. 389
He drank innumerable cups of coffee which he lightened with cream, commenting wryly, “Coffee is the only thing I like integrated.”“
Pg. 393
Only persons really changed history those who changed men’s thinking about themselves. Hitler as well as Jesus, Stalin as well as Buddha.”
Malcolm X scribble of Elijah Muhammad quote Pg. 396
“I somehow raised the subject of women. Suddenly, between sips of coffee and further scribbling and doodling, he vented his criticisms and skepticisms of women. “You never can fully trust any woman,” he said. “I’ve got the only one I ever met whom I would trust seventy-five per cent. I’ve told her that,” he said. “I’ve told her like I tell you I’ve seen too many men destroyed by their wives, or their women.
“I don’t completely trust anyone,” he went on, “Not even myself. I have seen too many men destroy themselves. Other people I trust from not at all to highly, like The Honorable Elijah Muhammad.” Malcolm X looked squarely at me. “You I trust about twenty-five per cent.”
Trying to keep Malcolm X talking, I mined the woman theme for all it was worth. Triumphantly, he exclaimed, “Do you know why Benedict Arnold turned traitor—a woman!” He said, “Whatever else a woman is, I don’t care who the woman is, it starts with her being vain. I’ll prove it, something you can do anytime you want, and I know what I’m talking about, I’ve done it. You think of the hardest-looking, meanest-acting woman you know, one of those women who never smiles. Well, every day you see that woman you look her right in the eyes and tell her ‘I think you’re beautiful,’ and you watch what happens. The first day she may curse you out, the second day, too—but you watch, you keep on, after a while one day she’s going to start smiling just as soon as you come in sight.”
Pg. 396-397
It’s the hinge that squeaks that gets the grease.”
Pg. 398
“He told me about the reading he had been able to do in prison: “I didn’t know what I was doing, but just by instinct I liked the books with intellectual vitamins,” And another time: “In the hectic pace of the world today, there is no time for meditation, or for deep thought. A prisoner has time that he can put to good use. I’d put prison second to college as the best place for a man to go if he needs to do some thinking. If he’s motivated, in prison he can change his life.””
Pg. 398-399
“(Scribble) Learn wisdom from the pupil of the eye that looks upon all things and yet to self is blind. Persian Poet.”
Pg. 399
“Any interesting book which Malcolm X had read could get him going about his love of books. “People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.” He came back again and again to the books that he had studied when in prison.”
Pg. 400
The only time that I have ever heard Malcolm X use what might be construed as a curse word, it was a “hell” used in response to a statement that Dr. Martin Luther King made that Malcolm X’s talk brought “misery upon Negroes.” Malcolm X exploded to me, “How in the hell can my talk do this? It’s always a Negro responsible, not what the white man does!” The “extremist” or “demagogue” accusation invariably would burn Malcolm X. “Yes, I’m an extremist. The black race here in North America is in extremely bad condition. You show me a black man who isn’t an extremist and I’ll show you one who needs psychiatric attention!”
Once when he said, “Aristotle shocked people. Charles Darwin outraged people. Aldous Huxley scandalized millions!” Malcolm X immediately followed the statement with “Don’t print that, people would think that I’m trying to link myself with them.” Another time, when something provoked him to exclaim, “These Uncle Toms make me think about how the Prophet Jesus was criticized in his own country!” Malcolm X promptly got up and silently took my notebook, tore out that page and crumpled it and put it into his pocket, and he was considerably subdued during the remainder of that session.”
Pg. 401-402
“The man never gets any sleep!” Malcolm X rarely put in less than an 18-hour workday.”
Pg. 403
He was the essence of courtly gentlemanliness.”
Pg. 403
“Malcolm X and I reached a point, ultimately, where we shared a mutual camaraderie that, although it was never verbally expressed, was a warm one.”
Pg. 406
“One call that I will never forget came at close to four A.M., waking me; he must have just gotten up in Los Angeles. His voice said, “Alex Haley?” I said, sleepily, “Yes? Oh, hey, Malcolm!” His voice said, “I trust you seventy five per cent”—and then he hung up. I lay a short time thinking about him and I went back to sleep feeling warmed by that call, as I still am warmed to remember it. Neither of us ever mentioned it.”
Pg. 407
One of the scribblings of Malcolm X’s that I had retrieved had read, enigmatically, “My life has always been one of changes.””
Pg. 411
“He came as quickly as he could drive from his home—which made me see how grinding an ordeal it was to him to just be sitting at home, inactive, and knowing his temperament, my sympathies went out to Sister Betty.”
Pg. 414
“A few days later, however, he wrote in one of his memo books, this, which he let me read, “Children have a lesson adults should learn, not to be ashamed of failing, but to get up and try again. Most of us adults are so afraid, so cautions, so ‘safe,’ and therefore so shrinking and rigid and afraid that it is why so many humans fail. Most middle-aged adults have resigned themselves to failure.””
Pg. 418
“”Only the unasked question is stupid.””
Pg. 422
“”Whether you use bullets or ballots, you’ve got to aim well; don’t strike at the puppet, strike at the puppeteer.””
Pg. 423-424
“”Anyone who wants to follow me and my movement has got to be ready to go to jail, to the hospital, and to the cemetery before he can be truly free.””
Pg. 424
“”You know, the strongest part of a tree is the root, and if you expose the root, the tree dies.””
Pg. 428
“He talked about the pressures on him everywhere he turned, and about the frustrations, among them that no one wanted to accept anything relating to him except “my old ‘hate’ and ‘violence’ image.” He said “the so-called moderate” civil rights organizations avoided him as “too militant” and the “so-called militants” avoided him as “too moderate.” “They won’t let me turn the corner!” he once exclaimed, “I’m caught in a trap!””[…]
“”As a black man and especially as a black American, any stand that I formerly took, I don’t think that I would have to defend it because it’s still a reaction to the society, and it’s a reaction that was produced by the society; and I think that it is the society that produced this that should be attacked, not the reaction that develops among the people who are the victims of that negative society.””
Pg. 431-432
“Malcolm kept snatching our lies away. He kept shouting the painful truth we whites and blacks did not want to hear from all the housetops. And he wouldn’t stop for love nor money.”
Pg. 465 (Ossie Davis)
I never doubted that Malcolm X, even when he was wrong, was always that rarest thing in the world among us Negroes: a true man.”
Pg. 466 (Ossie Davis)
                                                                                                                                                                     February 4th, 2014