Certain assumptions about the civil rights movement seem to be prevalent among the wider culture and in the classroom. Some of the see include: that Malcolm X was an violent extremist whose thoughts on race are without value; that that Martin Luther King was a great man who revealed the perfect path for white and black America to coexist; and even in some history books that Malcolm X was delusional, that his he invented much of early childhood misfortunes to blame so that he could blame it on whites.
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I must say, going to almost all white Catholic school high school, I was exposed to all these thoughts and believed most of them without ever investigating further.
Then I read the "Autobiography of Malcolm of X" in college. And what I found was not the violent extremist but the amazing story of one man's life, a man who fought through the shackles of racism, fought a drug habit and life of crime to find a life he loved and believed in and was willing to die for. The story is so well written by Alex Haley that not once during my reading did I feel I was being told the story by Alex Haley but that Malcolm was speaking directly to me.
And all those quick, simple two sentence answers I learned in high school could never hold up to any scrutiny once the reader sees the perspective of this complex man. Sometimes extreme but always honest with himself, Malcolm continually searched for the truth in his life, and he often made mistakes (i.e. the nation of Islam), but once he saw the error of ways, Malcolm always continued to look for the truth, his own truth, that perfect balance between what he hoped for and what was possible.
Mostly importantly, the book exemplifies what each person is capable of.
Imagine this thought: if Malcolm X had died at 18, he would died as Malcolm Little, a inconsequential drug peddler that no one would have missed besides his family. But because of his strong will, passion, his undying search for what he hoped was right, he became what he is now: one of the great figures of the 20th century.
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