How to Teach The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, published posthumously in 1965, was coauthored by the black rights activist Malcolm X and journalist Alex Haley. Much of the text deals with Malcolm X's rise as a member of the Nation of Islam and a recognized human rights activist.

Before students begin reading, it is important to discuss the historical context and significance of the text as well as the nature of Alex Haley and Malcolm X's collaboration. Doing so will allow students to have a stronger understanding of the book's content and Malcolm X's influence on activism.

When teaching The Autobiography of Malcolm X, devote early lessons to philosophies such as black pride, black nationalism, pan-Africanism, and the elements of the text that make it a spiritual conversion narrative. Identifying these key issues in Malcolm X's narrative will help students understand his motives and teachings.


Born Malcolm Little in 1925, the activist's early life and young adulthood were marred by personal tragedy and a life of organized crime in Boston and New York. His father was killed for spreading the word of Jamaican political leader Marcus Garvey, and his mother was admitted to a psychiatric institution soon after. This collaboration between Malcolm X and Alex Haley highlights the influential leader's spiritual conversion and the controversial period during which he was the national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. It follows his departure and repudiation of his former position as the head of the Nation of Islam, and details his Hajj and conversion to Sunni Islam. Malcolm X continued to advocate for black pride and black self-defense until his assassination in 1965.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcolm X


Written jointly by Malcolm X and Alex Haley, of Roots fame, this work describes the life and times of this well-known African-American.

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Content Warning

This book contains moments of racism, violence, crime, and some sexual references.

Objectives for Teaching The Autobiography of Malcolm X

  • Speculate on how Malcolm X's youth and young adulthood led to his conversion after a life of crime.
  • Discuss the concepts of pan-Africanism, black nationalism, and black pride.
  • Analyze the text's syntax and relate it to Malcolm X's career as a public speaker.
  • Compare Malcolm X's beliefs about African Americans to those of other human rights and civil rights activists of the time.
  • Discuss the significance of Malcolm X's departure from the Nation of Islam and analyze its effect on his beliefs.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allegory
  • Asyndeton
  • Imagery
  • Simile
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Racism/Racial Discrimination — Malcolm X's speeches and writings directly address racism and racial discrimination, calling for radical change.
  • Social Change — Telling the story of his life allows Malcolm X to show his changing but constant commitment to improving race relations and the lives of black Americans.
  • Faith/Spirituality — This text is often labeled as a spiritual conversion for it is after his commitment to the Nation of Islam that Malcolm X fulfills his potential as a public speaker and activist.

Key Facts

  • Length: 426 pages
  • Publication Date: 1965
  • Lexile Measure: 1120
  • Recommended Grade Band: 10 – 12


  • Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (1966)


Filmmaker Spike Lee directed and co-wrote the 1992 biographical drama film, Malcolm X, based on the 1965 text. The film stars Denzel Washington and Angela Bassett. It runs for 3 hours and 22 minutes and is rated PG-13.

Your students will love:

  • Learning about an important human rights activist.
  • Interesting storytelling and compelling narration.

Students may have problems with:

  • Instances of violence, crime, and racism.
  • Relating to Malcolm X's early beliefs of black supremacy and segregation.

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The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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