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, consider developing early background lessons on 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.

Summary of The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Key Facts

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

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.

Content Warning: The Autobiography of Malcolm X contains moments of racism, violence, crime, and some sexual references.

What Your Students Will Love About The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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

Potential Student Struggles With The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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

Learning Objectives for The Autobiography of Malcolm X

  • Speculate on how Malcolm X's youth and young adulthood led to his religious 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.

Literary Elements in The Autobiography of Malcolm X

  • Allegory
  • Asyndeton
  • Imagery
  • Simile
  • Symbolism
  • And more!

Major Themes in The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Racism — Malcolm X's speeches and writings directly address racism and racial discrimination, calling for radical change.

Related Works:

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.

Related Works:

Faith and 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.

Other Resources for The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Order The Autobiography of Malcolm X Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
The Autobiography of Malcolm X Paperback Student Edition
The Autobiography of Malcolm X Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in February 2017. It has been updated as of May 2020.