Malcolm X

I read an excerpt from the book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Malcolm X and Alex Haley. In this part of the book Malcolm discusses his quest for knowledge. He starts off by telling us about how he wrote his Harlem, hustler friends and told them all about Allah and Mr. Elijah Muhammad, the two main figures in the Islam religion. He never got a single reply and figured it was because the average hustler and criminal couldn’t read. He also thought that maybe they thought he had gone crazy, because after all he was writing them about the devil; “the white devil.” Maybe his letters never even got there. White men, men who might have just thrown the letters out, censored all of his mail. However, no one ever said anything to him about them or ever treated him differently because of it. As Malcolm X be3gan to write more letters to a wide variety of people he became frustrated with the fact that he could not communicate with them as he wanted to. “It was because of these letters that I happened to stumble upon starting to acquire some kind of homemade education.” He hated it because he had been the most articulate hustler on the streets of Harlem, and could get anyone’s attention with his words. He was admired for the eloquent words he spoke and was not used to being ignored. For now even the simplest English was hard for him to write. His quest for an education had begun, but it would be a long one. He decries how it all really began while he was being held at the Charlestown Prison. Bimbi, a fellow prisoner, was very intelligent and Malcolm envied his gift. Bimbi encouraged him to read and Malcolm would try but would end up quitting because he would skip the words he didn’t know and keep reading. The problem with this was that he could never fully understand what he was reading and would put the book down. So he decided that he needed to learn how to read and write properly. He decided that the best way to go about it would be to get a hold of a copy of a dictionary and study it. He requested a dictionary, some pencils and some pads of paper. When he first got the book he spent a while just looking through it wondering where to start. He decided that the best place to start would be with the A’s. So he just started copying. He copied every word and punctuation mark on the first page. It took him the entire day, and when he finished he read aloud what he had written over and over again. The next day he woke up thinking about the words that he had written and to his surprise he even remembered what some of them meant. So he went back over the list again until he knew what every word meant. He was so fascinated that he copied the next page and had the same experience when he woke up the next morning and reviewed them. He eventually copied the entire dictionary while he was in prison. As his word-base broadened he was able to pick up a book and read it all the way through. Being able to do his made him feel important and smart. He became so good at reading that he spent all of his free time reading, and because of this his time in jail went by quickly. “In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life.”