Black nationalist leader Malcolm X was born on this day in 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. Born Malcolm Little, he considered Little his slave name, so he replaced it with an X to represent the lost name of his African tribal ancestors.
When he was 21 years old, Malcolm was convicted of burglary and received a ten-year sentence. In prison, Malcolm transformed his life through voracious reading and study. He stopped using drugs and became a member of the Nation of Islam. After his early-release from prison in 1952, Malcolm became a spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Like Martin Luther King’s quest for civil rights, Malcolm advocated for racial equality. However, unlike King’s tactics of nonviolent resistance, Malcolm promoted a more militant approach, saying “There’s no such thing as a nonviolent revolution.” Shortly before he died, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam. While preparing to give a speech in New York, he was assassinated on February 21, 1965.
In his autobiography, Malcolm recounts the events that led to his education behind bars. With time on his hands, he attempted to read but due to his limited vocabulary, he could comprehend few of the words on the page. To remedy this he decided to study a dictionary. Beginning with the letter A, he read and copied by hand page after page and soon discovered that he was learning more than just vocabulary: “With every succeeding page, I also learned of people and places and events from history. Actually the dictionary is like a miniature encyclopedia.”
As his knowledge base and vocabulary grew, Malcolm turned to other books beside the dictionary, reading in every free moment during the day, and well into the night by a small corridor light outside his jail cell.
Talking about his prison studies, Malcolm says:
I never have been so truly free in my life. . . . the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive . . . . My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America.
Today’s Challenge: Your Love Letter to Literacy
What are some memorable experiences that would be in your autobiography regarding your acquisition of literacy? What do you remember about learning to read, about learning to write, and about being influenced by books? Imagine you are writing your autobiography and that it must include a literacy narrative, that is a story of your experiences with learning to read and write. Write about a specific incident from your life that is related to books, reading, or writing. Also consider the people who have influenced your experiences with literacy. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)