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Malcolm X Materials Digitized

[By: Dr. Amy E. Earhart]

I would like to bring to your attention a newly published small edition, “Alex Haley’s ‘The Malcolm D. I Knew’ and Notecards from The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” Published in the peer review journal Scholarly Editing, the edition includes an unknown 29 page typed manuscript of an essay that Haley used when he was writing The Autobiography. The materials are transcribed, annotated and include high quality images that I hope will be of use to scholars. The essay and notecards provide insight into the complicated relationship between Haley and Malcolm X. For example, scholars including the late Manning Marable, have wondered why the OAAU (The Organization of Afro-American Unity) has received little attention in The Autobiography. The notes reveal that Haley did discuss the OAAU with X, adding notes to the cards for inclusion in the volume. At some point later, then, the decision to exclude the OAAU occurred, suggesting that Haley may have bowed to pressure from the publisher. Further, Haley recounts a previously undocumented interaction between X and a white couple in “The Malcolm X. I Knew” which reinforces a particular shaping of X by Haley. 

We also learn that while there is only one documented case of Malcolm X supporting labor unions– a 1962 hospital worker strike–one note indicates that X thought unions had the potential to create change. The notes also reference passages in The Autobiography. For example, Haley recounts one interview session during which X “was gesturing with his passport in his hand; he saw that I was trying to read its perforated number and suddenly he thrust the passport toward me, his neck flushed reddish: ‘Get the number straight, but it won’t be anything the white devil doesn’t already know. He issued me the passport'” (21). The passport number is recorded in Haley’s hand on notecard 37. As scholars examine the digitized texts it is likely that new discoveries will come to light.

 When I first read the manuscript and notes in the special collections library at Texas A&M University, I realized that there was an opportunity to bring Haley and Malcolm X to a larger audience. As a digital humanist I have long been concerned about the lack of scholarly edited digital materials focused on the African diaspora. We need digital recovery work in the same way that we needed recovery work of Africana materials in the 1970’s. Without attention to the digital literary canon, we will end up with a canon that resembles the new critical canon of the 1950’s.

The Alex Haley materials were digitized in partnerships with my undergraduates and graduate classes. Embedding the project within a literature classroom, students learned to transcribe, markup, digitize, and annotated literary materials. This model of partnership allows students to understand the ways in which canons are constructed and to obtain hands on experience with digital humanities. I encourage each of you to think about how we as a community of scholars might engage with students and digitize the texts that we believe scholars and students need.