Malcolm X is one of the most fascinating and compelling religious and political figures of the 20th century. His transformation from street hustler to one of the driving forces behind the Nation of Islam (NOI), and his subsequent break from that organization as he embraced traditional Islam, shortly before his assassination in 1965, is a gripping tale. Many have learned about his story and message of Black strength and independence via the classic Autobiography of Malcolm X, co-written by Alex Haley and published after Malcolm's death. We can not recommend that book highly enough. However, there is a new biography out which builds on that masterpiece entitled, The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X.
The primary author is Les Payne, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who spent almost 30 years working on this book. Unfortunately, Payne died in 2018 before the story was finished. His work was completed by his daughter, Tamara Payne, who had been her father's principal researcher. The final result is an expanded exploration of the iconic leader's life that includes information which was left out of the Autobiography. Thanks to extensive research, and numerous interviews with people who were closely involved with Malcolm X, including family, allies, and enemies, The Dead Are Arising is a gripping look at the life and times of Malcolm X.
The 500+ page biography offers a meticulously-researched look at both Malcolm X's personal journey, as well as the history of racial discrimination in the United States, thus providing a fully developed context for his life's work. It also helps dismantle the racist portrayals from some quarters of Malcolm as a violence-obsessed man. It presents a well-argued argument about how his father died, reveals further information about the men who made up composite characters in the Autobiography, and also goes into detail about a meeting he had with Ku Klux Klan representatives, among other things. Even those who think they know this story well will learn new information after reading this book.
As The Dead Are Arising lays out in detail, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were two sides of the same coin. Dr. King was primarily focused on dismantling the discriminatory legal framework in the United States, i.e. getting the country's White population to change their minds about racial equality. Malcolm X, on the other hand, focused on helping Black Americans shake off any feelings of inferiority that developed under centuries of oppressive conditions.
Malcolm X's charisma was abundantly clear at an early age, and he would use that, along with his fervid study of religion, national, and international affairs, to be a powerful force and recruiter for the Black Nationalist movement. He would also develop many enemies along the way, including both inside the Nation of Islam as well as the FBI, where J. Edgar Hoover obsessively worked to dismantle any threat to White supremacy in the United States. When Malcolm X finally broke from NOI, it signed his death warrant, as the authors spell out in painstaking detail.
The Dead Are Arising offers a rich and in-depth portrayal of a complicated man who never lost sight of his mission to improve the lives of the Black population in this country. It explains why Malcolm X's legacy lives on, more than 50 years after his death. The book sets a new standard for biographies. It is a deserved winner of the National Book Award. It's an important story in a vacuum, but considering the current state of affairs in this country, highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement, it should be required reading for all.
A must-read. (pic via gibsonsbookstore.com)