Summary and Analysis Chapters 17-19

Malcolm had been encouraged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, called Hajj in Arabic, by orthodox Muslims he met on his speaking tours, as well as by other members of the Nation of Islam. Now, free of the doctrines of Elijah Muhammad, he was able to pursue the true faith of Islam on his own. The trip was financed by Ella, who had previously broken with the Nation of Islam and considered herself a true Muslim. She had been saving to make the pilgrimage herself, but this money was used to pay for Malcolm’s trip.

The Hajj went smoothly, and Malcolm felt that Allah was guiding him, helping him to pass obstacles along the way and re-educating him by example. Perhaps the most significant result of the trip was its effect upon Malcolm’s racial attitudes. On the Hajj, Malcolm came in contact with many white Muslims who were friendly and helpful to him and who treated him as an equal. He began to understand that, contrary to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, racial problems were more a matter of attitude than of color. Merely being white did not make a person evil, but being white in America generally meant that a person had been imbued with racial prejudices by American society. Malcolm had conceived these ideas during the latter days of his association with the Nation of Islam, but the Hajj began a radical change in his racial attitudes, which were still continuing at the time of his death. In many ways, this last year of Malcolm’s life was a period of constant transition, which had not fully resolved itself at the time of his assassination.

During the trip, Malcolm continually felt that Allah was giving him personal signs to guide his way. The only major obstacle he met with was when he was detained at the Jedda airport because his status as a Muslim was unclear, and non-Muslims were forbidden to enter the holy places of Mecca. But even this experience was educational; Malcolm met many Muslims of different backgrounds, and despite the lack of a common language, he made friends with them. The matter was resolved when Malcolm called a man whose name he had been given; this man’s father, a United Nations diplomat, intervened with the authorities on Malcolm’s behalf. Again Allah was guiding Malcolm, and the agent of Allah’s assistance, Dr. Azzam, who had been so kind to him, was a white man.

When Malcolm was later asked what had impressed him most about the Hajj, he confessed it was the brotherhood among the pilgrims of all races, which contrasted sharply with the racism he was accustomed to in America.

After the pilgrimage was complete, Malcolm wrote letters to his friends and to those who had assisted him on the pilgrimage. Finally, he wrote an open letter to be distributed to the press by his assistants. This letter is reproduced in the book, and Malcolm notes that although it was a direct response to the revelations of the pilgrimage, it had been forming in his mind much earlier. The letter stresses his new attitude toward whites and suggests the possibility of a reconciliation between the white and black races in America — if the country can undergo a spiritual regeneration. He states his belief that America is on a self-destructive path and must turn aside to avert the sort of disaster visited upon Germany under Hitler. But he has hope that some solution is possible. The letter is signed with his new Islamic name: Elijah Malik El-Shabazz — the pilgrim Malcolm of the tribe of Shabazz.

Chapter Eighteen deals with Malcolm’s return trip from Mecca, which took him through several West African countries. He was surprised at the warmth with which he was received wherever he went in Africa; he was not aware that his international reputation had become so great. Generally, the black African leaders expressed sympathy with his views and considered him to be the legitimate spokesman for Afro-Americans, as he learned to call his people on this trip. Most important, it was on this part of his journey that Malcolm began to espouse the concept of Pan-Africanism — the international unity of black peoples throughout the world, working for their common good. This part of his trip received wide press coverage, and during his absence, the American press had linked him with various incidents in Harlem. So when he returned, the press was waiting for him at the airport. It was in this interview that he first made public his idea of treating the problems of the Afro-American as an international issue and taking it before the United Nations for consideration.

Despite the lack of racial tension in the Holy Land, Malcolm noted that there was a color pattern in the crowds. Muslims of the various races seemed to associate most frequently with people of their own color. This separation, however, was entirely voluntary, unlike racial segregation in America. There was no feeling of racial superiority or inferiority; people were merely drawn to those with whom they had the most in common. To Malcolm, this combination of racial solidarity with interracial cooperation and understanding seemed the most natural and workable state of affairs. Thus, although his attitude toward the white race had changed, he still did not accept the ideal of integration. He still believed that racial separatism was the most natural and workable solution to America’s problems.

Malcolm also noted on this trip how distorted the “official” United States government version of the racial situation in America was. The government propaganda treated the racial issue as a minor internal problem, rapidly on its way to a solution. Throughout his travels, Malcolm tried to counteract this propaganda with a more accurate view of the situation.

The concept of Pan-Africanism, with which he came in contact in West Africa, suggested to Malcolm that the problems of black people throughout the world were the same; this idea led him to the determination to force the United States to recognize the racial problem as an international issue. He discussed this plan in the press conference upon his return to New York, pointing out that the white man’s international tactic to rule the world was to divide and conquer non-white peoples. According to Malcolm, the solution to this issue would be for non-white peoples to unite in opposition to whites.

In the speech at the airport, Malcolm’s fiery style is basically unchanged by his new ideas. In fact, he plays down his willingness to cooperate with white Americans; he still felt that most whites were so deeply schooled in racism that it had become a subconscious trait. But the chapter closes with an incident which illustrates the change that had taken place in his thinking: when asked, the next day, if he would shake hands with a white man, he replied that he would shake hands with a human being. He was beginning, however cautiously, to draw away from his complete rejection of whites.

The title of Chapter Nineteen is misleading: Malcolm saw his editor, Alex Haley, only once in 1965, and only briefly that time. They were scheduled to meet the weekend of February 21, when Malcolm was assassinated. Thus there is no narration of events which occurred in 1965 in this chapter; indeed, the chapter includes very little narration of events at all. It is primarily a final exploration of Malcolm’s ideas in the last days of his life. Though specific events are mentioned, such as his second trip abroad in 1964, little detail is given. Rather, there are long passages expressing Malcolm’s attitudes toward American society, his premonitions of his death, and the meaning of his book — and of his life.

During these last days, the black revolt was in full swing, and some commentators were referring to it as a revolution. Yet Malcolm did not feel that the American black was in a state of revolution; he emphasizes that a true revolution is a complete overturn of society. The Afro-American’s condemnation of the system was not an attempt to destroy it, but rather to be accepted into it.

Malcolm expresses the belief that Allah is giving the white world its last chance to repent. Most black people, he says, are willing to forgive the white man, despite the enormity of his crimes. But most whites are unwilling to repent because they are unable to change their racist ideas. The offer of desegregated lunch counters, theaters, and toilets is not a solution; it is merely an attempt to cover up the sins of the white world.

After his return from Mecca, Malcolm organized a new group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity. This group was to be a more secular form of Muslim Mosque, Inc. It was to be a black nationalist organization; Malcolm believed that black solidarity was a necessary prerequisite to black-white cooperation. And, as the conscious echo of the Organization of African Unity in the name implies, it was to emphasize internationalism and Pan-Africanism.

Malcolm returned to Africa in the late summer of 1964. Little detail of the trip is given; he does not even mention the resolution condemning American racism which he presented to the Organization of African Unity in Cairo, or his visits to sixteen African nations. Rather, he concentrates on two encounters with white Americans in Africa: an ambassador with whom Malcolm arrived at some understanding, and a man who was apparently a government agent assigned to follow him.

During the last days of his life, in which this chapter was narrated, Malcolm was constantly aware of the threat of death. Elijah Muhammad wanted him killed, and several attempts on his life were made before the one which finally succeeded. But he points out that the prospect of violent death does not disturb him as much as it might other people. During his career as a hustler, he had always known that he might die at any moment. And his father’s murder had prepared him to be ready for a violent death. And he prophesies, correctly, that when he is dead, the white press will reaffirm the “hate” image it had given him during life.

In the last few pages of the book, Malcolm talks about the meaning of his life. He hopes that his book will be of some social value, that it will present the racial system in America in a true light, through the experiences of one man. The book is to give America some understanding of the lives of ghetto blacks, and to explain why such slogans as “the white man is the devil” are so compelling to them. But, most of all, the book is intended to spur social action by pointing up social inequalities. Malcolm points out that he has been in a unique position to understand the meaning of freedom; he lived at the bottom of American society and rose from these depths, with the help of Allah. He gives all credit for his successes to Allah: “Only the mistakes,” he says, “have been mine.”