BOOKS: The Greatest Story Ever Told

Auto Malcom X


My grandfather was born in 1900 and his life followed the historic trajectories and sociocultural contours of America in the 20th century — he weathered two world wars and the Great Depression and lived to tell. He was educated and well-read, a cement company executive who traveled widely on company business, clapping the backs of power in foreign lands — the Shah of Iran gave him an incredible wall-sized Persian rug, the ambassador of Mexico gave my grandmother a sterling silver tea set, etc. He taught Sunday School. Always voted Republican and subscribed to the National Review. He was a gifted raconteur, and hearing him talk about growing up on the endless plains of Kansas at the turn of the last century was like a private audience with Mark Twain. He was a bottomless fount of folksy tales and Capra-esque hijinks and monkey shines from a long-bygone era. He was also, like 99.9% of the white men of that era, racist. Not KKK racist, not even casually-drops-N-bombs-at-the-dinner-table-Archie-Bunker racist. Rather, he was institutionally racist in that the de facto apartheid system that separated the haves from the blacks in this country was invisible to him, or if not invisible, faintly re-assuring. But I will never forget the day he handed me his copy of The Autobiography Of Malcolm X, dog-eared and heavily marked-up with underlined passages he revisited often, and told me that it was the greatest book he’d ever read. Four decades later, I still have his copy of The Autobiography Of Malcolm X. One day, I will pass the torch to a new generation, because everyone — black, white, striped — should read that book. In the works for two years and co-authored by Alex Hailey — who would later go on to pen Roots — The Autobiography Of Malcolm X was published a few months after Malcolm was assassinated on this day in 1965 in the middle of a speech at the Audobon Ballroom in New York by rival members of the Nation Of Islam. But as long as this book is in print, and young people — and maybe even some old school racist grandfathers — continue to find it, Malcolm X’s story will never end. — JONATHAN VALANIA