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The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Study Guide
Our Prison Neighbors
Why we all should read this book.
Malcolm X began his transforming education at Charles Street Prison in Boston,
Massachusetts and continued at MCI - Concord and MCI-Norfolk. He did it by himself
with little help from the Department of Corrections.
Malcolm Xs development into a stronger, more powerful and caring man clearly
shows stages we can all learn from.
For African Americans, Malcolms journey to strength is particularly relevant.
For European Americans, Malcolms deeply explored growth is an important
opportunity to see clearly what it means to be Black in America.
Levels and opportunities for study and learning in this book:
History - this is a deep look at an important man, movement and era of our
Racial awareness and empathy - this book has much to say about the importance
of understanding racial and cultural identity for all of us. When we are deeply rooted in
our own identity, we can recognize injustice and be allies to other groups.
Personal awareness - through journal writing we can explore our own lives and
reflect on comparisons to Malcolms. The journals are confidential and for your own use.
If you want to share some writing, the group should respect your confidentiality and
We will look at four models of human development; Eriksons Psycho-social
Stages, Kohlbergs Stages of Moral Development, John Fowlers Stages of Religious
Development and Helms and Crosss Stages of Racial Identity Formation. We can trace
these stages in Malcolms life, reflect on them in our own and grow more appreciative of
the process of maturing in those around us.
A number of other books will be available which illustrate these forms of
development in many differing cultures and times. A goal is to read a book, or books,
from our own culture, from a different culture and from a womans perspective.
As we grow in appreciation of the strength in all cultures, we will discuss ways to
be allies to each other.
Study skills - note taking, vocabulary, outlining, essay writing, memoir writing...
I. Introduction of the book and brainstorm what we know about Malcolm X, the period of
his life, and the Civil Rights Movement. Why this is an important book for all people.
Introduce and discuss the Four Frameworks of Development in Childhood. It is
important to stress that these are theories and that it is believed that we can go back and
make peace with difficult stages in our own lives. Leading an examined life helps us
grow to our fullest potential. It is to be expected that the more stressful a life has been
the harder it is to successfully develop. In terms of the moral development levels, we can

each find examples of all of them in our own adult lives. The level of our functioning
varies depending on the amount of stress in our lives. Just because we dont act on all
our worst impulses doesnt mean that we dont have them.
Introduce the idea that we have the opportunity for books to be both mirrors of
our own lives and windows into others experiences, thoughts and feelings. Encourage
participants to reflect on which parts of Malcolms life mirror elements of their own and
which accounts are a window into a different time, culture, or race.
Pass out composition book journals. Brainstorm ideas for writing about the stages
in their own lives and insights into Malcolms life.
Ask volunteers to read aloud from the Forward.
Assign the Forward, Introduction and first two chapters for the next session.
In each session open discussion with an invitation to remark on an interesting
aspect of the reading. Some will have read the entire book but try to limit discussion to
the agreed on assignment.
Discussion questions for each session can include:
What information provided in these chapters is relevant to Malcolms Psyco-social,
Moral, Spiritual and Racial Identity development?
What information was a mirror of your own experience?
What information was a window for you?
How was this different from your life?
II. Forward, Introduction, Chapters 1-2 Look for examples of Ericksons stages and
stages of racial identity development
Forward, Introduction
Four Boxes Exercise
In the Four Boxes exercise we construct a 2X2 matrix. The top values are Racist
and Anti-racist. The side values are Active and Passive. Beginning at the top left we can
brainstorm the names of Active Racists; David Duke of the KKK, George Wallace, many
of our patents or grandparents... Then try to identify Passive Racists. These would be
people who live in segregated neighborhoods, attend schools, and clubs with little or no
diversity and agree about their innate right to their privilege. The top left box is for
Active Anti-racists such as Morris Dees the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Participants are often surprised that they have a very hard time thinking of any who are
White. The final box is for Passive Anti-racists. Many of us think of ourselves as being
in this category. In fact, it is impossible to tell a Passive Anti-racist from a Passive
Racist. We know racism is wrong but we are still enjoying our privilege and not
changing the system!
The following metaphor might be useful; the moving walkway image compares
our lives to the type of moving walkway they have in airports. The racism in our society
just carries us along. If we want to change anything we have to intentionally get off the
walkway and move in the other direction.
The concept of White Ally appears in the chapter Mascot. A White Ally is

someone who appropriately supports a person of color. Without minimizing the truth of
race, a white ally doesnt rescue but empowers. Mr. Maynard Allen is the first White
Ally Malcolm meets. The Swerlins and Mr.Ostrowski are no, even though they really
like Malcolm.
The concept of institutionalized racism should be introduced with the statement
of Mr. Swerliln that I just cant see how those niggers can be so happy and be so poor.
Institutionalized racism is all the things in the life of people of color that make it more
difficult to advance: poor schools, job, housing and wage discrimination, poor access to
health care
Discuss any information from the Forward and Introduction that the participants
found interesting.
Introduction: What parts of the Black community were attracted to Malcolm and what
parts were not? Why?
1. Nightmare Malcolms birth, family background, death of his father, removal
from the family
Do you think Malcolms father really loved him best? Because he was lightskinned? What would this be like for other children in a family?
2. Mascot Boxing, Gohannas, Swerlins, invisibilities
Mr. Maynard Allen is the first White Ally Malcolm meets. What does he do and
not do?
Why cant Malcolm tell anyone about Mr. Ostrowskis comment?
Assign Chapters 3-7 Hand out and go over the Four Frameworks of Development in
III. Chapters 3-7 Discuss as above. Go over the developmental frameworks if you
didnt have time previously.
Introduce the concept of Classism. What is specific to race and what is a question
of class? Is the Street culture today substantially different for different groups?
3. Homeboy Boston, Ella, Shorty, Roseland Dance Hall, Jazz musicians,
dancing, conks
4. Laura Learning to dance, Laura, white women
5. Harlemite Ella wants him to join the service, sandwich man, Smalls, visits
Michigan, waiter, and Harlem history
6. Detroit Red numbers, organized crime, pimps, attitudes towards women,
speak easy, Sammys girls, draft
7. Hustler procuring sex, Reginald
Assign Chapters 8-10

IV. Chapters 8-10. Continue noticing developmental stages. Begin to bring up examples
from other books. Encourage students to bring up episodes from earlier stages of their
own development.
8. Trapped - has to leave Harlem

9. Caught burglary in Boston

10. Satan drug, Bimbi, Nation of Islam, Masons, the white race
Assign Chapters 11-14 Hand out and go over the Four Frameworks of Development in
V. Chapters 11-14 Discuss as above. Go over the developmental frameworks if you
didnt have time previously.
11. Saved education, pride
12. Savior Stages of faith development, stages of Racial Identity development
13. Minister Malcolm X Boston, Phily, New York, marriage
14. Black Muslims - publicity
Assign Chapters 15-17
VI. Chapters 15-17
15. Icarus - Muslims drug program. Read aloud What do you think about the
idea that someone who has been through it is the best leader? How could you use your
life experiences to help others?
Malcom Xs take on the March on the Farce on Washington. How does this radical
view fit with what we know about the event that contained Martin Luther Kings I Have
A Dream speech?
16. Out jealousy grows, Malcolm learns of Elijah Muhammads adultery,
reactions, issues of power contains Malcoms assessment of the Sickness of the Black
Man. Read aloud and discuss how to cure the mental, spiritual, economic and political
17. Mecca - Unity of believers, the largest circle
Assign Chapters 18 & 19, Epilogue, Ossie Davis on Malcolm X
VII. Chapters 18 - 19 Epilogue and Ossie Davis
18. El-Hajj Malik Travels in Africa, return home
19. 1965 growth in understanding starts his own organization Contains
Malcolms mature description of a white ally
Alex Haley: Epilogue
Ossie Davis: On Malcolm X
Assign journal writing on this whole group:
How did this book affect you?
How did the consideration of developmental stages affect you?
How did the group discussion affect you?
Pass out Evaluation form and request that it be brought to the last class.
VIII. It is wonderful to see the movie with Danzell Washington. This usually takes two
classes with some time for discussion in the middle. Closing discussion, reports on other
books read during the course, evaluation. Certificates
(E-mail Nancy@OurPrisonNeighbors for a certificate that can be printed out. Wed love
to hear about your class).

Book Discussion Evaluation

1. The book discussed was _________________________________________________
2. For me, the book was ___________________________________________________
3. Group discussion was ___________________________________________________
4. Personal reflection on the book and related material was _______________________
5. I would like ___________________________________________________________
6. We would appreciate your personal thoughts about being in the book discussion group:

Wikipedia Articles to Support Learning About Malcolm X

Marcus Garvey
Savoy Ballroom
Duke Ellington
Adam Clayton Powell
Nation of Islam

Seventh Day Adventists

The Great Depression
Apollo Theater
Cotton club
Dutch Shultz
Elijah Mohammad
Black Muslims

Websites of interest:
Child Development Institute article on Ericksons Stages of Psycho-Social Development
Chapter of a psychology text on Kohlberg and his Theory of Moral Development http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/kohlberg.htm
From Joann Wolski Conn (ed.), Womens Spirituality: Resources for Christian Development. (Paulist,
1986), pp. 226-232. http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/fowler.htm

Article on Racial Identity Development from Pierce College:

Article about Maslows Hierarchy of Needs:
An Article about Defence Mechanisms especially interesting is Vaillants leels.

Books Mentioned by Malcolm

This list is dated but many are still available.
Wonders of the World Series
Will Durants Story of Civilization
H. G. Wells Outline of History
W. E. B. Du Bois Souls of Black People
Carter Woodson Negro History
J. A. Rogers - Sex and Race (three volumes)
Findings in Genetics Gregor Mendel
Uncle Toms Cabin Harriet Beecher Stow
Will Durants story of Oriental civilization
Mahatma Gandhis writing

Black Like Me John Howard Griffin

Books Recommended for Further Study
Peoples History of the United States Howard Zinn
Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas
Manchild in the Promised Land Claude Brown
Malcolm X: A Force for Change - Nikki Grimes
Color of Water - McBride, a biracial man remembers his white mother
Black Ice - Lorene Cary, African-American woman
Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 Years - Sarah & Elizabeth Delany
Angela Davis: With My Mind on Freedom - Angela Davis - African- American woman
If They Come in the Morning - Angela Davis and others in the 60s
I Am the Darker Brother: An Anthology of Modern Poems by Black Americans
Drylongso: A Self-Portrait of Black America - John Langston Gwaltney
The Fire Next Time - James Baldwin, African American in the 60s
Going to Meet the Man - James Baldwin, short stories
No Name in the Street - James Baldwin
Just Above My Head - James Baldwin, novel
Nobody Knows My Name - James Baldwin, autobiographical essays
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
Wouldnt Take Nothing for My Journey Now - Maya Angelou, African American
Coming of Age in Mississippi: An Autobiography - Anne Moody
You Cant Keep a Good Woman Down: Stories by Alice Walker
A Different Mirror: A Multicultural History of the United States by Robert Takaki
Finding Freedom by Jarvis Jay Masters
The Soul Knows No Bars by Drew Leder
There Comes a Time The Struggle for Civil Rights by Milton Meltzer
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
White Like Me Tim Wise
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? - Dr. Beverly D. Tatum
Uprooting Racism - Paul Kivel

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