Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary Hardcover – 1 Feb 1994
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About the Author
Walter Dean Myers is the 2012 - 2013 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He is the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author an award-winning body of work which includes, SOMEWHERE IN THE DARKNESS, SLAM!, and MONSTER. Mr. Myers has received two Newbery Honor medals, five Coretta Scott King Author Awards, and three National Book Award Finalists citations. In addition, he is the winner of the first Michael L. Printz Award. He lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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What we have here is certainly a sympathetic study of Malcolm X, but not a eulogy or apologia. The early history of Malcolm Little (b 1925) and the political environment that shaped his thinking and his actions and reactions is sketched in clearly but without undue rhetoric or point-making. The point about racial segregation makes itself, surely. We have to understand the character of the man himself, and the main point to grasp is that he was a dynamo. It is no use, in my opinion again, trying to identify some one-size-fits-all `best' approach to political protest. Ghandi did things one way and Martin Luther King adopted a strategy that had something in common with Ghandi's. The post-war colonial struggles in Africa were another story entirely, and so was the American war of independence. If anyone thinks that was some high-minded march towards Demoxy an' Freem a la George Bush 43, I recommend them to read The Hornet's Nest by Jimmy Carter, in which the 39th president gives his compatriots a history lesson thinly disguised as a novel. The point is - it is largely a matter of personalities, and the personality of Malcolm X was a volatile one. Many who came from his background were presumably also volatile. What Malcolm Little added to the mix was his brains and charisma, and these were, as he foresaw himself, the recipe for his assassination at the age of 39.
Was this inevitable? Myself, I don't know about `inevitable', but it was certainly on the cards. Myers does not lecture us or draw explicit political conclusions, but it must be obvious that the harder and faster you push for reform the more people you are liable to upset and alarm. You will upset the people who simply do not want reform because they prefer the abuses, however they try to present this outlook. You will alarm the fainéants who will express pious support and on a good day may pass the occasional resolution saying that this that or the next is totally unacceptable but who will rush to dissociate themselves from any overturning of applecarts or any hint of disorder. A lot depends on how things are said and expressed, and Malcolm did himself no favours by saying that his objectives were to be achieved `by any means necessary.' Say that and you are handing a real gift to your opponents. If one party can use any means necessary so can another. Myers does not try to decide how precisely Malcolm meant this, but from his own depiction I would guess that this was more a matter of Malcolm's mouth running away with him than anything else.
A book dating from the 1960's naturally does not have a lot to say about the recent manifestations of radical international Islam, but it does leave me with a clear impression that Islamic traditionalists were more than a little suspicious of the ideas parading under the name of their ancient faith as proclaimed by Elijah Muhammad or Malcolm X. Islam is one thing, and desegregation in America is something else, so far as I can see. Malcolm X eventually became too hot for Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam to handle - as usual, he did his own thing and he did it at his own speed which was too fast for most others. The calm and level-headed tone and style of this short book are a very good way of presenting this particular historical figure. I don't suppose many people these days can still be undecided on the basic rights and wrongs of racial segregation, and I certainly am not undecided myself. However coming to this book so belatedly I obtained an insight into this pivotal career that may not have taught me anything drastically new but has certainly shown me how calm and sympathetic understanding on a biographer's part can restore the human dimension to an iconic figure who never ought to have had so polarising an effect in his short lifetime.
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