Alex Haley: Driving Around Harlem

(Alex Haley: Driving Around Harlem is from the 24 October 1988 interview of Alex Haley for Eyes On The Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. On 26 January 1994, the video interview aired during Malcolm X: Make It Plain.)

Malcolm X: Make It Plain offers insights into American history topics including the struggle for racial and gender equality, the leadership and ideology of Malcolm X and his legacy. The site has a biography of Malcolm X and discussions of the Nation of Islam and the civil rights movement. It introduces topics such as integration vs. segregation, the decolonization of Africa, using the U.S. census to define gaps between white and black Americans and more.

American Experience marks the 40th anniversary of his death with Malcolm X: Make It Plain. This in-depth film portrait goes straight to the heart, mind and message of one of the modern era’s most complex figures. Actress Alfre Woodard narrates the special.

If any man expressed the anger, struggle and insistence of black people for freedom in the sixties, it was Malcolm X. In Omaha, he was Malcolm Little; later he became “Detroit Red,” a small time street hustler. From prison emerged another Malcolm, the fiery, eloquent spokesman for the Nation of Islam. After a trip to Mecca, there was a last transformation—a new willingness to accept white allies. Who killed him and why has never been fully explained.

Malcolm X: Make It Plain is told through the memories of people who had close personal and working relationships with him, from prominent figures such as Maya Angelou, Ossie Davis, and Alex Haley; to Nation of Islam associates, including Wallace D. Muhammad, the son of Elijah Muhammad; to family members who have never before talked about Malcolm X on record. Also, included is extensive archival footage of Malcolm X, speaking in his own words, at meetings and rallies, and in media interviews.

In the following excerpt, Driving Around Harlem, Alex Haley describes a day when he took a ride with Malcolm X in his blue Oldsmobile.

Alex Haley: Driving Around Harlem

One day Malcolm said to me, “Would I like to ride with him?” Periodically he would ask me that. He had a blue Oldsmobile and he liked to drive around, just tool around in Harlem. Sounded like he called it patrolling his beat. It was among his people and he genuinely enjoyed it.

People would recognize him and they would wave. In some areas he was like Sugar Ray Robinson, driving around. And one such day, in an afternoon, we were in Harlem up in the 130ths area and all of a sudden Malcolm slapped his big foot on the brake, the car just jolted to a stop, screeched. And I said, “Oh my God,” I knew we were shot, because Malcolm was a target in lots of areas.

And before I knew really what was happening he had burst out of the door, the driver’s side door, and was over against near the wall of a building and he’s standing like an avenging devil over three young black men who would be say 18, 19, in that area, maybe 20, and his fingers out and it was the angriest I ever saw Malcolm. He was shaking his finger at them, and he was just raging at them. He was something like, “Beyond these doors is the greatest collection of information by black people in the world and other people in there studying about you, and the best you can do is be out here shooting craps against the door. You should be ashamed of yourselves.” And these young men got up and I tell you literally they went slinking away.

Now the significant part is these were young men who probably would have cut the throat of anybody else who would have dared come up and accost them in such a manner. But they recognized Malcolm and such was Malcolm’s image, such was his power in the image terms, that their reaction was just to slinky away. They were embarrassed, they were guilty as charged.

And he fumed about it. He had a way of coming upon something that would really get to him and then he would just mutter and go on about it until it kind of wore down. But he was furious about that and he was also furious about anything that he came upon that he interpreted as black people, particularly younger black people, shirking opportunities to learn about themselves, about anything.

He said, “Unless we get equipped with information that is taught, we will not be able to cope in this society.” That was his general thematic thing. ~ Alex Haley.

(The above interview is presented under the Creative Commons License. © 1988 Washington University Libraries. All Rights Reserved.)

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