American Experience
Reflections Reflections

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An Adventuresome ChildGrowing Up in LansingHead of the ClassA BraggadocioA MissionaryStreet WitHarlem DemonstrationReaching a Broad AudienceDriving Around HarlemA Synthesis of Roles

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. 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 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 slink 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.

Malcolm X: Make It Plain American Experience PBS