Malcolm X’s Reading

April 3, 2014

I’m always a little suspicious when people make a big point about what books they’ve read, when they throw around big name like Schopenhauer, Kant, Nietzsche.   But Malcolm is pretty scrupulous.   Of Herodotus, he writes: “I read Herodotus, “the father of History,” or rather, I read about him.”   It was Will Durant’s Story of Civilization that he was reading, that taught him not only about Herodotus but also about “Aesop being a black man who told fables; about Egypt’s Pharaohs; about the great Coptic Christian Empires; about Ethiopia, the earth’s oldest continuous black civilization.”

He had gotten into the habit reading while at the Norfolk prison colony.  The Parkhurst Collection was especially strong in philosophy and religion.

It’s probably not surprising that W.E.B. DuBois should be on the reading list,  or Spinoza, the “black Spanish Jew.”   But there’s also the Findings in Genetics by Gregor Mendel: “I really studied this book by the Austrian monk. Reading it over and over, especially certain sections, helped me to understand that if you started with a black man, a white man could be produced; but starting with a white man, you never could produce a black man-because the white chromosome is recessive. And since no one disputes that there was but one Original Man, the conclusion is clear.”

That’s Malcolm X.

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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