Much has been written about Malcolm X's political development. Malcolm: A Life of the Man Who Changed Black America (Station Hill Press, 1991, $24.95, cloth), by Bruce Perry, editor of Malcolm X: The Last Speeches, instead explores Malcolm's birth and childhood, his experience in prison, and his own private fears.
Malcolm is not the best or worst book on Malcolm X. It is controversial because the author tries to be a psychologist instead of a historian.
Perry's assessment of Malcolm's life raises some legitimate practical concerns about his effectiveness. For while it is poignant to reflect on Malcolm's life as fiery leader and guide, it serves no purpose to become Malcolm X clones. If we are to understand Malcolm's legacy, to see where he fits into the emerging 21st-century landscape, we must demystify him, his movement, and his times. Then we can comfortably learn to live with Malcolm the man.
Despite his passion, anger, articulateness, and herculean effort to form a new political context, Malcolm X is safely dead and is not a threat to anybody. The proliferation of Malcolm memorabilia in the form of T-shirts, sweatshirts, bags, hats, and buttons gives testimony to young blacks' need for heroes.
But the resurrection of Malcolm X needs to be understood as instructive for the purpose of training new leaders. For young people to better understand Malcolm, black writers must produce the relevant books. I fear that the written word about Malcolm, just as it is with Martin Luther King Jr., will be left solely to white journalists and historians to interpret our people for us or against us.
Anthony A. Parker, a former Sojourners assistant editor, was a staff editor at Dollars & Sense in Somerville, Massachusetts when this review appeared.