Malcolm X’s Daughters Not Happy with the New Biography


by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse UniversityScholarship in Action 

Speaking to the Associated Press, the daughters of the late Malcolm X have expressed disappointment in their father’s biography, written by recently deceased Columbia University professor, Manning Marable. Ilyasah and Malaak Shabazz are concerned about allegations in the book that their parents’ marriage was strained and that both of their parents may have been unfaithful.

Ilyasah says that the marriage of Malcolm and Betty "was definitely faithful and devoted because my father was a man of impeccable integrity, and I think that most people, if they’re not clear on anything, they’re clear that he was moral and ethical and had impeccable character.”

The book, entitled “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” utilizes interviews, letters, government documents and more to detail the life of Malcolm X in an unbiased way. Professor Marable makes it clear that he has no interest in portraying Malcolm as a “saint,” and that he wished to show that Malcolm had the “normal contradictions and blemishes that all human beings have.”

In the book, Marable alleges that Malcolm’s autobiography, which sold over a million copies, was not entirely accurate. Namely, Marable writes that Malcolm X exaggerated the depth of the criminal activity which defined much of his youth. He also says that Malcolm’s marriage to the late Betty Shabazz was not as loving and close as some have imagined.

Originally named Betty Sanders, Malcolm’s wife married her husband in 1958. Marable claims that the discontent in their marriage came from the fact that Malcolm wanted a traditional Muslim wife, but Betty wasn’t always on the same page. Additionally, there were problems with emotional and physical intimacy, in large part due to the fact that Malcolm traveled so much and had his life threatened on a regular basis.

As evidence of his assertions, Marable includes a letter from Malcolm X to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. In the letter, Malcolm mentions that he and his wife were “sexually incompatible,” and that she’d threatened to “seek satisfaction elsewhere.”

The book goes on to discuss an alleged affair that Betty had with a friend of Malcolm’s, Charles Kenyatta, and also discusses the possibility that Malcolm was not always faithful as well.

As I sit in New York City, my plan for tomorrow is to visit the Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz Center on Saturday so that I might be able to spiritually connect to the man who has always been my absolute greatest hero. Other than the father who raised me (not my biological one), I consider Malcolm X to be the most impactful and significant American to have ever lived.

With that said, I lay out the following thoughts:

First, the fact that a person is your greatest hero does not mean they cannot be critiqued. I’ve always felt that it was a terrible mistake for Malcolm to put so much faith in another man, namely the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (it’s incredibly risky to give sexual details of your marriage to any man with an active libido). It’s perfectly acceptable to take guidance from a mentor, but giving any other human being unquestioned and unconditional allegiance leaves you vulnerable to unspeakably painful disappointments. Malcolm learned this when he unearthed the hypocrisy of Elijah Muhammad which led Malcolm to leave the Nation of Islam in 1964.

Secondly, I’ve always believed it to be a mistake for Malcolm to allow his wife and children to be the target of violence coming from those who wanted him to die. It is fully understood that during that era, nearly everyone was under pressure to get married. But the truth is that a soldier on the battlefield has to be careful about who he puts into harm’s way. Some might consider it to be selfish and myopic on the part of both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X to risk the lives of their families (perhaps against their will) and to leave their kids without a father. Their sacrifices are certainly appreciated, but one can easily understand why their wives may have been agitated by their predicament.

Finally, the response by Malcolm’s daughters to Marable’s book is natural, given that every little girl in America wants to believe that her daddy can do no wrong. Millions of men struggle to hide their sexuality from their little girls, because we’ve defined most forms of sexual desire to be bad, dirty and evil. But the truth is that most married men cheat (over 60 percent) at some point in their marriages, and this would be especially true when referring to famous, powerful men who are on the road on a regular basis. Additionally, women with husbands who are never at home are also more likely to seek companionship outside the marriage. This certainly does not condone extramarital affairs, but the reactions of Malcolm’s daughters are no different from the preacher’s kids who refuse to believe their daddy is “getting busy” with some of the women in the congregation, even when there’s an abundance of proof to the contrary.

Marable’s evidence of Betty’s extramarital affair is quite credible, especially since it is consistent with Malcolm’s letter to Elijah Muhammad. I’d also be surprised if Malcolm was 100% faithful to his wife, given his own frustrations with the marriage. But whatever indiscretions there were in this marriage, it doesn’t take away from the beauty of Malcolm and Betty’s love or the depth of this family’s historic contribution to humanity. The two issues should be considered separately, for Malcolm was still a man of great discipline and integrity.

Malcolm X remains my greatest hero, no matter what historians have to say. But by believing that our heroes are perfect, we only end up disappointing ourselves later on down the road. Rather than putting Malcolm and Martin on pedestals that the rest of us can never reach, it is better to accept them as being human.


Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.



Filed under African Americans

17 responses to “Malcolm X’s Daughters Not Happy with the New Biography

  1. Pingback: Malcolm X’s Daughters Not Happy with the New Biography « Black Gossip for Black America, Black Celebrities included

  2. Pingback: Malcolm X’s Daughters Speak Against New Book about their Father « Black News in the black community

  3. Pingback: Malcolm X’s Daughters Speak Against New Book about their Father «

  4. Pollard

    Unfortunately the people under discussion are no longer living, but first and foremost …what purpose does it serve to publish such things true or not? Other than the descendants of El Hadj Malik Shabazz who can dispute these allegations? Malcom never alluded he was a saint in the first place. The Auto Biography was a book on the transformation of a man from one point to another. Who’s to say he (Malcolm) was not going to write part 2? We already know he was not a perfect man but what the Professor should worry about is someone writing a book about his dirty laundry?

  5. We who are adults know that people are human and prone to error. However, it is possible that Malcolm and Betty truly were faithful to each other. Regardless, I agree with Pollard. I think it’s pointless to air the dirty laundry. Really, what purposes does it serve? I personally would not write that book about him while his daughters are still alive, out of respect for them. There is nothing constructive and no insight into the human condition that will be gained. It is not like Malcolm X ever portrayed himself as anything more than a solider in the war for equality.

  6. Dave

    Notice this book fits right in with “the man’s” plan of revisionism and rebranding. It’s the NY Times, the Washington Post and CBS giving publicity to Marable’s book for the purpose of tarnishing Malcolm’s character and legacy. Give them any opportunity and they will use it now as they did then to weaken Malcolm’s image in our eyes.

  7. yonah hall

    First of all Dr. Watkins,The Nation of Islam is a cult and like all cults they have charismatic leaders who are venerated and held,often by their own words,as demi gods.So as a fathful adherant,Malcolm,had been duped and bamboozeled by this faker,as were all of the members of this and all cults.

    In regards to whether or not Malcolm X cheated on his wife,there is one source that would know(besides the parties involved and God) and that is the FBI who, along with the CIA, monitered Malcolm and recorded him as a potential subversive.

    Get those tapes and then the truth will be known.

  8. Moon

    We all kown how the game of scandal is played, blacks are now doing what whites have always done, you make a good point, or state the facts or have people awakeing and begin to follow your belifes and there going to attack your family, Old saying that black people has gotten away from? you need to clean up your house before you get into some one else’s. the daughter”s have been through enough J.Edguar Hover Cross dresser investigations and Martin Luther King daughter as well and now it time to bring it on again while both are dead? don’t have to worry nobody looks at this writer someone of concern fo others people are tired of you claimg you represent Afro Americans hell you dont know who the hell the are they don’t talk or vote for you period you did there parents jut like you done these women OREO

  9. dr. uhuru hotep

    I can’t comment on Dr. Marable’s research as I have not yet read his book. However, I would agree w/previous posters that it serves no constructive purpose to speculate on Malcolm’s & Betty’s sex life. How is this germane to Malcolm’s life work & his contributions to our liberation struggle? In fact, this off color speculation tells us more about Dr. Marable’s voyeuristic tendencies than it does about Malcolm or his wife. It does not serve our collective needs as people of African ascent to have our own scholars trashing our leading men & women. No credible Jewish scholar would ever consider dredging up this kind of filth & then publishing it about any Jewish leader of renown. And if he/she did, she/he would be rightfully condemned by the Jewish community.

  10. Riyah

    I agree with Dave. What purpose could this new book serve, but to tarnish Malcolm’s character and legacy. Malcolm is dead and can not even defend himself against this kind of gossip. If these things are true, then it doesn’t change the fact that he was our “Shining Black Prince”, struggling for the freedom and dignity of the Black Man here in Amerikkka.
    I too, would question an author who is willing to publish such
    gossip for Malcolm’s daughters to read. They didn’t deserve to have their father taken away from them and they don’t deserve to read about or hear about their father in such a manner.
    Well, I guess we won’t be hearing from Marable either as he had planned to make the circuit.
    Man makes plans and God is the best of planners.

  11. Riyah

    dr. uhuru hotep,
    You are so right. And yes, if this was done to a Jewish Leader, the author/scholar would be rightfully condemned by th Jewish Community.
    Please folks, don’t buy into the scheme of tarnishing our true leaders’
    character and legacy.

  12. pauline Bush

    I just purchased my copy.When you read a book you take from it,but you also try and read between the lines.It doesn’t matter how many books they right about this most powerful man,none will take my opinion,and turn it around.He was a great man and leader,who was taken from us at a young age.In history we know every great man was shot down before his time,I loved Malcolm and was proud of what he stood for,and I know he was human.RIP Malcolm you live on in our hearts..

  13. Ed

    Concerning Malcom X: May God Bless him for the absolute risk he undertook, and may he Rest in Peace. His integrity remains intact.

  14. bakruudin, vuai

    Ive just read the article on Al Hajj Malik Shabazz aka MalcomX, now when u read the opening of the book Mr. Marable recieves access to nation of islam files after a i think a 7hr meeting with minster Farakhan, now we know that Farakhan call isnt the biggest Malcolm fan. No U want me to believe that 46yrs later a nation of islam file shows Malcolm sent Elijah pool, bey, muhammad the many names of Elijah Pool, a letter about he and his wifes sex life now in all thing follow the person most likely to benefit and it is the nation of disbelief and their minster. I bought the book and marable himself says he wanted to make Malcolm contradictions and blemish show, u mean he had the money and influence the F.B.I had and the F.B.I files on Malcolm shows a different Malcolm. Marable was not a muslim he is a Christian, im a Muslim and my book the Qur’an teaches me when sumeone comes to u with information ascertain the facts. Malcolm was to big then as he is now so now the lie and make him a hoe monger like their hero Martin Luther King if there was any truth to these lies they would have been published by the government, u know that same government that warned Farakhan that Malcoms daughter was going to kill him. So to u agents of the U.S Government against true Blk Leadership we not goin for the lies. And to that agent from Boston Mass, ive always known who U are. Salaam alaykum

  15. im brown i shit white i pee black

  16. Pingback: Leith Mullings, Cornel West, and Gary Younge Discussing Manning Marable’s “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” « This Black Sista's Page

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