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It was because of my letters that I happened to stumble upon starting to acquire some kind of a homemade education.I became increasingly frustrated at not being able to express what I wanted to convey in letters that I wrote, especially to Mr. Elijah Muhammad. In the street, I had been the most articulate hustler out there - I had commanded attention when I said something.
But now, trying to write simple English, I not only wasn't articulate, I wasn't even functional. How would I sound writing in slang, the way I would say it, something such as, "Look, daddy, let me pull your coat about a cat, Elijah Muhammad - "
Many who today hear me somewhere in person, or on television, or those who read something I've said, will think I went to school far beyond the eighth grade. This impression is due entirely to my prison studies.
It had really begun back in the Charlestown Prison, when Bimbi first made me feel envy of his stock of knowledge. Bimbi had always taken charge of any conversations he was in, and I had tried to emulate him. But every book I picked up had few sentences which didn't contain anywhere from one to nearly all of the words that might as well have been in Chinese. When I just skipped those words, of course, I really ended up with little idea of what the book said. So I had come to the Norfolk Prison Colony still going through only book-reading motions. Pretty soon, I would have quit even these motions, unless I had received the motivation that I did.
I saw that the best thing I could do was get hold of a dictionary - to study, to learn some words. I was lucky enough to reason also that I should try to improve my penmanship. It was sad. I couldn't even write in a straight line. It was both ideas together that moved me to request a dictionary along with some tablets and pencils from the Norfolk Prison colony school.
I spent two days just rifling uncertainly though the dictionary's pages. I'd never realized so many words existed! I didn't know which words I needed to learn. Finally, just to start some kind of action, I began copying. In my slow, painstaking, ragged handwriting, I copied into my tablet everything printed on that first page, down to the punctuation marks. I believe it took me a day. Then, aloud, I read back to myself, everything I'd written on the tablet. Over and over, aloud, to myself, I read my own handwriting.
I woke up the next morning, thinking about those words - immensely proud to realize that not only had I written so much at one time, but I'd written words, that I never knew were in the world. Moreover, with a little effort, I also could remember what many of these words meant. I reviewed the words whose meanings I didn't remember. Funny thing, from the dictionary first page right now, that "aardvark" springs to my mind. The dictionary had a picture of it, a long-tallied, long-eared, burrowing African mammal, which lives off termites caught by sticking out its tongue as an anteater does for ants.
I was so fascinated that I went on - I copied the dictionary's next page. And the same experience came when I studied that. With every succeeding page, I also learned of people and places and events from history. Actually the dictionary is like a miniature encyclopedia. Finally the dictionary's A section had filled a whole tablet - and I went on into the B's. That was the way I started copying what eventually became the entire dictionary. I went a lot faster after so much practice helped me to pick up handwriting speed. Between what I wrote in my tablet, and writing letters, during the rest of my time in prison I would guess I wrote a million words.
I suppose it was inevitable that as my word-base broadened, I could for the first time pick up a book and read and now begin to understand what the book was saying. Anyone who has read a great deal can imagine the new world that opened. Let me tell you something, from then until I left that prison, in every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading on my bunk. You couldn't have gotten me out of books with a wedge. Between Mr. Muhammad's teachings, my correspondence, my visitors- usually Ella and Reginald - and my reading of books, months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life.
im actually going to copy malcolm x and copy out my urdu dictionary inshAllah....maybe my urdu wil improve.
I can teach you if you like insha'Allah
Al-Ghazali said, "If you see Allah, Mighty and Magnificent, holding back this world from you, frequently trying you with adversity and tribulation, know that you hold a great status with Him. Know that He is dealing with you as He does with His Awliya' and chosen elite, and is watching over you, have you not heard His saying, "So wait steadfastly for the judgment of your Lord - you are certainly before Our eyes.[At-Tur 52:48]
The Norfolk Prison Colony's library was in the school building. A variety of classes was taught there by instructors who came from such places as Harvard and Boston universities. The weekly debates between inmate teams were also held in the school building. You would be astonished to know how worked up convict debaters and audiences would get over subjects like "Should Babies Be Fed Milk?"
Available on the prison library's shelves were books on just about every general subject. Much of the big private collection that Parkhurst had willed to the prison was still in crates and boxes in the back of the library-thousands of old books. Some of them looked ancient: covers faded, old-time parchment-looking binding.
Parkhurst, I've mentioned, seemed to have been principally interested in history and religion. He had the money and the special interest to have a lot of books that you wouldn't have in general circulation. Any college library would have been lucky to get that collection.
As you can imagine, especially in a prison where there was heavy emphasis on rehabilitation, an inmate was smiled upon if he demonstrated an unusually intense interest in books. There was a sizable number of well-read inmates, especially the popular debaters. Some were said by many to be practically walking encyclopedias. They were almost celebrities. No university would ask any student to devour literature as I did when this new world opened to me, of being able to read and _understand_.
I read more in my room than in the library itself. An inmate who was known to read a lot could check out more than the permitted maximum number of books. I preferred reading in the total isolation of my own room.
When I had progressed to really serious reading, every night at about ten P. M. I would be outraged with the "lights out." It always seemed to catch me right in the middle of something engrossing.
Fortunately, right outside my door was a corridor light that cast a glow into my room. The glow was enough to read by, once my eyes adjusted to it. So when "lights out" came, I would sit on the floor where I could continue reading in that glow.
At one-hour intervals the night guards paced past every room. Each time I heard the approaching footsteps, I jumped into bed and feigned sleep. And as soon as the guard passed, I got back out of bed onto the floor area of that light-glow, where I would read for another fifty-eight minutes-until the guard approached again. That went on until three or four every morning. Three or four hours of sleep a night was enough for me. Often in the years in the streets I had slept less than that.
I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive. I certainly wasn't seeking any degree, the way a college confers a status symbol upon its students.
My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America. Not long ago, an English writer telephoned me from London, asking questions. One was, "What's your alma mater?" I told him, "Books." You will never catch me with a free fifteen minutes in which I'm not studying something I feel might be able to help the black man.
One of the first things I think young people, especially nowadays, should learn how to do is: see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself. Then you can come to an intelligent decision for yourself.
But if you form the habit of going by what you hear others say about someone, or going by what others think about someone, instead of going and searching that thing out for yourself and seeing for yourself, you will be walking west when you think you're going east, and you will be walking east when you think you're going west. So this generation, especially of our people, have a burden upon themselves, more so than at any other time in history. The most important thing we can learn how to do today is think for ourselves.
It's good to keep wide-open ears and listen to what everybody else has to say, but when you come to make a decision, you have to weigh all of what you've heard on its own, and place it where it belongs, and then come to a decision for yourself; and you'll never regret it. But if you form the habit of taking what someone else says about a thing without checking it out for yourself, you'll find that other people will have you hating your own friends and loving your enemies. This is one of the things that our people are beginning to learn today, that it is very important to think out a situation for yourself. If you don't do it, then you'll always be maneuvered into actually—You'll never fight your enemies, but you will find yourself fighting your own self.
Whenever you think you are going to occupy a position of responsibility in the future, one of the best areas in which you can train yourself, is never to accept images that have been created for you by someone else. It is always better to form the habit of learning how to see things for yourself, listen to things for yourself, and think for yourself: then you are in better position to judge for yourself.
We are living in a time when image-making has become a science. Someone can create a certain image and then use that image to twist your mind and lead you right up a blind path.
Concerning my own personal self, whose image they projected in their own light. I am against any form of racism. I'll fight against racism, no matter where it is. I don't believe in fighting against racism nonviolently. I know that you are against racism too. We are all against racism. The only difference between you and me is that you want to fight racism and racists nonviolently and lovingly, and I'll fight them the way they fight me – whatever weapon they use, that's the weapon I'll use against them. … I am for peace and I am against violence, but I am not against using it to protect our people from the violence that they are the victims of in this country or any where else on this earth.
… So I just take time to mention that because it is very dangerous for you and me to form the habit of believing anything completely about anyone or any situation when we only have the press as our source of information. It is always better, if you don't want to be completely in the dark, to read (about) it. But don't come to a conclusion until you have an opportunity to do some personal, firsthand investigation for yourself.
If you ever are going to hold a position of leadership along with which goes a great deal of responsibility, my advice to you would be just that; to be very careful about letting others create images for you. Always examine for yourself.
… If the press is able to project someone in the image of an extremist, no matter what that person says or does from then on, it's considered by the public as an act of extremism - no matter how good it is, because it's done by this person, who has been projected as an extremist, no matter what it is, or how good it is, or how positive it is, how constructive it is. The people, who have been misled by the press, have a mental bloc. And the press knows this. If the press can project someone as subversive or a group as subversive, no matter what that group does, it is looked upon as subversive. They can run and save someone from drowning in the middle of the Hudson (River), but still the act is looked upon with suspicion, because the press has been used to create suspicion towards that certain image. If a person is projected by the press in an image of irresponsibility, then no matter how responsible that person's action may be, the people look upon that act as an irresponsible act.
I point these things out especially for you and me, those of us who are trying to come from behind, and not get ahead, but at least get even. If we aren't aware, we'll find that all these modern methods of trickery that they have perfected to a science will be used (against us), and we will be maneuvered into thinking that we are getting freedom or making progress, when actually we will be going backwards.
Likewise, if they can project someone in a violent image or someone who goes for violence, and you accept that image, then whatever that person becomes involved in, as far as you are concerned, he believes in violence. He can save a baby from the path of a car, but you don't see someone saving the baby, you see someone who believes in violence. These methods have been used very skillfully by the power structure, the national as well as the international power structure. One of things that you and I as an oppressed people should be on guard against is as I said to be very careful about letting anyone paint our images for us.
The world press as well as the American press can make the victim of a crime look like the criminal and make the criminal himself look like he's the victim. You don't think that this is possible for someone to do that to your mind.
… So all I say and I only use this (example of Congo) to show the importance of you and me learning to think for ourselves, and especially think beyond what we read in the press. Someone can take a newspaper and make you walk backward and you swear you're walking forward. They can say in the headline that the sun is out, and you walk around out there in the rain without an umbrella, soaked, and it won't make you wet, because the paper said that the sun is out. They give an angelic image to a devil, the give a humanitarian image to a murderer, they make the victim look like the criminal and the criminal look like the victim. So, my advice to you is, if any of you at any time think that you ever be placed in a position of responsibility, you owe it to others as well as to yourself … careful about letting others make your mind up for you. You have to learn how to see for yourself, hear for yourself and think for yourself and then judge for yourself.
A Discussion with Young Civil Rights Fighters from Mississippi, January 1, 1965.