When we think about Malcolm X and his legacy, the definitive source material is still his own works, especially The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Published after his assassination in 1965, and co-authored with Alex Haley, the autobiography is a conversion narrative that tracks his embrace of black nationalism and Islam, first in America and then abroad.
The Diary of Malcolm X documents the activist and religious leader’s life after he broke with the Nation of Islam up until his assassination a year later.
Third World planned to release it this week. But last Friday a Manhattan attorney filed a lawsuit to block publication.
The suit was filed on behalf of some of Malcolm X’s children, who say the book is unauthorized.
Johnson claims Third World Press signed a contract earlier this year. They acquired the diary from Malcolm’s daughter Ilyhasah Al-Shabazz, who is also the book’s editor, along with Herb Boyd (who edited a previously anthology on Malcolm X for Third World).
Johnson says he’s not sure why the family members are blocking publication. He first got wind of the action a couple of weeks ago.
“We’ve been asking all along, ‘what do you want so we can work something out?’” says Johnson. “And all we get from them is ‘we want you to stop,’ which you know obviously is a non-starter. That’s not how you do business.”
According to an article in the New York Post, an entity formed by the heirs of the slain activist has “exclusive rights to publish, reproduce and distribute the diaries worldwide.”
Johnson counters that their arrangement divides royalties from the book among the six daughters.
“I knew Malcolm X. I didn’t know him that well and I think he’d be very disturbed by this confusion over his diary.”
Johnson says a hearing on the suit should take place today. Calls to the Manhattan attorney who filed the suit went unanswered.
Alison Cuddy is an arts and culture reporter for WBEZ and host of TV podcast Changing Channels. Follow her on Twitter @wbezacuddy.