William Haley, the son of Malcolm X’s biographer Alex Haley, is asking Syracuse University to return a letter to his family and plans to make a legal claim if the request is denied. Alex Haley co-authored The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which he based on a series of in-depth interviews with the famed leader (Haley is also the author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family). Mr. Haley died in 1992.
Malcolm X penned the letter in question to Haley while in Saudi Arabia after a pilgrimage to Mecca in April of 1964, only ten months before his assassination. In it Malcolm X spoke of his changing views on race relations, prompted by his journey and spending time with Muslims “whose skin was the whitest of white.” He wrote, “In fact, what I have seen and experienced on this pilgrimage has forced me to ‘re arrange’ much of my thought patterns, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions.”
The letter was forwarded on to Grove Press, the publisher of the autobiography, so that it could be included in the 1965 first printing. Grove subsequently donated the archive related to the book to Syracuse University in 1969. Gregory J. Reed, William Haley’s attorney, claims the publisher never had legal title to the letter, rather that Haley only lent it to Grove for inclusion in the autobiography. Reed believes the letter is worth at least $650,000 and plans to make a legal claim if Syracuse is unwilling to return it to the Haley family.
The senior director of Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse says there is documentation from Grove proving the university’s ownership of the archive and that there hasn’t been any evidence that the letter was lent rather than given to Grove.
William Haley says he is acting on behalf of himself and his two sisters and that, “the history is important for us, as a family, the legacy.” When questioned on plans to sell the letter, he conceded that it was a possibility, but that it would be a group decision. Why pursue the letter now, after so many years? Haley says he only became aware about the details surrounding the letter after talking to Reed, who happens to be a collector of Malcolm X material.
Thoughts on this dispute?