NEW YORK — Documents, photos and memorabilia from the life of Malcolm X -- his eighth-grade memo book, his application for a Nation of Islam name, the shells from the shotgun that killed him -- went on display here this week in observance of what would have been his 80th birthday.
Many of the exhibits are being seen in public for the first time, having nearly been lost to an online auction when the rent wasn't paid on a storage locker in Florida, said Joseph Fleming, who represented Malcolm X's six daughters in the effort to win back the archive.
The daughters have given the documents to the New York Public Library for 75 years, and a tiny percentage has been organized into an exhibit, "Malcolm X: A Search for Truth," at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which is on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem. The exhibit runs through Dec. 31.
Many of the photos in the exhibit are family photos, showing Malcolm X praying, traveling in Egypt or playing with his children, rather than the more familiar news photos documenting his public life as one of the best-known and most controversial black leaders of the 20th century.
But those pictures are there, too: Malcolm X with Adam Clayton Powell Jr., with Dick Gregory, with Fidel Castro, with Muhammad Ali, with Redd Foxx. Huge rallies in Harlem. His body being wheeled out of the Audubon Ballroom. His wife, behind a black veil, at his funeral in 1965.
The papers, many of them handwritten, include letters to and from Malcolm X, some from his teenage years.
In the eighth-grade memo book, classmates apparently told young Malcolm Little, as he was then known, what they thought of him.
"Tall, Dark, Handsome," one says.
"Tall dark and screwey" says another.
In a coincidence, his 1961 datebook shows that on May 19 -- his birthday and the day this year that the exhibit opens to the public -- he had an appointment at the Schomburg center.
"It's eerie," said Howard Dodson, director of the Schomburg. "He was going to meet my predecessor."