The Autobiography of Malcom X remains one of the most captivating and essential books of the 20th century. In it, the iconic activist offered glimpses of his probing self-awareness and his piercing and astute examinations of racial issues in the United States. It provided the outlines of his childhood, his life in prison, his religious conversion and his commitment to and eventual disaffection from the Nation of Islam. Now Pulitzer Prize winner Les Payne’s monumental and absorbing The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X peers into the gaps left by Malcolm X’s autobiography, taking us more deeply into the intimate details of his life, work and death.
In 1990, investigative reporter Payne began conducting hundreds of interviews with Malcolm X’s family members, childhood friends, classmates and bodyguards, as well as with FBI agents, photographers, U.N. representatives, African revolutionaries and presidents and the two men falsely imprisoned for killing him. Drawing on these conversations, Payne traces Malcom X’s story from his childhood in Omaha, Nebraska, through his teenage years in Lansing, Michigan, where Malcolm learned to resist the racial provocations of his white classmates. Payne chronicles Malcolm X’s time in prison, where fellow inmate John E. Bembry challenged Malcolm X by telling the young prisoner, “If I had some brains, I’d use them.” This encouraged Malcolm X to read all he could and to not only engage others with words but also support those words with facts from experts. Payne documents Malcolm X’s meeting with the KKK in 1961 and shows how that meeting sowed the seeds of his disenchantment with the Nation of Islam. In vivid detail, Payne retells the events leading up to Malcolm X’s assassination, offering fresh information about those involved.
The Dead Are Arising is essential reading. Completed after the author’s death by Tamara Payne, Les’ daughter and the book’s primary researcher, it illustrates the forces that shaped Malcolm X and captures the vibrant voice of a revolutionary whose words resonate powerfully in our own times.