In April 1964, when Malcolm X made his historic pilgrimage through Africa to Mecca he carried a diary that has now become the object of a lawsuit, filed recently in Manhattan federal district court. The diary, which chronicled Malcolm’s hajj, as a pilgrimage to Mecca is traditionally known in Islamic culture–took place shortly before his assassination in 1965, and contains his deeply personal account of the trans-continental experience, and how it affected his worldview. It was after this trip that Malcolm famously adopted the more formal name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, the El-Hajj prefix denoting a muslim who has made the obligatory pilgrimage.
The controversy regarding the diary started when Malcolm’s daughter IIyasah Shabazz granted reproduction rights of the diary for a book deal to Chicago-based publisher Third World Press. The reproduction of the diary was scheduled for release by Third World Press on November 14th of this year, but it was reported that other family members of Malcolm X brought the lawsuit to stop the publication, claiming that Third World Press does not have the rights to reproduce the novel.
While we were unable to get a copy of the complaint in the lawsuit to get the nitty gritty details surrounding this story, a little sleuthing (snooping?) online revealed a March 2003 NPR article which detailed that the diary and other personal memorabilia for Malcolm X went up for auction in 2002 after payments for a storage facility where the material was held fell behind on payments. According to the article, the diary was rescued from the auction by the New York Public Library, with an agreement between IIyasah Shabazz and Malaak Shabazz as administrators of the estate of Betty Shabazz (Malcolm’s wife). That agreement allowed for the materials, including the diary, to remain deposited with the New York Public Library’s Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture for 75 years, while ownership of the intellectual property embodied in the materials and diaries was to remain with the family.
Whether the publication of the diary will happen or be stopped by the lawsuit, will likely turn to whether the court finds that IIyasah Shabazz properly gave the rights of reproduction of the diary to Third World Press, and if she did, whether her authority is binding on the other family members that have contested the publication in the lawsuit. Stay tuned for more on this story as it develops.