Malcolm X 'Diary' taken to court

Nayaba Arinde | 12/2/2013, 11:15 a.m.
There is some confusion and tension over the latest book on Malcolm X, “The Diary of Malcolm X.”
African Diaspora in the UK install plaque for Malcolm X

There is some confusion and tension over the latest book on Malcolm X, “The Diary of Malcolm X.”

"It is insufficient, in my humble opinion, to honor and respect Malcolm X yet fail to honor and respect the legacy business of Malcolm X's children, which is solely owned by them to protect, safeguard and license the rights related to Malcolm X,” family attorney L. Londell McMillan told the AmNews.

The now-in-court dispute arises out of the publication of a book containing diary entires and notes from the great Black nationalist icon. The family's attorneys argue that the publishers, Third World Press, did not have proper legal permission to print the tome.

Not wanting to get into a fight with people they respect, but determined to protect the legacy of Malcolm X, the family's attorneys say that they had no option but to go to court.

McMillan stressed, "On behalf of X Legacy LLC and the Shabazz family, the daughters of Malcolm X and I made numerous attempts to contact, discuss, settle and have Third World Press [publisher Haki Madhubuti and editor] Herb Boyd comply with the appropriate laws and business dealings related to the diaries, copyright, trademark and family matters related to Malcolm X, to no avail. We were forced to secure the injunction. Malcolm X's public life may belong to the people, but his intellectual property and publicity rights are proprietary rights owned and controlled by his heirs, all of the daughters.

Facts about Maclolm X

  • Malcolm X was murdered in Harlem on Feb. 21, 1965 while speaking at the Audubon Ballroom
  • His birth name was Malcolm Little
  • Was the head of the Nation of Islam's Mosque No. 7 in Harlem
  • Father of six daughters with Dr. Betty Shabazz
  • Known and respected Black Nationalist around the world
  • Buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Ardsley, N.Y. with his wife Dr. Betty Shabazz and close to the grave of his recently murdered grandson, Malcolm Shabazz.

"Haki Madhubuti has been a trusted advisor and friend to this family for years; he knows all of the daughters but did not confirm his intentions to publish the 'Diary' and secure the rights to the work. He must be getting bad advice. He did not return my call."

“We signed a legal contract,” Bennett Johnson, vice president of Third World Press, told the AmNews. “We acted in good faith, and we were quite surprised when Mr. McMillan showed up with his legal brief.

On Friday, Nov. 23 at a hearing in Manhattan, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain prolonged her ban on sales of the book until a January 2014 hearing, during which arguments and evidence can be presented. Swain warned an attorney for Third World Press that failure to comply could result in an order of contempt. Swain's ruling was a continuation of her disallowing the selling of the already controversial book on Oct. 8, when McMillan and some of Malcolm X's daughters sued the Chicago publisher, staying that Third World Press was infringing on their rights.

Speaking to the AmNews, McMillan said, "Prior to taking legal action and obtaining the TRO [temporary restraining order], Third World Press was made aware that the purported license agreement with Boyd and one of the daughters was void. Securing one beneficiary's signature for intellectual property assets owned by many and assigned to a protective legal entity is simply not sufficient, and they were made aware."

“That is his opinion. That is why we are in court. One man says one thing, another man says another. That is why we have this adversarial action,” Johnson said regarding McMilan's claim that proper permission was not gained.

Johnson told the AmNews that by the time he heard from the lawyers, “We had already had the book printed; we were already in the process.”

In court on Friday, Third World Press attorney Matthew Brinkerhoff said that the book came to be after one of Malcolm X's six daughters signed a contract in March, leading Third World Press to believe that, that gave them publishing rights.

McMillan retorted that despite the court order, the book was still on sale, adding that there was "no indication Third World Press has any intention to stop what they're doing."

The book was set to be launched with grand fanfare on Nov.15, but Brinkerhoff said the publisher canceled the launch event and removed the book from sale in compliance with Swain's order.

He told the court, "As far as I know, there are no books out there being sold."

Annotations and commentary in the “Diary of Malcolm X” were edited by prolific author and journalist Boyd and Ilyasah Al-Shabazz, one of Malcolm's six daughters. Therein lies the crux of the issue. Even though Al-Shabazz had signed onto the project, a prior agreement meant that all the sisters in X Legacy LLC also had to sign on—and they did not.

So McMillan is arguing that point, while Third World Press states that it signed their agreement in “good faith.”

“The next court hearing is Jan. 31– and nothing can come out,” said McMillan. “Despite our injunction, the book had been on sale on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online book publishers. X Legacy LLC shut them down.”

Any further sales, the attorney said, would lead to “substantial copyright infringement.”

Saying that he was under a gag order, Boyd, who is also an AmNews reporter, said he could not talk about the case.

On the book jacket, Boyd says, “The heart of the book is Malcolm's impressions, his personal observations on the people he meets and the circumstances he encounters.” Al-Shabazz notes, “From the pages of his diary, we hear his voice—distilled and pure, devoid of outside interference, manipulation or intent. With his diary, the entire world can assess the value, contribution and magnitude of Malcolm X.”

Tut-tutting sadly, Internet observers and others state that it is a pity that this legal brouhaha has erupted over what is a magnificent legacy and a vital selection of papers that the world does need to see and learn from.

In the press release in which Third World Press announces the “landmark publication of 'The Diary of Malcolm X.,'” they cite the “copious notes” made by Malcolm X, aka El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, on his trips to Africa and the Middle East in 1964.

“One of the most astonishing revelations we learn from 'The Diary' is the possible CIA agent who was shadowing Malcolm in Africa and the Middle East,” said Herb Boyd. “In his autobiography, Malcolm believed he had discovered who that agent was, but a close reading of 'The Diary' discloses an even more surprising man who may have been the spook on Malcolm’s trail.”

The book contains snippets of the thoughts, writings, ideals and philosophies of the man who Madhubuti calls in the foreword an “intellectual, activist and statesman.” Madhubuti notes that when Malcolm X was assassinated in New York on Feb. 21, 1965, “this very human event hit Black and politically active communities and organizations around the world like the loss of the sun and rain for a season. It was as if a significant part of the world's rainforest just evaporated.”

Third World Press notes, “For several years, 'The Diary' and other priceless memorabilia—since they were rescued by the family from a proposed auction—have been stored at the Schomburg Center, and the publication of 'The Diary' is just the beginning of other projects, including his letters, photographs, and films that will further advance our understanding of Malcolm X and his monumental contributions to Black empowerment and possibility.”

This is a family whose great contributions and whose tragic history is well-documented. The latest sad episode was the brutal murder of Malcolm X's grandson (child of daughter Qubilah) Malcolm Shabazz in Mexico City on May 9.

Malcolm Shabazz, the late grandson of the late Malcolm X

Malcolm Shabazz, the late grandson of the late Malcolm X

McMillan said that the notion that the family was in disarray over various issues should be seen as over, as they are getting organized now and are speaking in the one legal voice of X Legacy LLC when it comes to their father's intellectual property.

“We are approaching the 50th anniversary of his death,” McMillan said, “and we want to put the papers out, but we want to do it properly. We even said that we would probably have asked them to work on the project. I tried over several weeks from October to sort this out amicably—through emails, texts and phone calls—but to no avail. I wanted this to be resolved.

“For weeks, we went out of our way to try and talk with the publishers and those involved. I am a person of the community, they are people of the community—I thought they would have picked up the call,” a disappointed McMillan told the Amsterdam News.