ALS signed “As Salaam Alaikum, Malcolm X. Little,” two pages, 8.5 x 11, December 26, 1950. Letter to "Commissioner MacDowell," written while housed at Charlestown State Prison after he was removed from the Norfolk Prison Colony; having previously complained about being returned to Charlestown, he explains his realization of the error of his ways. In full: "In the Name of Allah, the True and Living God, and in the Name of His Holy Apostle, the Honorable Mr. Elijah Muhammad. As Salaam Alaikum. Commissioner MacDowell, It not is surprising to me that you hold such a high office in this state, for you are one who has been endowed with great patience, understanding, and the many other inherent qualities needed to become a natural leader. This has been most fortunate for me, for if a less-considerate man had occupied your office I would no doubt be hell-bound for certain.
You have received numerous of my foolish complaints and, although you have a position that seldom allows you sufficient time to settle even the sensible problems, you have always found time to inspect and reply to my childish complaints. I pray that you will accept my sincere thanks for your undying efforts to solve my many imagined wrongs…. and I offer my humble apologies for having so often needlessly tried your patience.
Allah has showed me my error; the injustice is all within my own mind. Mr. Dacey, at Norfolk, once asked me if I had a persecution complex. I now fear that he was correct; however, I have been too busy thinking everyone is against me to see that I myself have been against myself. The circumstances of my case probably have produced this complex, and if you had been in my shoes perhaps you also would have been likewise affected.
However, I feel that I have over-tried your patience, for if our positions were vice-versa I must admit that I would have exercised far less tact and understanding than you and your subordinates have wasted upon me. Perhaps if I had not been so quick to blame others for my own troubles, I could have been correcting my mistakes and today be inhabiting a different environment. Let us pray that this awakening has not been too late. May Allah bless you and your family as He has indeed blessed mine." In very good to fine condition, with staple holes and short edge tears to each page, and lower right corner loss to the second page.
Malcolm Little was found guilty of larceny and breaking and entering in 1946, and began serving his eight-to-ten year sentence at Charlestown State Prison in February. He made efforts to reform and educate himself while there, and with his sister Ella began a letter-writing campaign in hopes of getting transferred to the Norfolk Prison Colony (today known as MCI-Norfolk)—it offered broader educational opportunities that did not exist in Charlestown. He ultimately found success, and was transferred to Norfolk on March 31, 1948. In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, he described the colony as 'comparatively, a heaven, in many respects,' observing: 'Norfolk Prison Colony represented the most enlightened form of prison that I have ever heard of. In place of the atmosphere of malicious gossip, perversion, grafting, hateful guards, there was more relative ‘culture,’ as ‘culture’ is interpreted in prisons. A high percentage of the Norfolk Prison Colony inmates went in for ‘intellectual’ things, group discussions, debates, and such.' He joined the weekly debate team, where he honed his oratorical skill, and devoted much of his time to studying in the prison library. Most importantly, it was during this time that Malcolm discovered the Nation of Islam. It seems that he began to question authority after becoming involved with the Nation of Islam, and was shipped back to Charlestown State Prison for being 'undesirable'—but given no specific reasoning, thus his prolonged correspondence with Commissioner MacDowell.
Two years later in August 1952, after seven years served, Malcolm Little left prison as Malcolm X, a devout member of the Nation of Islam and a committed disciple and pupil of Elijah Muhammad. This remarkable letter, signed with a rare version of his name during an important period of transition, reveals his rhetorical skill and thought processes during his time in prison—the crucible that formed him into the outspoken leader that he would become.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.