“Learning to Read” by Malcolm X
From an Articulate Street Hustler to one of the most well spoken black men in his era, Malcolm X explains how he became motivated to begin his studies in the essay, “Learning to Read”. He had spent the majority of his twenties in Norfolk Prison Colony School, where he began his initial studies,
“Many who today hear me somewhere in prison, or on television, or those who read something I’ve said, will think I went to school far beyond the eighth grade.”
Before being confined to Norfolk Prison, his studies hadn’t progressed much further than the eighth grade. Him not knowing how to read and write created immense struggles, which led to his motivations of learning to read and write. His prison studies had actually been initially motivated back when he was at Charleston Prison; he examined how Bimbi could take control of every conversation at hand. At first, Malcolm tried to imitate Bimbi’s skills as a speaker, so he started to pick up any reading material he could find. That quickly failed once he realized he couldn’t get past the first few sentences without mistaking it for another language. He knew he had to start from square one. He requested a dictionary and writing material from Norfolk Prison Colony School and began by writing down every single word, page by page. By the time he had finished the dictionary his vocabulary consisted of over one million words, and for the first time he could read without any struggle. With each passing day Malcolm realized, “months passed without even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never felt so truly free in my life.” (259) When his studies had progressed more seriously he would read until three or four in the morning without interruption, except from the passing guards who were patrolling the prison halls. When studying Mr. Muhammad’s teachings he could clearly see that history had been “whitened”. Looking back on his seventh grade studies, he remembers the...