ALBANY, N.Y. — The son of Malcolm X’s biographer is asking Syracuse University to hand over a letter the slain activist wrote, claiming his family is the rightful owner.
Malcolm X wrote to Alex Haley, his collaborator for “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” from Saudi Arabia in April 1964, about 10 months before he was gunned down in a ballroom of a New York City hotel.
The publisher of the autobiography later gave the letter, the focus of which was Malcom X’s shifting views on race relations, to Syracuse University as part of a larger cache of papers to be used by researchers.
Haley’s son, William Haley, said the publisher never had legal title to the letter and could not give it away.
His lawyer said Tuesday that he plans to make a legal demand this week for the letter, which he believes is worth at least $650,000.
“The history is important for us as a family, the legacy,” William Haley said.
Haley said he was acting on behalf of himself and his two sisters.
He said it’s possible that the family would decide to sell the letter, but that would be a group decision.
Alex Haley died in 1992. “So much of African-American history gets lost and is sometimes not in the place where we prefer it to be,” Haley said.
Malcolm X’s letter, written after a pilgrimage to Mecca, addresses the recent time he spent with Muslims “whose skin was the whitest of white.”
“In fact, what I have seen and experienced on this pilgrimage has forced me to ‘re arrange’ much of my thought patterns, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions,” he wrote.
Sean M. Quimby, senior director of the university’s Special Collections Research Center, said it has documentation from publisher Grove Press that shows Syracuse owns the transferred archive.