Chicago publisher sued for publishing Malcolm X’s diary



By Dawn Turner Trice

Chicago Tribune


CHICAGO — When editors at Chicago’s Third World Press purchased the rights to publish a book containing Malcolm X’s diary, they saw it as an opportunity for readers to view the last year of the civil rights leader’s life through his own words.

But earlier this month, just days before the official release of “The Diary of Malcolm X, 1964,” the family of Malcolm X filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in Manhattan federal court against Third World Press.

U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain issued a temporary restraining order preventing the publisher from selling the book.

At issue is whether Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Al-Shabazz, who is the book’s co-editor along with journalist Herb Boyd, had the authority to sell the rights to her father’s diary to Third World Press.

Bennett Johnson, the publisher’s vice president, said editors believed Al-Shabazz did have the authority. The leader’s estate, X Legacy LLC, whose heirs include Al-Shabazz and several other daughters, said she did not have the authority to act alone, according to the lawsuit. Al-Shabazz declined to talk about the matter.

“We’ve never been involved in anything like this,” Johnson said of the 46-year-old company that has published “The Covenant With Black America,” a collection of essays that was a 2006 national best-seller, as well as work by authors Gwendolyn Brooks and Sonia Sanchez.

“Ilyasah signed the contract with us as the agent of X Legacy,” Johnson said. “We were totally unaware of anything else. We assumed she was the agent because of that and the contract was drafted to the six daughters and the proceeds would be distributed to them.”

Now, about 10,000 books are sitting in a distribution warehouse, Johnson said. Some copies that were released before the restraining order was issued have already been sold by and Barnes & Noble.

Johnson said it’s not clear how many books have been sold or how many advance copies were distributed.

According to the lawsuit, X Legacy was formed in 2011 to protect “the assets and properties relating to the beneficiaries of Dr. Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X,” including the diary. Betty Shabazz was the wife of Malcolm X.

The lawsuit said X Legacy did not give Third World Press the right to publish the diary and had planned to publish it along with other material, possibly in 2015 to correspond with the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination. Phone calls to X Legacy’s lawyers were not returned.

The family is asking that the book not be distributed and that money derived from the project, including that from an Internet-based fundraising campaign, be turned over to X Legacy, according to the lawsuit. About $16,000 has been raised so far, Johnson said.

Johnson said the publisher’s attorneys want to view X Legacy’s operational agreement to try to understand “who owns what and who has the authority to do what.”

He added that the operational agreement was not included in the documents attached to the lawsuit and that Al-Shabazz also has not produced it.

“The Diary of Malcolm X, 1964,” which is designed to resemble a weathered diary, was to be a rare look at Malcolm X’s musings and encounters during his pilgrimage to Mecca and his travels across the Middle East and Africa in 1964. Months later, in February 1965, he was assassinated in New York.

The diary, along with other memorabilia, has been housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

Johnson said Third World Press had hoped the book would serve as a complement to Malcolm X’s autobiography and illuminate an action plan the leader had for African-Americans.

“What makes it so unusual is that (Malcolm X) never kept a diary before he left the Nation of Islam,” Johnson said. “That’s when he started recording his thoughts about the Nation and … his visits overseas and how he got the epiphany about change and why he wanted to go in another direction.

“We wanted to show him in his own words instead of some scholar trying to interpret his thoughts and what he’d hoped to do.”


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