Study Guide History


TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: A Statement by Abdul Alkalimat 7/15/91

Three newspapers in New York City on 7/10/91 (New York Times, Daily News, and Newsday) reported that Betty Shabazz had filed suit against Writers and Readers Inc. and Abdul Alkalimat in Federal District Court. On that same day I was informed by the lawyer for Writers and Readers that an agreement had been reached with the attorney for Pathfinder Press and that the issue has been settled. I am pleased that the situation has been resolved, but I am outraged that my name has been smeared by Pathfinder Press with the insinuation of illegal or immoral action regarding the literary legacy of Malcolm X. This brief statement is my attempt to clarify the facts and raise the issue to the level of Black liberation politics.

The first point of clarity is that my relationship with Dr. Betty Shabazz is one based on mutual trust and friendship. We share the desire to keep the memory of Malcolm X alive and a vital force in shaping the political thought of Black youth and freedom loving people everywhere.

I have been actively working to promote the ideas and legacy of Malcolm X for the last 25 years. Through the Black studies movement and Black arts movement based in the community I have advocated the importance of Malcolm X. In 1967 the mighty "Wall of Respect" was painted by OBAC in Chicago that started the modern Black mural movement, and Malcolm X was the most prominent person on the wall. I was a founder and first chairperson of OBAC. In 1985, as the political leader of Peoples College I wrote the text for the Black Liberation Month News dedicated to Malcolm X/Al Hajj Malik El Shabazz. We distributed over 50,000 copies of this 8 page newspaper free!!

As founder of the Cooperative Research Network, I initiated the Malcolm X Work Group (including Profs Bill Sales and James Cone among others). After several years of collaboration and joint participation in annual symposia (held at Roosevelt House and Queens of CUNY, and Stony Brook of SUNY) we planned an international conference on Malcolm X:

Radical Tradition and a Legacy of Struggle. It is this context that the present controversy emerges.

  1. In a publication called "Remember Malcolm" I was identified as leading a project to publish the collected works of Malcolm X. This was the announcement of a project being contemplated, and always thought of as a project that would require a collaborative effort by the scholars and activists involved with Malcolm X. Virtually all of the key people were contacted in some way. Pathfinder Press was threatened since they were the main publishers to profit from the sales of his books. Before any discussions could take place they threatened me with legal action. Since I had no plans to act unilaterally, I ignored their threat assuming it would have little relevance when the collective process from within the ranks of Black liberation scholars and activists took up the project.
  2. There has been no further action on this project, but the issue yet to be dealt with in public debate and discussion is the problem of so called progressive publishers being able to monopolize Black liberation ideology as private property. Will we ever have full access to the collected worl:s of Malcolm X as long as Pathfinder press considers them their private property, and can intimidate legitimate efforts to spread the word?
  3. A second issue concerns the Autobiography of Malcolm X. While it has been kept in print as a paperback edition, there has been no hard back edition for nearly 20 years. I proposed a project to publish a scholars edition, hardback with extensive footnotes and bibliography based on the last 25 years of Black studies scholarship. Prof Bill Sales was to co-edit, and Wayne State University Press was to publish the scholars edition. Our series editor was Dr. Geneva Smitherman. We failed to obtain an agreement from the holders of the rights and therefore we canceled the project. Again, this is a project that should be done whether as part of the collected works or as a free standing project by itself.
  4. We published a study guide on Malcolm X as part of our organizational work to build the international conference scheduled for November 1990. We distributed over 5,000 copies of this study guide free!! The financial support for the conference came from the former chancellor of CUNY Dr. Joseph Murphy, Dr. Augusta Kappner, President of Borough of Manhattan Community College (host of the conference and office space for the conference staff), and with additional help from Black Studies programs at Northeastern University, and SUNY Stony Brook. The publications prepared for the conference were given away free, directly from the office at BMCC or as inserts in the City Sun or the Amsterdam News.

I was contacted by Glen Thompson of Writers and Readers who proposed that he publish a reprint of the conference study guide. As a small Black press who would keep the study guide in print with on a shoe string budget, Writers and Readers was doing a service for the Black liberation movement. Our position was that the quotes that we were using could be included on the basis of the "fair use" provision of the copyright law. Further, we believed that the function of the study guide was to introduce the full range of available texts of Malcolm X's writings to a new generation of Black youth, and by so doing promote the sale of all relevant publications.

Pathfinder Press, without approaching Writers and Readers, sent letters to the major book distributors and bookstores trying to stop the sale of Malcolm X for Beginners by claiming that it was an illegal publication. Their attorney's sent threatening letters and made outrageous claims including a demand for payments that far exceeded what could be done. At this point it became evident that Pathfinder was fixed on destroying a small Black publisher (Writers and Readers) and a Black activist intellectual (Abdul Alkalimat).

Writers and Readers sent a press release to alert the community to this attack being waged by Pathfinder. Pathfinder called the press and used its influence alleging that this issue was being settled and therefore it would be better if the press release from Writers and Readers was not published.

Indeed, I agreed to relinquish all claims to royalties and to turn them over as the major part of the financial settlement with Pathfinder Press. At this stage I have agreed to make no financial gain for my work on the project. But, I do question the control that Pathfinder exercises over the work of Malcolm X, and the profits they make from the sale of Malcolm X's books. Without the sale of books by Malcolm X Pathfinder press would have folded years ago!

Many people have been outraged by the rapid increase in price for their most recent publication The Last Speeches which nearly doubled in price in little more than one year. Who's fooling who about ripping off the legacy of Malcolm X - Pathfinder should stand accused and be made to answer to the community for its behavior and failure to return these profits to the Black liberation movement.

Even though Pathfinder knew that an agreement was imminent, they went to court and got the issue in the newspaper. In point of fact, the same day that it appeared in the press the issue was settled. If the issue had gone to trial we would have won on the basis of "fair use" but it would have been a costly and time consuming struggle. Pathfinder is a larger institution backed by a political party and therefore we found it difficult to marshal the resources to fight them in the government courts. But, we believe that the tremendous importance of the political issue, the "capitalist highjacking of Malcolm X" by Pathfinder Press, is one that has to be tried in the courts of the Black liberation movement. This is a long overdue political debate. This document has been written as a contribution to this necessary political struggle.

Addendum 7/21/91

The more talk generated on this issue it seems the more confused things get. This my last statement:

  1. On July 10th attorney Mel Wulf told me on the phone that a settlement had been reached. I called Dr. Shabazz, relayed the information from Wulf and she said "I knew that you could handle it." Since then Glen Thompson has indicated that Writers and Readers had remaining conflicts with specific demands by Pathfinder and therefore negotiations were still proceeding as of July 20,1991.
  2. There has never been any conflict between Dr. Betty Shabazz and myself, as we have appeared publicly together in support of the main issue here-furthering the understanding of Malcolm's life and work; therefore I find the headline of the recent Amsterdam News article an unfortunate point of emphasis (7/20/1991, "Dispute over Malcolm X book pits Betty Shabazz Against Chicago based Activist").