Malcolm X made a pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca in 1964, changing his name thereafter to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
A Grove Press Gem
During the 1950s and '60s, no U.S. publisher took more chances on material outside the cultural mainstream than Grove Press. Under the leadership of Barney Rosset, Grove published dozens of novelists, playwrights, and poets whose books were banned, dismissed, or despised as too sexually radical (D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller), politically radical (Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz), aesthetically radical (Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter), or too radical in ways censors could not describe (Marguerite Duras, Jean Genet, William Burroughs). In 1964, Syracuse University Library (SUL) archivists, aware of the historic value of Grove editorial documents, proactively contacted Rosset to solicit the material for safekeeping and scholarly access. Following years of negotiation, Rosset agreed to transfer the collection to SUL in 1969. "I gave everything to Syracuse University because they asked for it," Rosset said.
The Grove Press collection, a one-of-a-kind resource for literary, cultural, and historical scholars, has been part of SUL's Special Collections Research Center ever since. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, written with the assistance of Alex Haley, is one of the many enduring titles published by Grove, and its editorial file yielded a special bonus to the collection: Malcolm X's handwritten letter from Mecca to Haley, explaining the spiritual and political transformation he was undergoing during his pilgrimage to Islam's holiest place. The six-page letter, crucial to understanding Malcolm X's repudiation of black separatism during the last year of his life, was published by Grove in the 1966 autobiography, but the original first page, reproduced here, went missing for decades. It was found in Bird Library last spring. While organizing the Grove holdings, with the help of a Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources, librarian Susan Kline discovered the salutation page in a box of the publisher's miscellaneous materials. "We may never have located this historic item without the funding we received to process the Grove Press collection," says SUL Dean Suzanne Thorin. —David Marc
Images credit: Grove Press Records, Special Collections Resource Center, Syracuse University Library