For a quarter century, they have been the stuff of myth among scholars: three missing chapters from “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” reputedly cut from the manuscript after his assassination in 1965 because they were deemed too incendiary.
Their possible existence was first teased at in 1992, when a private collector at an estate sale scooped up material belonging to Alex Haley, Malcolm X’s collaborator on the book. Years later, one biographer was allowed a 15-minute look at some of the papers, but otherwise they have been mostly locked away, surrounded by a haze of cultivated mystery.
But now the unpublished material, or at least some of it, has suddenly emerged and was offered for sale Thursday at a Manhattan auction house, along with another artifact that scholars have never seen: the manuscript for the published book, which bears dense traces of Mr. Haley’s and Malcolm X’s complex negotiations over the finished text.
At the auction, an unpublished chapter called “The Negro” was picked up by the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for $7,000. There were no offers on the manuscript for the published version, which had an opening minimum bid of $40,000.
But after some hushed conversations in side rooms, it was announced that the Schomburg — located on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, and already home to a large collection of material that had been held by Malcolm X’s family — had acquired the manuscript for an undisclosed sum, along with nearly a dozen unpublished fragments that had also gone unsold.
“‘The Autobiography’ is one of the most important books of the 20th century,” Kevin Young, the director of the Schomburg, said after the auction. “To have the version with Malcolm X’s corrections, and to be able to see his thoughts taking shape, is incredibly powerful.”
The manuscripts were included in a sale of African-American historical artifacts by Guernsey’s auction house. The sale also included an item that had attracted considerable media interest in recent years: a Detroit house associated with Rosa Parks that had been bought by an artist, disassembled and shipped to Germany, then shipped back again for sale. (The house, which had a minimum price of $1 million, received no bids.)
But it was the appearance, with little advance fanfare, of the Malcolm X material that caused a stir among scholars, some of whom expressed alarm before the auction that manuscripts that had been locked away by one private collector might disappear into the hands of another.
Komozi Woodard, a professor of history at Sarah Lawrence College who is writing a book about the final year of Malcolm X’s life, said he was “shocked” when he learned about the auction earlier this week. “If we’re trying to figure out where Malcolm would have taken us, some of those papers have clues to that puzzle,” he said.
Since Malcolm X’s assassination there have been battles over the meaning of his life, in particular its tumultuous last year, when he broke with the Nation of Islam, traveled to the Middle East and renounced his philosophy of racial separatism.
There have been equally fierce battles over his literary remains. Papers removed from his family’s home by one of his daughters and later seized by owners of a storage facility were nearly auctioned in 2002, before scholars and family members organized an effort to have the collection placed intact at the Schomburg Center.