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Free Study Guide-The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X-Free Notes
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Chapter 2

Mascot

Summary

This chapter describes young Malcolm's life at his foster parent's home. In 1937, Joe Louis, a black boxer became the heavyweight champion of the world by knocking out James J. Braddock. All the negroes in America including Lansing celebrated the victory. For young Malcolm's generation, Joe Louis became a symbol of racial pride. So every negro boy old enough to walk dreamed of becoming a boxer. His elder brother Philbert had already become a good boxer at school level. He entered the amateur boxing competition held in Lansing's Prudden auditorium.

Sometimes, Malcolm and Reginald would go to watch him train for the event. Already people in Lansing had begun to call Philbert, a natural boxer. Although Malcolm was happy and excited that his brother was going to enter the event, he felt envious too. This is because all the adoration that he always got from his younger brother Reginald was gradually going towards Philbert. To win back his younger brother's adoration, he too signs up for his first bout. He was 13 years old, but due to his height, he got away by lying that he was sixteen (the minimum age required for the event). Malcolm's opponent was a white boy, Bill Peterson, who was a novice like him.

Malcolm's siblings, along with most of the people he knew in Lansing had come to cheer him. Philbert had been doing so well. Therefore, the people who had turned up for Malcolm's bout were rather curious to know how he (i.e. Philbert's brother) would fare. However, Malcolm was knocked out in the very first round. His reputation was ruined after this bout. For blacks could never accept that somebody white can simply knock a black out. This feeling existed because at that time in America, sports and show business were among the only fields open to blacks. Moreover, the boxing ring was the only place, where a black could whip a white without the fear of getting lynched. (Lynching was not uncommon in the U.S. then).

What hurt Malcolm most was his brother Reginald's behavior. After this bout, Reginald avoided looking at Malcolm. To win back his respect, Malcolm once again trained and signed up to fight Bill Peterson again. Malcolm was knocked out once again. This time in the first round. The only saving grace was that the match was held at Bill's hometown of Alma, Michigan. So there was hardly anyone (including Reginald) he knew present among the spectators. That bout put an end to Malcolm's career in the boxing ring.


At school, Malcolm was always caught playing pranks. But one incident proved rather costly. One day, he entered the class wearing a huge hat almost covering his eyes. His teacher made him walk around the room with the hat throughout his class. The moment the teacher turned his back to write on the board, Malcolm hit upon a new trick. He picked up a thumb tack (as he passed the table) and placed it on the empty teacher's chair. When the teacher returned to the seat, there was a mini explosion in class. As a result of this prank Malcolm was expelled from school.

The Welfare Department shifted him from the Gohannas family to a reform school. Before that, he was placed at a detention home in Mason, Michigan, 12 miles from Lansing. Mr. Manyard Allen was the Welfare Department man who advised him with kind words, as he drove him to the detention home. Mrs. Swerlin (a white woman) ran the home. Malcolm had a room of his own here. But he ate with the Swerlins as the other inmates did. Malcolm recalls that a huge white woman named Lucille Lathrop was the cook. He also remembers that the cooking was very different from their negro cooking-which was usually well seasoned. Just as in the Gohanna's home, here too, Malcolm swept and mopped the house. The Swerlins grew very fond of him and accepted him as a family member. Ella, Malcolm's half sister came down from Boston to meet her family members. She came to the Swerlin's house to see Malcolm. She was a tall black domineering woman. There was something in her personality that makes Malcolm like her at the very first meeting.

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