Image: AP

Some amount of unpublished material from The Autobiography of Malcolm X is about to come up for auction. Scholars are hoping it’ll be three missing chapters thought to have been cut after his assassination but before the book’s publication. If, that is, they ever existed in the first place.

The New York Times reported that the material goes up for auction Thursday, along with the book’s manuscript. Scholars have never had any real access to either, because the whole stash was bought by a private collector named Gregory Reed in 1992, in a sale of things belonging to Alex Haley, the cowriter on the book.

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Over the years Reed has only allowed glimpses, even while teasing the existence of the chapters. The Times said:

The 241-page manuscript for the published book, held in a black binder, is missing some pages. There are a number of unpublished fragments, some of which are being sold as single pages. But only one item — a 25-page typescript with a hand-lettered title page that says “The Negro” — resembles a full chapter, leaving it unclear whether Mr. Reed’s description of three chapters was accurate.

The mystery of the possibly missing chapters aside, though, that manuscript is an important document, because of what it reveals about the book’s creation. Malcolm X collaborated with Roots author Alex Haley, and it was a contentious process:

Many pages of the manuscript for the published book are dense with edits that show the push and pull between Haley’s revisions and queries, in black ink, and Malcolm X’s, in red. In some places, Haley urges him to pull back on the soapbox pronouncements or to tone down some of the fiercest denunciations of white people.

In others, he affirms Malcolm’s comments, as in a passage describing corruption in “some of America’s topmost white circles,” where he pencils in “I know!”

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Scholars are hoping this sale represents an opportunity to finally get a good look at all of the materials. But the concern is that it’ll just disappear into another private collector’s vault, leaving nothing more than traces to speculate over.