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When Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" film opened last fall, many Boston residents were amused to see movie versions of the city's Roxbury neighborhood where Malcolm Little, as he was called then, spent the early part of his life.

After the movie's release, The Monitor contacted several Roxbury residents who knew Malcolm before he converted to Islam and became a civil-rights leader. After hearing their reminiscences, what emerged was as much a portrait of the Roxbury community as an elegy for Malcolm X.

Their candid observations of Malcolm X, quoted in the accompanying story, belie the Biblical adage, a prophet is not without honor except in his own country. Some community members saw in Malcolm - even at an early age - the markings of a leader.

What these individuals add to the discussion of Malcolm X's life is a sense of the neighborhood they shared. These days, Roxbury struggles with a negative image in the eyes of city officials and the media, and with the problems of many urban areas. Longtime residents are sometimes discouraged by what they see as the lack of persistence among the young to combat racism, unemployment, and hopelessness. The words of these community members lend poignancy to Malcolm X's call, 30 years ago, for African-Americ ans to reassert their dignity, and for people to embrace neighbors of all races.

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