Malcolm X: A Legend Emerges“It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.”
These prophetic words were spoken by one of America ’s most famous and controversial African-Americans just two days before his assassination. His name was Malcolm X.
One could go deeply into the making of this man, born Malcolm Little. So many people, agencies, institutions and organizations have covered this portion of Malcolm X’s brief life on earth. A vast sea of in-depth analyses and biographies on his life and philosophies are available.
This story focuses on all of the facts, suspicions and theories surrounding the assassination of Malcolm X and the impact it has had on the world. Like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, too, had a dream. It began bathed in the tenets of anger and hatred, fostering economic independence on the shoulders of retaliatory separatism. And it ended with the swelling acceptance of a unified brotherhood and the replacement of hatred with peace and of anger with the nagging thirst for international equality for all mankind.
Malcolm, the son of Louise and Reverend Earl Little, was born in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1925. Earl Little was a Baptist minister and an active advocate of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The Little family eventually moved to Lansing, Michigan where their house was mysteriously burned down. Rev. Little then built another house for his family, just outside of East Lansing. In 1931, right after an argument with his wife, Rev. Earl Little angrily walked out of the house. His lifeless body was later found on some streetcar tracks. His head had been severely bashed in and his torso almost cut in half by a streetcar. Authorities reported the death as a suicide, but the African-American community believed he was murdered by a white supremacist group.
Louise Little did all she could to take care of herself and her six children. Eventually the stress and strain got to her and in 1939 she was declared insane and institutionalized. Her children were placed in various foster homes. That same year, Malcolm’s teacher asked him what he would like to be. His answer was, “a lawyer.” The teacher, who had encouraged the white students on their career choices, told Malcolm, “that’s no realistic goal for a nigger.” Malcolm, a good student, quickly became disenchanted. He was placed in a detention home and then dropped out of school, having finished only the eighth grade.
After taking several odd jobs, Malcolm moved to Boston with his father’s sister. He was only fourteen years old and could only find an assortment of odd jobs. He finally landed a job with the New Haven Railroad, which shuttled between Boston and New York City, giving him an opportunity to meet many educated African-Americans. Malcolm was fired from this job and once again took on various odd jobs in New York and Boston, while also committing acts of petty larceny. After being caught and arrested for carrying a concealed weapon he was sentenced to prison. While serving more than six years he began educating himself, converted to the Islamic faith and became a Black Muslim in the Nation of Islam (NOI).
The Conversion of Ideas and DreamsAfter his release in 1952, Malcolm Little, now known as Malcolm X, went to Detroit and began to actively preach to the frustrated African-American population about what Islam had to offer. It made no difference where he conducted his sermons and teachings, whether on the streets, or in a temple. He spread the word to anyone who would listen. It was not long before Malcolm became a favorite of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. He was made a minister and began to travel from city to city, preaching the message, founding new temples and converting thousands of people to the faith. Two years later, Malcolm X became minister of Temple Number Seven in Harlem, New York.
Malcolm X knew he was a marked man after the split with Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam (NOI). He had formed the Muslim Mosque Incorporated (MMI) and made the comment that the NOI leaders “got to kill me. They can’t afford to let me live ... I know where the bodies are buried. And if they press me, I’ll exhume some.”
Malcolm then formed the OAAU (Organization of Afro-American Unity) and began “embarking on a course in opposition to the capitalist system,” according to Roland Sheppard in his The Assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Malcolm’s plans to create a “black nationalist party” integrated with his travels
throughout Europe, the Middle East, the UAR, and Africa where he readily exposed the oppression of African-Americans to the world through the United African Nationalist movement. This was the last thing the U.S. government wanted since it would make the nation’s racial problems an international human rights issue.
In April of 1964, Malcolm X made a pilgrimage to Mecca which led to his second conversion. He met brothers of the faith who were from many nations and of many races, black, brown, white, and all the sons of Allah. The reality dawned on him that advocating racial cooperation and brotherhood would help resolve the racial problems in America and, hopefully, lead to a peaceful coexistence throughout the world. Malcolm X’s transformed ideas and dreams reached full fruition and were ready for both national and international implementation. Again he changed his name, this time to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. And again he found himself going against the system. But this time he would not be alone in the fight for equality and justice.
A Time for MartyrsIt did not take long for the reactionaries to strike out at Malcolm X. Members of the NOI resented what they thought were his attempts to supplant Elijah Muhammad. Government entities feared his involving the NOI in international issues, as well as his starting to lean too far to the left, while law enforcement officials looked upon him and his actions as radical, criminal and detrimental to society.
Early on the morning of February 14, 1965, Malcolm and his family were peacefully asleep in their home in Elmhurst, New York. They were suddenly awakened by the sounds of shattering glass and explosions. Several Molotov cocktails had been thrown through their living room window, engulfing the house in roaring flames. Malcolm and his wife, Betty, quickly gathered their children and rushed out of the burning house. Once safe, they stood outside in the cold air, watching as their home and possessions burned. It was never determined who had tried to kill them, though Malcolm did tell authorities he thought it may have been the NOI.
The Audubon Ballroom was almost full on that cold February day in New York City. Only the week before Malcolm had quickly ushered his family out of their firebombed house. Nothing had gone right since then. On the evening of September 20th, right after an OAAU business meeting, Earl Grant, a good friend, had asked Malcolm to spend the night at his apartment. Malcolm expressed concern about the safety of his friend and his family, knowing that the dangers to him could impact those around him. He gently refused Earl’s kind offer.
That next afternoon, over 400 followers of Islam crowded the ballroom, anxiously awaiting the guest speaker, Brother Malcolm X. No uniformed police were visible inside the Audubon, but two were stationed outside the entrance. It was common knowledge that an attempt on Malcolm’s life was a real possibility. Several dozen police officers were across the street in the hospital, supposedly positioned there at Malcolm’s request because he thought their presence in front of the ballroom would create discomfort to those coming to hear him speak. Malcolm’s wife, Betty Shabazz, later denied that her husband ever made such a request. Malcolm always feared being assassinated and would not refuse protection.
Inside the Audubon Ballroom, several dark-suited NOI guards were positioned near the stage and towards the rear of the room. As soldiers of the NOI, the militancy of the neatly dressed men was evident in their demeanor, as they surveyed the room, quietly watching the seating of late arrivals.
Malcolm X, his pregnant wife and their four children waited in an anteroom. It was a tense and nervous Malcolm X who ordered two of his guards to take his family out into the hall to their seats in a box near the front of the stage. Seemingly irritated and exhausted, Malcolm X mentioned to his aides that he had reservations about speaking. They tried to get him settled down, without success. Malcolm’s misgivings were reflected in his taut features as his restless eyes darted around the room toward the men. He listened to brother Benjamin Goodman making the opening speech. Getting to his feet, Malcolm waved away the men guarding him and forced a slight smile, Malcolm calmly waited backstage.
At approximately 3:08 pm, brother Benjamin ended his speech and introduced Malcolm X, who walked out onto the stage to a lengthy ovation. Malcolm stepped up to a wooden podium and looked out at the audience. When the applause finally settled down, he offered the audience the Muslim greeting and smiled when they responded in-kind. Just as he began to speak again, a commotion broke out near the rear of the ballroom. Two men jumped up, knocking wooden folding-chairs to the floor, as one of the men yelled, “Get your hand out of my pocket!” As Malcolm responded with, “Cool it there, brothers,” a loud explosion suddenly erupted in the back of the room, which began to fill with smoke.
Malcolm’s bodyguards and aides hardly had time to react as the well coordinated ruses effectively diverted their attention from him, allowing unopposed gunmen to begin their attack. A man rose from the front row and pulled out a double-barreled, sawed-off shotgun from under his coat and fired twice at Malcolm. Both shots tore through the podium, striking Malcolm in the middle of his chest. Simultaneously, as Malcolm was falling backwards and clutching his bloody chest, two more men jumped up and fired pistols at him as they rushed the stage. Although Malcolm was down, the two men repeatedly fired bullets into his body before turning and running to flee the premises. More shots were fired as they ran. Several of Malcolm’s followers rushed to his aid. By the time they reached him the entire ballroom was in total chaos. Most of the panicked crowd attempted to flee the smoke-filled room and frightening onslaught, while others rushed to violently attack the fleeing perpetrators.
Betty Shabazz, shielded her children with her body beneath a bench. As soon as the shooting ceased, she rushed toward the still body of her husband as she screamed, “They’re killing my husband! They’re killing my husband!” When she reached his side she realized he was dead, despite the frantic efforts of followers trying to stop the flow of blood from his bullet riddled body.
One of the assassins managed to escape by climbing through a bathroom window, while two other accomplices tried to flee down a flight of stairs and were pummeled with chairs and whatever else the angry and frightened crowd could find. One suspect, 22-year old Talmadge Hayer (aka. Thomas Hagan), was shot in the leg by one of Malcolm’s bodyguards and was unable to flee the wrath of the angry mob that followed him out of the building. Hayer was being kicked and beaten before two uniformed policemen rescued him from possible death. His fellow accomplice managed to escape after being knocked down by an undercover policeman named Gene Roberts, a member of BOSS (Bureau of Special Services). Roberts had grown so close to Malcolm X that the leader and his followers called him “brother Gene.” Roberts then rushed to the stage and attempted to resuscitate the profusely bleeding Malcolm X. A litter was provided from the hospital across the street and Malcolm was quickly taken to the emergency room, where the attending heart surgeon tried to revive him. A few minutes later, Malcolm X was pronounced dead.