Edited by Gerald Boerner
To many in the white middle class, the racial unrest experienced by this country during the 1960s was a holistic movement. But this perception was wrong! Just like there were gradations in the extremist white groups, there were gradations among the black groups. To look at all black activists from a single viewpoint would have been an injustice.
These divergent viewpoints became very clear during the 1965 Watts Riots in south-central LA. My father worked with a number of men who lived in the Watts area; they told my father that they would return home after work and would lock their families in their houses for safety. The more radical groups had taken over the streets.
Likewise, the civil rights marches during Martin Luther King, Jr.’s campaigns reflect the same type of amalgam. There were radical white groups that reacted to these marches in the same way that there were radical black groups like the Nation of Islam that wanted to force extreme confrontations rather than employ MLK’s passive resistance. These extremes on both sides sought power, not necessarily progress. When Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam for the more conventional Sunni Muslim beliefs and behaviors, he became a target of the group he had formerly led.
Assassinations occur from the elevated feelings of threat and/or betrayal within or between groups. We can see this in the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Robert Kennedy during the decade of the 1960s. We need to learn from these ventures into extremism to create a more civil society. Rodney King’s appeal “can’t we all just get along?” becomes a good guiding principle.
So let’s get started on today’s exploration into Malcolm X’s assassination… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 4148 Words ]
Quotations Related to MALCOLM X:
“History is a people’s memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals.”
— Malcom X
“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”
— Malcom X
“I believe in the brotherhood of all men, but I don’t believe in wasting brotherhood on anyone who doesn’t want to practice it with me. Brotherhood is a two-way street.”
— Malcom X
“Actually, in its purest form, Islam is incredibly tolerant. That makes what’s going on in the world really bizarre.”
— Steve Earle
“As a result of that, America desires a moderate Islam; an Islam that America can control; an Islam that America can give direction to and give orders to its leaders.”
— Louis Farrakhan
“America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
— Barack Obama
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
— Malcom X
“But the West is trying to weaken Islam from outside and inside. They attack our people and invade our countries from outside, and they weaken us from within with ideas like secularism, liberalism and democracy. This is all designed to contaminate our pure Islam.”
— Abu Bakar Bashir
Malcom X, in 1965, is Assassinated in New York
Malcolm X (1925 – 1965), born Malcolm Little and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was an African-American Muslim minister, public speaker, and human rights activist. To his admirers, he was a courageous advocate for the rights of African Americans, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans. His detractors accused him of preaching racism, black supremacy, antisemitism, and violence. He has been called one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history, and in 1998, Time named The Autobiography of Malcolm X one of the ten most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century.
Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska. The events of his childhood, including his father’s lessons concerning black pride and self-reliance, and his own experiences concerning race played a significant role in Malcolm X’s adult life. By the time he was thirteen, his father had died and his mother had been committed to a mental hospital. After living in a series of foster homes, Malcolm X became involved in a number of criminal activities in Boston and New York. In 1946, Malcolm X was sentenced to eight to ten years in prison.
While in prison, Malcolm X became a member of the Nation of Islam, and after his parole in 1952 he became one of the Nation’s leaders and chief spokesmen. For nearly a dozen years he was the public face of the controversial group. Tension between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, head of the Nation of Islam, led to Malcolm X’s quitting the organization in March 1964. He then became a Sunni Muslim and made a pilgrimage to Mecca, after which he disavowed racism. He subsequently traveled extensively throughout Africa and the Middle East and founded Muslim Mosque, Inc., a religious organization, and the secular Pan-Africanist Organization of Afro-American Unity. Less than a year after he left the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X was assassinated by three members of the group while giving a speech in New York.
Nation of Islam
In 1952, after his release from prison, Little visited Elijah Muhammad in Chicago, Illinois. Then, like many members of the Nation of Islam, he changed his surname to "X". In his autobiography, Malcolm X explained the "X": "The Muslim’s ‘X’ symbolized the true African family name that he never could know. For me, my ‘X’ replaced the white slavemaster name of ‘Little’ which some blue-eyed devil named Little had imposed upon my paternal forebears." The FBI opened a file on Malcolm X in March 1953 after hearing from an informant that Malcolm X described himself as a Communist. Soon the FBI turned its attention from concerns about possible Communist Party association to Malcolm X’s rapid ascent in the Nation of Islam.
In June 1953, Malcolm X was named assistant minister of the Nation of Islam’s Temple Number One in Detroit. By late 1953, he established Boston’s Temple Number Eleven. In March 1954, Malcolm X expanded Temple Number Twelve in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Two months later he was selected to lead the Nation of Islam’s Temple Number Seven in Harlem. He rapidly expanded its membership. After a 1959 television broadcast in New York City about the Nation of Islam, The Hate That Hate Produced, Malcolm X became known to a much wider audience. Representatives of the print media, radio, and television frequently asked him for comments on issues. He was also sought as a spokesman by reporters from other countries. Beside his skill as a speaker, Malcolm X had an impressive physical presence. He stood 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) tall and weighed about 180 pounds (82 kg). According to one writer, Malcolm X was "powerfully built", and another described him as a "mesmerizingly handsome … and always spotlessly well-groomed".
From his adoption of the Nation of Islam in 1952 until he left the organization in 1964, Malcolm X promoted the Nation’s teachings. He taught that black people were the original people of the world, and that white people were a race of devils. In his speeches, Malcolm X said that black people were superior to white people, and that the demise of the white race was imminent. While the civil rights movement fought against racial segregation, Malcolm X advocated the complete separation of African Americans from white people. He proposed the establishment of a separate country for black people as an interim measure until African Americans could return to Africa. Malcolm X also rejected the civil rights movement’s strategy of nonviolence and instead advocated that black people use any necessary means of self-defense to protect themselves. Malcolm X’s speeches had a powerful effect on his audiences, generally African Americans who lived in the Northern and Western cities who were tired of being told to wait for freedom, justice, equality, and respect. Many blacks felt that he articulated their complaints better than the civil rights movement did.
Many white people, and some blacks, were alarmed by Malcolm X and the things he said. He and the Nation of Islam were described as hatemongers, black segregationists, violence-seekers, and a threat to improved race relations. Civil rights organizations denounced Malcolm X and the Nation as irresponsible extremists whose views were not representative of African Americans. Malcolm X was equally critical of the civil rights movement. He described its leaders as "stooges" for the white establishment and said that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a "chump". He criticized the 1963 March on Washington, which he called "the farce on Washington". He said he did not know why black people were excited over a demonstration "run by whites in front of a statue of a president who has been dead for a hundred years and who didn’t like us when he was alive". Malcolm X has been widely considered the second most influential leader of the Nation of Islam after Elijah Muhammad. He was largely credited with increasing membership in the Nation of Islam from 500 in 1952 to 25,000 in 1963. He inspired the boxer Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) to join the Nation of Islam. Ali later left the Nation of Islam and became a Sunni Muslim, as did Malcolm X.
In early 1963, Malcolm X started collaborating with Alex Haley on The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In 1964, he told Haley, "If I’m alive when this book comes out, it will be a miracle." The book was not finished when Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. Haley completed it and published it later that year. In 1998, Time named The Autobiography of Malcolm X one of the ten most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century.
Leaving the Nation
On December 1, 1963, when he was asked for a comment about the assassination of President Kennedy, Malcolm X said that it was a case of "chickens coming home to roost". He added that "chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they’ve always made me glad." The New York Times wrote, "in further criticism of Mr. Kennedy, the Muslim leader cited the murders of Patrice Lumumba, Congo leader, of Medgar Evers, civil rights leader, and of the Negro girls bombed earlier this year in a Birmingham church. These, he said, were instances of other ‘chickens coming home to roost’." The remarks prompted a widespread public outcry. The Nation of Islam, which had issued a message of condolence to the Kennedy family and ordered its ministers not to comment on the assassination, publicly censured their former shining star. Although Malcolm X retained his post and rank as minister, he was prohibited from public speaking for 90 days.
On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X publicly announced his break from the Nation of Islam. He said that he was still a Muslim, but he felt the Nation of Islam had "gone as far as it can" because of its rigid religious teachings. Malcolm X said he was going to organize a black nationalist organization that would try to "heighten the political consciousness" of African Americans. He also expressed his desire to work with other civil rights leaders and said that Elijah Muhammad had prevented him from doing so in the past.
One reason for the separation was growing tension between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad because of Malcolm X’s dismay about rumors of Muhammad’s extramarital affairs with young secretaries. Such actions were against the teachings of the Nation. Although at first Malcolm X ignored the rumors, he spoke with Muhammad’s son Wallace and the women making the accusations. He came to believe that they were true, and Muhammad confirmed the rumors in 1963. Muhammad tried to justify his actions by referring to precedents by Biblical prophets. Another reason was resentment by people within the Nation. As Malcolm X had become a favorite of the media, many in the Nation’s Chicago headquarters felt that he was over-shadowing Muhammad. Louis Lomax’s 1963 book about the Nation of Islam, When the Word Is Given, featured a picture of Malcolm X on its cover and included five of his speeches, but only one of Muhammad’s, which greatly upset Muhammad. Muhammad was also envious that a publisher was interested in Malcolm X’s autobiography. After leaving the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X founded Muslim Mosque, Inc., a religious organization, and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, a secular group that advocated Pan-Africanism. On March 26, 1964, he met Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C., after a press conference which followed both men attending the Senate to hear the debate on the Civil Rights bill. This was the only time the two men ever met; their meeting lasted only one minute, just long enough for photographers to take a picture. In April, Malcolm X made a speech titled "The Ballot or the Bullet" in which he advised African Americans to exercise their right to vote wisely. Several Sunni Muslims encouraged Malcolm X to learn about Islam. Soon he converted to Sunni Islam, and decided to make his pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj).
In the United States
After leaving the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X spoke before a wide variety of audiences in the United States. He spoke at regular meetings of Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He was one of the most sought-after speakers on college campuses, and one of his top aides later wrote that he "welcomed every opportunity to speak to college students." Malcolm X also spoke before political groups such as the Militant Labor Forum.
Tensions increased between Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. As early as February 1964, a member of Temple Number Seven was given orders by the Nation of Islam to wire explosives to Malcolm X’s car. In September 1964, Ebony published a photograph of Malcolm X holding an M1 Carbine and peering out a window. The photo was intended to illustrate his determination to defend himself and his family against the death threats he was receiving.
The Nation of Islam and its leaders began making threats against Malcolm X both in private and in public. On March 23, 1964, Elijah Muhammad told Boston minister Louis X (later known as Louis Farrakhan) that hypocrites like Malcolm should have "their heads cut off." The April 10 edition of Muhammad Speaks featured a cartoon in which his severed head was shown bouncing. On July 9, John Ali, a top aide to Muhammad, answered a question about Malcolm X by saying that "anyone who opposes the Honorable Elijah Muhammad puts their life in jeopardy." The December 4 issue of Muhammad Speaks included an article by Louis X that railed against Malcolm X and said that "such a man as Malcolm is worthy of death."
Some threats were made anonymously. During the month of June 1964, FBI surveillance recorded two such threats. On June 8, a man called Malcolm X’s home and told Betty Shabazz to "tell him he’s as good as dead." On June 12, an FBI informant reported getting an anonymous telephone call from somebody who said "Malcolm X is going to be bumped off."
On February 21, 1965, in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm X began to speak to a meeting of the Organization of Afro-American Unity when a disturbance broke out in the crowd of 400. A man yelled, "Nigger! Get your hand outta my pocket!" As Malcolm X and his bodyguards moved to quiet the disturbance, a man rushed forward and shot him in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun. Two other men charged the stage and fired handguns, hitting him 16 times. Furious onlookers caught and beat one of the assassins as the others fled the ballroom. Malcolm X was pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m., shortly after he arrived at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
Talmadge Hayer, a Nation of Islam member also known as Thomas Hagan, was arrested on the scene. Eyewitnesses identified two more suspects, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, also members of the Nation. All three were charged in the case. At first Hayer denied involvement, but during the trial he confessed to having fired shots at Malcolm X. He testified that Butler and Johnson were not present and were not involved in the assassination, but he declined to name the men who had joined him in the shooting. All three men were convicted.
The number of mourners who came to the public viewing in Harlem’s Unity Funeral Home from February 23 through February 26 was estimated to be between 14,000 and 30,000. The funeral of Malcolm X was held on February 27 at the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ in Harlem. The Church was filled to capacity with more than 1,000 people. Loudspeakers were set up outside the Temple so the overflowing crowd could listen and a local television station broadcast the funeral live.
Among the civil rights leaders in attendance were John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, James Forman, James Farmer, Jesse Gray, and Andrew Young. Actor and activist Ossie Davis delivered the eulogy, describing Malcolm X as "our shining black prince".
There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain—and we will smile. Many will say turn away—away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man—and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate—a fanatic, a racist—who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him.
Malcolm X was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. At the gravesite after the ceremony, friends took the shovels away from the waiting gravediggers and completed the burial themselves. Actor and activist Ruby Dee (wife of Ossie Davis) and Juanita Poitier (wife of Sidney Poitier) established the Committee of Concerned Mothers to raise funds to buy a house and pay educational expenses for Malcolm X’s family.
Responses to Assassination
Reactions to Malcolm X’s assassination were varied. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sent a telegram to Betty Shabazz, expressing his sadness over "the shocking and tragic assassination of your husband."
While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem. He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems that we face as a race.
Elijah Muhammad told the annual Savior’s Day convention on February 26, "Malcolm X got just what he preached." "We didn’t want to kill Malcolm and didn’t try to kill him," Muhammad said. "We know such ignorant, foolish teachings would bring him to his own end."
The New York Times wrote that Malcolm X was "an extraordinary and twisted man" who "turn[ed] many true gifts to evil purpose" and that his life was "strangely and pitifully wasted". The New York Post wrote that "even his sharpest critics recognized his brilliance—often wild, unpredictable and eccentric, but nevertheless possessing promise that must now remain unrealized."
Allegations of Conspiracy
Within days of the assassination, questions were raised about who bore ultimate responsibility. On February 23, James Farmer, the leader of the Congress of Racial Equality, announced at a news conference that local drug dealers, and not the Nation of Islam, were to blame. Others accused the New York Police Department, the FBI, or the CIA, citing the lack of police protection, the ease with which the assassins entered the Audubon Ballroom, and the failure of the police to preserve the crime scene.
In the 1970s, the public learned about COINTELPRO and other secret FBI programs directed towards infiltrating and disrupting civil rights organizations during the 1950s and 1960s. John Ali, national secretary of the Nation of Islam, was identified as an FBI undercover agent. Malcolm X had confided in a reporter that Ali exacerbated tensions between him and Elijah Muhammad. He considered Ali his "archenemy" within the Nation of Islam leadership. On February 20, 1965, the night before the assassination, Ali met with Talmadge Hayer, one of the men convicted of killing Malcolm X.
In 1977 and 1978, Talmadge Hayer submitted two sworn affidavits re-asserting his claim that Butler and Johnson were not involved in the assassination. In his affidavits Hayer named four men, all members of the Nation of Islam’s Newark Temple Number 25, as having participated with him in the crime. Hayer asserted that a man, later identified as Wilbur McKinley, shouted and threw a smoke bomb to create a diversion. Hayer said that another man, later identified as William Bradley, had a shotgun and was the first to fire on Malcolm X after the diversion. Hayer asserted that he and a man later identified as Leon David, both armed with pistols, fired on Malcolm X immediately after the shotgun blast. Hayer also said that a fifth man, later identified as Benjamin Thomas, was involved in the conspiracy. Hayer’s statements failed to convince authorities to reopen their investigation of the murder.
Some, including the Shabazz family, have accused Louis Farrakhan of being involved in the plot to assassinate Malcolm X. In a 1993 speech, Farrakhan seemed to boast of the assassination:
Was Malcolm your traitor or ours? And if we dealt with him like a nation deals with a traitor, what the hell business is it of yours? A nation has to be able to deal with traitors and cutthroats and turncoats.
In a 60 Minutes interview that aired during May 2000, Farrakhan stated that some of the things he said may have led to the assassination of Malcolm X. "I may have been complicit in words that I spoke", he said. "I acknowledge that and regret that any word that I have said caused the loss of life of a human being." A few days later Farrakhan denied that he "ordered the assassination" of Malcolm X, although he again acknowledged that he "created the atmosphere that ultimately led to Malcolm X’s assassination." No consensus on who was responsible has been reached.
Please take time to further explore more about MALCOLM X, NATION OF
ISLAM, ELIJAH MOHAMMAD, LOUIS FARRAKHAN, MARTIN LUTHER
KING JR, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X by accessing the
Wikipedia articles referenced below…
Other Events on this Day:
While serving in the House of Representatives, former President John Quincy Adams suffers a stroke moments after casting a vote of "No!" on a motion to honor certain Army officers. He dies two days later in the Capitol at age 80.
The first telephone directory is issued in New Haven, Connecticut.
The Washington Monument is dedicated.
Former Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X is shot and killed by three men of the Nation of Islam at an Organization of Afro-American Unity rally at the Audubon Ballroom in New York. He was 39.
Richard Nixon becomes the first U.S. president to visit China.
Businessman and adventurer Steve Fossett becomes the first person to fly solo in a balloon across the Pacific Ocean, arriving in Saskatchewan, Canada, three days after departing from Seoul, South Korea.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Malcolm X…
Wikipedia: Nation of Islam…
Wikipedia: Elijah Muhammad…
Wikipedia: Louis Farrakhan…
Wikipedia: Martin Luther King, Jr…
Wikipedia: The Autobiography of Malcolm X…
Brainy Quote: MALCOLM X Quotes…
Other Posts on this Topic:
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr…