On February 21st, 1965, Malcolm X was murdered in cold blood at the Audubon Ballroom. While preparing to speak, a commotion broke out in the Harlem auditorium:
“N****, get your hand outta my pocket!”
A man yelled eight rows back from the stage.
As chaos spread, Malcolm remained composed. “Now, now, brothers, break it up,” he said, “Be cool, be calm.” Suddenly, a burly man charged the stage, blasting him with a 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun.
Malcolm got hit square in the chest, knocking him back. He fell into a pair of chairs behind him before landing on the stage’s floor. Two other men then charged forward, firing .45 ACP and nine-millimeter handguns.
Betty Shabazz, Malcolm’s wife, threw herself onto the bodies of her children who sat near the stage. His wife and children weren’t harmed by the imminent danger.
Malcolm died on the scene.
Seven entry bullet wounds were in his chest. Another three bullets were in his arms and four entered his thighs and legs each. Six more bullets, one .45 ACP round, and two nine-millimeter rounds were also removed from his body.
The complexion of Malcolm’s murder tends to lean toward a hue that resembles Black-on-Black violence.
Three suspects got arrested at the scene: Thomas Hagan, Norman Butler, and Thomas Johnson. The three were members of the Nation of Islam, but police never connected the nation to the assassination. Butler and Johnson maintained their innocence, but were sentenced to life in prison and paroled in the 1980s. Hagan was released in 2010.
By 1963, Malcolm had been suspended from the Nation of Islam for calling President Kennedy’s assassination a case of the “chickens coming home to roost.”
He left the Nation of Islam completely by March of 1964.
When he finally moved on from the nation, he wrote a letter to Elijah Muhammad. Contained within the final letter were the words:
“I am and always will be a Muslim.”
Those words could either be a cheeky dig intended to solidify Malcolm’s independence or an earnest thanks to the man and religion which transformed him. Those very words, with their dual interpretations and frankness combined, represent the lens in which the life and murder of Malcolm X mirror the history of the iconic man.
Americans still understand the murder of Malcolm X as a byproduct of a battle between him and Elijah Muhammad, which deepened after Malcolm revealed that the group’s leader had made bastard children with secretaries in the NOI.
Throughout 1964, friction remained between Malcolm’s camp and the NOI. Denunciations raged, flying in from both sides.
To add fuel to the literal fire, the week before he was murdered, Malcolm’s home — owned by the Nation of Islam, who was trying to evict him — was firebombed.
Malcolm vocalized his belief that the Nation of Islam was the cause. As a result, investigators and social commentators alike believed that the source of his murder was obvious: the Nation of Islam did it.
Malcolm X’s murder matters MOST today. His death comprises a mis-recitation of history. Held in his murder is the pathology of white supremacy. Through Malcolm’s murder, we see the legacy of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam manipulated to create a narrative of intraracial cannibalism in the Black community.
It’s human nature to disagree. People disagree all the time. But when it is Blackness that disagrees with Blackness, whiteness’s gums get moist, saliva dripping with sharp fangs unleashed — waiting to sink their teeth into the tendons of the Black community’s familial spats.
The narrative of Malcolm X’s murder having been perpetrated by the Nation of Islam on the orders of Elijah Muhammad represents the combined intentions of the media and government to highlight moments of Black chaos to destroy the image of Black unity.
Upwards of 10,000 declassified documents detail the government surveillance and infiltration of Black leaders and organizations — including Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. Within the documents, evidence of the nefarious behavior of law enforcement at the time of Malcolm’s murder are present.
The behavior of both investigators and prosecutors during the case display either negligence or malice.
During Malcolm’s rising popularity, the FBI decided to focus on his every move, keeping track of his attempts to organize the Nation of Islam’s mosques around the country.
In 1954, one meeting had a dozen or so members present. An FBI agent infiltrated the event and reported back to the agency.
Malcolm X was dangerous to them because he reserved peaceful appeals for other people attached to social justice like Martin Luther King. The United States, on the other hand, he viewed as a gang — to be challenged, reformed or destroyed.
He sought to organize relationships with independent African nations to combat American villainy.
On June 5, 1964, J. Edgar Hoover sent a telegram to the FBI’s New York office. Simple and plain, he demanded, “Do something about Malcolm X…”
In New York, the FBI coordinated with the New York Police Department’s Bureau of Special Services. The NYPD tracked the license plates of vehicles parked outside of mosques, meetings, businesses, and homes.
Police activity on the day of Malcolm’s assassination is not to be ignored. Up to two-dozen police officers got assigned to Malcolm X’s rallies, but on February 21, a week after his home had was firebombed, not one officer was stationed at the door of the Audubon Ballroom.
While two uniformed officers were inside the venue, they remained in a room far from the main area. The lack of police presence was odd. The oddity of the event was grown by internal violations made by Malcolm’s own security; a security detail which included at least one Bureau of Special Services agent who had infiltrated.
At Malcolm’s request, his security abandoned the searching that had been routine at both the Nation of Islam and the Muslim Mosque/Organization of Afro-American Unity meetings. Without searches, his assassins were able to enter the ballroom armed and undetected.
Once the assassins stood to shoot Malcolm, his security stationed at the front of the stage, didn’t move to protect him, but instead cleared out of the way of the action — almost creating an open path to the man they were “assigned” to protect.
The powers of white supremacy murdered Malcolm X, using disagreements between him and the Nation of Islam as cover. The elaborate collaboration between Washington D.C. and the NYPD is what murdered Malcolm X, yet a version of intraracial cannibalism is often unfairly labeled as the culprit.
Malcolm X felt his death coming but was unafraid of its arrival.
When he was murdered, he was under immense stress. In the wake of the firebombing, he asked his publisher for an advance on the book he was working on. He wanted to buy a new home. He felt it was important to do right by his wife during these pressing times.
“I have to love this woman,” he told Alex Haley, the man who wrote, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”
At the time of his death, Malcolm only had $150 to his name. He had four children and his wife was pregnant with twins; they were essentially homeless as a result of the firebombing.
“If I’m alive when this book comes out, it will be a miracle,” he remarked to Haley. While talking to Haley for his autobiography, he told him, “The way I feel, I ought not to go out there at all today.”
This conversation took place in preparation for his final speech at the Audubon Ballroom. In that very speech, he was going to preach a message of peace, reconciliation, and unity. “I’m going to ease some of this tension by telling the black man not to fight himself. That’s all part of the white man’s big maneuver to keep us fighting among ourselves, against each other.”
Sadly, in the wake of his murder, the image of infighting between Malcolm and the nation has become the dominant narrative of his death.
On the day of his murder, he was going to unveil a new political agenda which would have included a voter registration initiative, politically organizing against police brutality, and a demand for the United Nations to step in and address American racism as a human rights violation.
Toward the end of his life, Malcolm X was moving into a phase of reconciliation, looking to become a political revolutionary that the mainstream would listen to — approaching his true power.
Malcolm’s message was shifting. He was seeking to collaborate. He met with Martin Luther King on March 26th, 1964, who he spoke negatively about in the past, even calling him “Rev. Dr. Chicken-wing.”
Imagine a united front consisting of the strongest Black voices in the era — Martin Luther King and Malcolm X participating in rallies together — bringing together followers of Islam and Christianity to liberate oppressed people worldwide.
The reason why Malcolm X’s murder still matters today is because of the indents his life and death leave on American history if the story is told properly.
When we see Malcolm, we should see a man who was always seeking to grow, willing to speak truth to power and acknowledge the error of his ways, and a man willing to fight any power structure for what is right. He should be remembered as a falsely portrayed as a monger of hate and murdered by his own — those narratives are spun falsehoods. I hate when people call Malcolm X controversial. Call David Duke controversial — not Malcolm X.
When you think of Malcolm X and his murder at the hands of the NYPD and FBI, see a man who knew he would not see his children grow old.
On February 25th, 1965, Malcolm X was murdered in cold blood at the Audubon Ballroom.
Before he took the stage that final time, he was introduced as, “The one who loves you so much that he would give his life for you.”
Remember Malcolm X as that and only that.