FEBRUARY 21 = Malcom X is Assassinated

Image“There was a prolonged ovation as Malcolm walked to the rostrum past a piano and a set of drums waiting for an evening dance and stood in front of a mural of a landscape as dingy as the rest of the ballroom. When, after more than a minute the crowd quieted, Malcolm looked up and said, “A salaam aleikum (Peace be unto you)” and the audience replied “Wa aleikum salaam (And unto you, peace).”

“Bespectacled and dapper in a dark suit, his sandy hair glinting in the light, Malcolm said: “Brothers and sisters . . .” He was interrupted by two men in the center of the ballroom, about four rows in front and to the right of me, who rose and, arguing with each other, moved forward. Then there was a scuffle in the back of the room and, as I turned my head to see what was happening, I heard Malcolm X say his last words: “Now, now brothers, break it up,” he said softly. “Be cool, be calm.”  Then all hell broke loose. There was a muffled sound of shots and Malcolm, blood on his face and chest, fell limply back over the chairs behind him. The two men who had approached him ran to the exit on my side of the room shooting wildly behind them as they ran. “

These were the last moments in the life of “Malcom X”, the fiery spirited Afro-American Muslim leader as reported in the “New York Post” on Feb. 22 by Thomas Skinner. Malcom X was shot to death on this day, February 21, 1965 just as he began to address a meeting of his followers at the Audobon Ballroom in New York City.

Malcom X and His Conversion to Islam 

Malcolm Little and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz had been born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, the fourth of seven children to Earl Little and Louise Norton. Malcom’s father

was an outspoken Baptist lay speaker, who was killed, it was believed by white supremacists when Malcom was a young child. His mother was  judged to be insane a few years later, and Malcom spent much of his youth in foster homes. He was a good student, but chafed at the limited opportunities open to an intelligent young black man, being told by a teacher that being a lawyer was “no realistic goal for a nigger.” He moved from Boston, wherein he lived for a time with his older sister, to New York where he wound up living in Harlem. There he lived a life of occasional employment,mixed with the fast crowd of clubs, crime and drugs. He returned to Boston and was eventually sent to jail on charges of burglary.

There at Charlestown State Prison in Charlestown, Boston, Malcom met a self-educated fellow prisoner named John Elton Bembry, who introduced him to the teachings of the Nation of Islam. Bembry convinced the headstrong and proud young Malcom that by educating himself and cleansing his body of the poisons of cigarettes and drugs, he could become free and self-reliant. Malcom thereafter became a voracious reader and converted to the Islamic faith as preached by the American Black Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad. It was in 1950 that he began signing his letters as “Malcom X”. In his autobiography he explained why:

“The Muslim’s ‘X’ symbolized the true African family name that he never could know. For me, my ‘X’  replaced the white slave master name of ‘Little’ which some blue-eyed devil named Little had imposed upon my paternal forebears.” 

Malcom X Becomes an Orator 

This newly emboldened and very devoted Malcom X became one of the leaders of the Nation of Islam as the African American

Muslim movement was then known. He had a natural gift for public speaking, able to deliver fiery addresses to rouse large crowds, but also adept in one on one interviews. In the segments which this writer has seen his calm, almost matter of fact way of saying things which were fairly radical then or now (that all whites were devils for example), made him one of the most remarkable figures of this or any period. The man also had a fairly imposing physical presence. He stood at 6 ft. 3 inches tall, and weighed about 180 pounds and was described by Marable Manning as “mesmerizingly handsome … and always spotlessly well-groomed.”

The Break With the Nation of Islam

Of course, being so much in the public eye made Malcom the object of some amount of jealousy within the Nation of Islam. By 1963, he had already fallen into disfavor with some of that groups leadership. There had long been rumors of illegitimate children fathered by Elijah Muhammad, and on investigating some of these claims, Malcom found them to be true. When he referred to the assassination of John F. Kennedy as “Chickens coming home to roost” he was suspended from speaking in public by Elijah Muhammad. This lead to his break with the Nation of Islam in March of 1964. He pledged to try and organize black Americans in order to heighten their political awareness, and also to work more openly and cooperatively with other civil rights leaders, whom he had previously dismissed for their devotion to a non-violent approach. During a pilgrimage to Mecca, he found himself conversing with and praying alongside many white Muslims as well, so he returned with a willingness to accept help from whites that he had previously lacked.

Malcom is Killed on February 21, 1965.

It was when addressing a meeting of his new organization “the Organization of Afro-American Unity” that Malcom X was shot down and killed (below). The account by Thomas Skinner from the New York Post continues: 

 “I fell to the floor, got up, tried to find a way out of the bedlam.

Malcolm’s wife, Betty, was near the stage, screaming in a frenzy. “They’re killing my husband,” she cried. “They’re killing my husband.”
Groping my way through the first frightened, then enraged crowd, I heard people screaming, “Don’t let them kill him.” “Kill those bastards.” “Don’t let him get away.” “Get him.”
At an exit I saw some of Malcolm’s men beating with all their strength on two men. Police were trying to fight their way toward the two. The press of the crowd forced me back inside.
I saw a half-dozen of Malcolm’s followers bending over his inert body on the stage, their clothes stained with their leader’s blood. Then they put him on a litter while guards kept everyone off the platform. A woman bending over him said: “He’s still alive. His heart’s beating.”
Four policemen took the stretcher and carried Malcolm through the crowd and some of the women came out of their shock long enough to moan and one said: “I don’t think he’s going to make it. I hope he doesn’t die, but I don’t think he’s going to make it.”
I spotted a phone booth in the rear of the hall, fumbled for a dime, and called a photographer. Then I sat there, the surprise wearing off a bit, and tried desperately to remember what had happened. One of my first thoughts was that this was the first day of National Brotherhood Week.”

Malcom X was pronounced dead a short time later. Not only had the man been gunned down by a shotgun blast that blew half of his lectern away with him, but horribly, this had happened in full view of his wife and young children who were sitting in the front row at the time. Three men would be convicted of the murder, but their ties to elements within the Nation of Islam have never been clearly defined. Although most historians believe that some such connection did in fact exist, the precise nature  of that connection remains undetermined to this day. The New York Post reacted to Malcom’s death by writing that “even his sharpest critics recognized his brilliance—often wild, unpredictable and eccentric, but nevertheless possessing promise that must now remain unrealized.”

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_X

http://www.criticalreading.com/malcolm.htm

 Directed by Spike Lee, 1992.

Images:

Malcom X = http://www.africawithin.com/malcolmx/malcolm_gallery.htm

Malcom as a young man = http://www.malcolm-x.org/media/pic_01.htm

Malcom X as orator = http://www.blackpast.org/?q=1964-malcolm-x-s-speech-founding-rally-organization-afro-american-unity

Assassination = http://dingeengoete.blogspot.com/

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