Malcolm X was murdered as he addressed his own organization on the edge of Harlem. He was 39 years old. The date was February 21, 1965.
“Malcolm is a man who would give his life for you,” said one of his followers, introducing him to a weekly meeting of the Organization for Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom.
Malcolm X stepped to the microphone.
Suddenly a burst of gunfire was heard.
He fell to the floor, bleeding from the face and chest.
Many of the 500 persons in the hall threw themselves flat. Malcolm X’s wife Betty was heard screaming: “They’re killing him.”
Gentlemen, the man you know as Malcolm X is dead.
Malcolm X was taken to Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center where a spokesman said: “Gentlemen, the man you know as Malcolm X is dead. He apparently was in a death-like condition when brought into the hospital.”
Witnesses said at least ten and perhaps as many as 30 shots had been fired. Three other persons, including one of the suspects, were slightly injured.
Police fought with Malcolm X’s bodyguard for custody of the arrested men. One witness said it looked as though Malcolm X’s followers would have killed the men.
One of the men was spread eagled on the floor, face up. The other was pinned to the floor, face down. Both were being mercilessly kicked and punched when police arrived. It took ten policemen to extricate the men.
Police found a sawed-off rifle wrapped in a gray jacket behind the stage of the ballroom.
One week before, four Molotov cocktails – whiskey bottles filled with a volatile fluid with wicks attached – were tossed through a living-room window of Malcolm X’s home. He blamed the attack on Chicago-based Black Muslims, headed by Elijah Muhammad.
Jimmy X, leader of the Muslims in New York, a post held by Malcolm before he was ousted from the movement, blamed the bombing on Malcolm himself. Jimmy X said Malcolm wanted publicity.
The Black Muslims had petitioned the court to oust him on grounds that they had bought the house for their leader and since Malcolm no longer was their leader he should be ousted. The court agreed and ordered Malcolm X out. Elijah Muhammad suspended Malcolm as his heir-apparent in the Black Muslims late in 1963 for statements he made supporting the assassination of President Kennedy.
An extremely articulate man, Malcolm X had the manner of a university graduate – though, in fact, he had only eight years’ schooling.
But, despite his calm, assured manner, violence was his recurring theme.
“If you show me a non-violent Negro, I’ll show you a Negro whose reflexes don’t work, one who needs psychiatric care,” he once said.
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little. When he became a Black Muslim, he dropped the family name and took the designation X, in line with the Black Muslim view that Negro family names were merely a vestige of slavery.