Malcolm X Assassinated
On Feb. 21, 1965, as he began to address an audience of the group he founded (the Organization of Afro-American Unity), the Black activist and leader Malcolm X was assassinated by three men who rushed the stage carrying pistols and a sawed-off shotgun. It was a violent end for a man who scorned the nonviolent teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., insisting instead that violence was sometimes necessary for self-defense and in the fight against discrimination. Malcolm X was only 39 years old.
As a young man in prison, Malcolm Little read the entire dictionary, from A to Z, then the Bible, then the Koran. His father, a Black organizer, had taught his son to be strong, independent, and to have a sense of Black pride. The Ku Klux Klan terrorized his family during his childhood, and during his incarceration the future activist reflected deeply on racial discrimination, his father’s advice and example, and the lessons he encountered in the Bible and Koran. He became a member of the Nation of Islam, changing his name to Malcolm X, and upon his parole in 1952 became a spokesman and leader for the Black Muslims, a role he actively fulfilled for 12 years.
In December 1963, antagonism and jealousy between Malcolm X and Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad forced a split. Malcolm X was suspended that month, ostensibly for a critical remark he made about the Kennedy assassination. On March 8, 1964, he officially quit the group.
Malcolm X went on to found a religious organization called Muslim Mosque, Inc., and a secular group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity. With a powerful speaking style, Malcolm X urged his African American audiences to renew pride in their race and rediscover their lost cultural legacy. He also, in stirring and often strident tones, insisted the only solution to discrimination was to separate the races and called for a Black nationalist movement.
As his popularity grew and his followers multiplied, Malcolm X made many enemies. Whites feared his fierce Black pride and his embrace of violence as a necessary means to an end, and the Nation of Islam resented his growing influence and made threats against him, publicly and privately. Less than a year after leaving the Nation of Islam, he was assassinated. While the organization denied any involvement in his killing, all three of his assassins were Black Muslims.
Details of his shocking murder were reported the next day in this article, published by the Aberdeen American-News (Aberdeen, South Dakota) on the front page of its Feb. 22, 1965, issue:
Police Guard against Malcolm X Avengers
Negro Is Seized as Assassin
New York (AP)—Police in New York and Chicago kept wary guard Mon. against any effort to avenge the assassination of Malcolm X, fiery counselor of violence in the Negro civil rights movement.
The rebel Black Muslim, who broke from the parent group to form his own sect, was shot down by conspirators here Sunday as he stepped forward to address a meeting of his followers.
Police seized a young Negro man, wounded in the leg during the disorder caused by the slaying, and charged him with homicide.
The FBI identified the man as Talmadge Hayer, 22, alias Thomas Hayer, whose last known address was 347 Marshall St., Patterson, N.J.
Other persons were sought in the plot police described as an apparent outgrowth of the 15-month feud between Malcolm X and the Black Muslims headed by Elijah Muhammad in Chicago.
Police, however, did not report any evidence of a link between the assassins and Muhammad’s faithful.
In Chicago, special police details were posted outside Muhammad’s three-story house and Mosque of Islam No. 2 in the wake of unconfirmed reports that six members of Malcolm’s Afro-American Union had departed from New York on separate missions of revenge.
In Harlem, extra uniformed officers walked the streets, on guard against any new violence.
The murder came exactly a week after Malcolm X and his family were driven from their residence in Queens by firebombs. He was being evicted from the dwelling which was purchased by Black Muslim donations before his break with Muhammad.
For months, Malcolm had spoken of a conspiracy against his life. He reportedly planned to name his assassins at the meeting Sunday in the Audubon Ballroom, in a racially mixed section of Upper Manhattan.
Malcolm got up, exchanged an Islamic greeting—“Salaam alekim,” peace unto you—with the congregation of 500 and started to speak. But the blasts from shotguns and pistols cut him down after three words: “Brothers and sisters.”
The man who advised Negroes to form rifle clubs to fight the “devil white man” for civil rights, to use “ballots or bullets” apparently was dead before his body hit the floor.
It was he who had spoken of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as a case of the “chickens coming home to roost.”
The Kennedy remark ostensibly was the cause of the split between Malcolm X and Muhammad. But many observers believed the cause was Malcolm’s desire to seize power and that Muhammad used the “chickens” remark as an excuse to oust his New York lieutenant.
The feud divided even members of Malcolm’s own family. Two brothers, active Black Muslims in Grand Rapids and Detroit, could not be reached for comment. But in Boston, a sister who sided with Malcolm, Ella Mae Collins, said his death “will be avenged.”
Police said at least five persons were believed involved in the killing—as Malcolm X reportedly was preparing to identify assassins he charged had been seeking his life.
The FBI said the only notation on Hayer’s record was an arrest on a charge of possession of stolen property in Passaic, N.J., on Nov. 7, 1963. No disposition of the charge was noted.
At the time of the homicide arrest, police had identified the prisoner as Thomas Hagan.
It could not be learned whether Hayer is a Black Muslim.
Leaders of the sect—which had been accused by Malcolm X of plotting his death—denied any knowledge of the killing. Malcolm X had been ousted in 1963 from the sect headed by Elijah Muhammad of Chicago and founded a rival group.
At the Chicago headquarters of the Black Muslims, a spokesman for the group’s newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, said of the assassination: “This could not have been done by our people. If it was done by a Black Muslim, then he was doing it on his own.”
Police called the assassination—in which Malcolm X suffered more than a dozen wounds—an outgrowth of the bitter breach between the Organization of Afro-American Unity headed by Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad’s Black Muslims.
The slaying created excitement in Harlem, but there was no disorder.
Patrols on Streets
Beefed-up police patrols moved through Harlem streets through the night and morning hours.
Police said today that “a great many people” remained to be questioned, but no further arrests were imminent.
A dozen Muslims, whose spokesman said they were not followers of Malcolm X, got in touch with police Mon. in an effort to arrange a Muslim funeral for him.
The unidentified spokesman for the Muslim delegation told newsmen: “We just came here to see that he gets an orthodox Muslim funeral.” He said Muslim rites require that “the sun should not rise and set twice on the body of a dead Muslim.”
Malcolm was shot fatally on the stage at a rally in the Washington Heights section, north of Harlem. His wife, Betty, 35, awaiting the birth of their fifth child, was in the hall.
500 in Audience
Malcolm had started to address a gathering of about 500 followers and sympathizers, when a commotion, apparently planned, broke out in the rear of the second-floor ballroom. It drew his bodyguards in the direction of the disorder.
Under this cloak of confusion, three men with revolvers and a sawed-off shotgun raced down the aisles, pumping shots into Malcolm’s chest.
Police Capt. Paul Glaser said Hayer shot Malcolm X with a shortened, double-barreled shotgun. Two pistols also were fired at him.
Hayer and two spectators were wounded in a wild melee that followed.
Hayer, with a pistol wound in a leg, was held in the prison ward of Bellevue Hospital.
Police said Hayer was shot by Reuben Francis, 33, a Negro identified by police as Malcolm’s secretary and bodyguard. Francis was arrested on charges of felonious assault and illegal possession of a pistol.
Police rescued Hayer from a frenzied crowd of Malcolm’s followers.
For more information, visit the Malcolm X Official Website.
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