X is for Malcolm X

This is my contribution to Round Twelve of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.
Malcolm X

Malcolm X

Oh dear, the dreaded letter X – not an easy one when your subjects are people’s names, so I’m cheating a little bit this time by writing about Malcolm Little, or El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz as he became, and better known as the human rights activist Malcolm X.

But rather than write about his life, interesting though it was, I wanted to focus on his death and the conspiracy theories that surround it.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925, Malcolm X became the most visible spokesman of radical black America and as the frontman for the Nation of Islam he rejected the passive civil disobedience of Martin Luther King and argued that blacks should resist oppression ‘by any means necessary’.

Outside the Audubon Ballroom

The Aftermath

X left the so-called ‘Black Muslims’ in 1964 and set up his own Organization of Afro-American Unity as his views changed from racial separation to one of integration, but on 21 February 1965, he was shot dead on stage at the Audubon Ballroom in New York after making a speech.

Three men were convicted of his murder – Talmadge Hayer, ’15X‘ Johnson and Norman ‘3X‘ Butler – but conspiracy theories abound as to who was really behind the assassination.

Hayer after the shooting

Hayer after the shooting

Hayer had clearly shot X with a sawn-off shotgun and two other men had charged the stage with semi-automatic pistols, shooting X several times, but Hayer has always denied that they were Butler and Johnson.

Chaos followed the shooting. Initial press reports said that two people had to be rescued from the furious crowd, but the police later said that only the wounded Hayer had been arrested.

Doubts about the assassination began almost immediately. There was usually a heavy police presence whenever X made a public appearance, but there wasn’t that day.  The police said that X had refused their protection while his widow said that this was a lie.

Then soon after X’s death, one of his activists announced that the had proof of government involvement only to die himself the following day from previously undiagnosed epilepsy.

Malcom X and Castro

Malcom X and Castro

According to the militant socialist journalist Roland Sheppard, X was at the centre of a government conspiracy because of his views on American capitalism and his opposition to the Vietnam War, not to mention keeping company with the likes of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

But it is X‘s involvement with African states at a time when America and the USSR were vying for influence that is said to have prompted the CIA to take action. According to The Judas Factor by Karl Evanzz of the Washington Post, the CIA decided to neutralise X by infiltrating the Nation of Islam to disrupt its activities.

The Judas FactorEvanzz argues that the CIA had a high-level informant – the Judas of the title – believed to be Nation secretary John Ali, but while there may well have been a plot to stir up trouble, there is no evidence of a documented order to assassinate X.

Another theory was that X was killed by Chinese drug traffickers – he had long campaigned against drug abuse in the inner cities.

Yet another theory was that he was killed by a member of the Nation of Islam because he was about to reveal that the organisation took funding from the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan on the grounds that they all shared the idea of racial segregation.

But all the evidence points to X being a victim of internecine vengeance. His killer, Hayer, was a member of the Nation of Islam and as well as defecting, X also alleged that the Nation’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, had fathered numerous illegitimate children. The latter is reported to have said: ‘It’s time to close that nigger’s eyes.’

Malcolm X: The AssassinationEqually furious at X‘s decision to leave the Nation of Islam was Louis Farrakhan who saw him as a traitor to the cause and only two months before the shooting wrote that ‘such a man is worthy of death’.

X‘s widow publicly accused Farrakhan of her husband’s murder, while his daughter, Qubilah, attempted to hire a hitman to kill Farrakhan in 1994. (The assassin turned out to be an FBI informant.)

Micheal Friedly’s book, Malcolm X: The Assassination, supports this theory, pointing out that there had been four attempts on his life in the weeks leading up to the shooting.

Malcolm X at Manchester University

Malcolm X at Manchester University

Farrakhan made an implicit admission of guilt in 2000 when he said: ‘I may have been complicit in words that I spoke leading up to February 21… I acknowledge that and regret that any words that I have said caused the loss of life of a human being.’

Even so, X’s daughter still believed that the FBI was involved, even if it was young black men who shot him, and the agency refuses to release 45,000 documents relating to Malcolm X.

Before his death, X traveled extensively in Europe and Africa. You can find quite a detailed account of his time in Manchester and Sheffield in the UK online and below he is interviewed by Cliff Michelmore on the BBC’s Tonight programme in 1964.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

13 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 26th June 2013

    The FBI infiltrators of the Nation of Islam is what I’ve always thought. And, not incidentally, Malcolm was moving closer to Martin, and Martin, arguably, closer to Malcolm philosophically. Malcolm saw value of peaceful resistance, and Martin recognized the class struggle, and how our involvement in Vietnam, e.g., was all part of the bigger issues

  • Carver 26th June 2013

    Interesting post. He was a fascinating man and such a shame that he and others had their live snuffed out during that time. I was pretty young when he was murdered but I remember it. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  • Nana Jo 26th June 2013

    A fascinating and interesting look into a time in history that is a legacy for all of us. Thank you.

  • Leslie 26th June 2013

    Always eXtremely interested to see what eXciting person you will bring us each week. I’m never disappointed. Great!

    abcw team

  • Oakland Daily Photo 26th June 2013

    An excellent post. I believe Malcolm softened his “by any means necessary” stance after attending a hajj and moving towards mainstream Islam. I wonder what he would think of the schisms in today’s Islam?

  • Yorkshire "P" 26th June 2013

    Malcolm X, February 1965
    i will die this month. how
    i do not know. still there
    is much work to be done. i
    am afraid not for myself but
    for betty and the girls. some
    nights i stay awake looking
    out the window, a gun in my
    hand. i know how cruel people
    can be. i have known hatred and
    blindness. there are brothers
    waiting to do me harm. i will
    die for them. i will love them
    as only i can. may allah be my

  • Jay from The Depp Effect 26th June 2013

    It does seem that something extremely odd was going on. I’m not much interested in politics of any colour or type, and even less interested in conspiracy theories, but sometimes you have to stop and say ‘well, maybe there’s something in that, after all’. It is very disturbing to accept that any single human being, or any religious or criminal group can act in this way, let alone governments and government agencies.

  • Trevor Rowley 26th June 2013

    You have to be pretty desperate to want to stick either x at the end of your name or 3x or 15x in the middle of your name. Silly boys. Just keep to good old Fred Smith – works every time.

  • John g 26th June 2013

    I enjoyed that
    Just reading bout Lena Horne
    She mentions him a lot

  • ChrisJ 27th June 2013

    An interesting read. These days with all the media hype it’s very hard to get to the truth. When I was much younger I was naive enough to be shocked that people would believe the most outrageous ‘lies’. Sadly I’m older and wiser now — perhaps a bit more cynical. Truly, none of us is without sin.

  • Reader Wil 27th June 2013

    The video of Malcolm X is very impressive. At the time I was far more interested inMLK, as he was non violent and, like Gandhi , reached his goal by peaceful means.
    Your post is interesting as always, and thank you for your visit and comment.
    Wil, ABCW Team.


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