News Accounts of the Assassination of Malcolm X

Based on a section in Thinking Critically, John Chaffee, pg. 125-128"You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom." —Malcolm X (Speech, Prospects for Freedom)

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Born Malcolm Little, May 19, 1925, Omaha, Nebraska, U.S. Died February 21, 1965, New York, New York. Malcolm X was a contemporary of Martin Luther King, a controversial African American leader and prominent figure who articulated concepts of racial pride and black nationalism in the 1960s. Among other things, he is credited with establishing the understanding and use of the words, African American, to describe his ethnic heritage. After Malcolm X's assassination, the widespread distribution of his life story, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), made him an ideological hero, especially among black youth. He remains a controversial figure even today, in part, because of his association with the Black Muslim movement of the 1960s.
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The death of Malcolm X

Malcolm X's death was powerfully portrayed in Spike Lee's 1992 film, Malcolm X starring Denzel Washington. Here's the scene as Lee believes it happenedbased on his research. The clip includes actual footage of Malcolm X as well as Martin Luther King and South African Rev. Desmond TuTu. Clearly the news reporters of the day didn't have all the facts of what happened when they reported the story, but they did have opinions and attitudes about what happened. Your work in this section is to learn enough about Malcolm X so that you can analyze the following news reports—from the time—and recognize positions and prejudices, both subtle and obvious in the reporting. Read this link for more about Media Bias.

Malcolm X Bio


Legacy: The Naming of North Hall at UCSB

Malcolm X: Relevant Today


The death of Malcolm X

As portrayed in the 1992 film, Malcolm X, directed by Spike Lee, starring Denzel Washington

What to ask when analyzing the media coverage

  • What details of the events has each news report focused on? How are they different from one report to the next?
  • How are the selected details in each article organized? Bear in mind that most news organizations present what they consider the most important information first and the least important information last.
  • How does each article interpret Malcolm X, his followers, the gunmen, and the significance of the assassination?
  • How has each article used language to express its perspective and influence the thinking of the reader? Which language styles do you find most effective?
  • What is your overall impression of what happened and the significance of Malcolm X and his assassination? If this was the only information you had, what kind of opinion might you form about Malcolm X and his death?
  • Identify the most provocative word choices in each article. What kind of impression do those particular words make on the reporting of the event?

NYTimes_Malcom.gifNew York Times

Click for more NY Times coverage

Feb 22, 1965Malcolm X, the 39-year-old leader of a militant black nationalist movement, was shot to death yesterday afternoon at a rally of his followers in a ballroom in Washington Heights. Shortly before midnight, a 22-year-old Negro, Thomas Hagan, was charged with the killing. The police rescued him from the ballroom crowd after he has been shot and beaten.

Malcolm, a bearded extremist, had said only a few words of greeting when a fusillade rang out. The bullets knocked him over backward. Pandemonium broke out among the 400 Negroes in the Audubon Ballroom at 166th Street and Broadway. As men, women and children ducked under tables and flattened themselves on the floor, more shots were fired. Some witnesses said 30 shots had been fired.

The police said seven bullets had struck Malcolm. Three other Negroes were shot. About two hours later the police said the shooting had apparently been a result of a feud between followers of Malcolm and members of the extremist group he broke with last year, the Black Muslims. However, the police declined to say whether Hagan is a Muslim.

The Medical Examiner's office said early this morning that a preliminary autopsy showed Malcolm had died of “multiple gunshot wounds.” The office said that bullets of two different calibers as well as shotgun pellets had been removed from his body. One police theory was that as many as five conspirators might have been involved, two creating a diversionary disturbance.

Hagan was shot in the left thigh and his left leg was broken, apparently by kicks. He was under treatment in the Bellevue Hospital prison ward last night; perhaps a dozen policemen were guarding him, according to the hospital's night superintendent. The police said they had found a cartridge case with four unused .45-caliber shells in his pocket.

Two other Negroes, described as “apparent spectators” by Assistant Chief Inspector Harry Taylor, in command of Manhattan North uniformed police, also were shot. They were identified as William Harris, wounded seriously in the abdomen, and William Parker, shot in a foot. Both were taken to Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, which is close to the ballroom.

Capt. Paul Glaser of the Police Department's Community Relations Bureau said early today that Hagan, using a double-barreled shotgun with shortened barrels and stock, had killed Malcolm X. Malcolm, a slim, reddish-haired six-footer with a gift for bitter eloquence against what he considered white exploitation of Negroes, broke in March, 1964, with the Black Muslim movement called the Nation of Islam, headed by Elijah Muhammad.

Newsweek.JPGNewsweek Magazine

March 8, 1965He was born Malcolm Little, an Omaha Negro preacher's son. Before he was out of his teens, he was Big Red, a Harlem hipster trafficking in numbers, narcotics, sex, and petty crime. He was buried as Al Hajj Malik Shabazz, a spiritual desperado lost between the peace of Islam and the pain of blackness. His whole life was a series of provisional identities, and he was still looking for the last when, as Malcolm X, 39, apostate Black Muslim and mercurial black nationalist, he was gunned to death by black men last week in a dingy uptown New York ballroom.

He had seen the end coming, predicted it, in fact, so long and so loudly that people had stopped listening. Malcolm X had always been an extravagant talker, a demagogue who titillated slum Negroes and frightened whites with his blazing racist attacks on the “white devils” and his calls for an armed American Mau Mau. His own flamboyant past made it easy to disregard his dire warnings that he had been marked for murder by the Muslims, the anti-white, anti-integrationist Negro sect he had served so devoutly for a dozen years and fought so bitterly since his defection a year ago.

His assassination turned out to be one of his few entirely accurate prophecies. Its fulfillment triggered an ominous vendetta between the Malcolmites and the Muslims ominous in its intensity even though it was isolated on the outermost extremist fringe of American Negro life. Death came moments after Malcolm stepped up to a flimsy plywood lectern in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom, just north of Harlem, to address 400 of the faithful and the curious at a Sunday afternoon rally of his fledgling Organization of Afro-American Unity. The extermination plot was clever in conception, swift and smooth in execution. Two men popped to their feet in the front rows of wooden folding chairs, one yelling at the other: “Get your hands off my pockets, don't be messing with my pockets.” Four of Malcolm's six bodyguards moved toward the pair; Malcolm himself chided, “Let's cool it.”

Then came a second diversion: a man's sock, soaked in lighter fluid and set ablaze, flared in the rear. Heads swiveled, and as they did, a dark, muscular man moved toward the lectern in a crouch, a sawed-off shotgun wrapped in his coat. Blam-blam! A double-barreled charge ripped up through the lectern and into Malcolm's chest. From the left, near the spot where the two men had been squabbling, came a back-up volley of pistol fire.

Malcolm tumbled backward, his lean body rent by a dozen wounds, his heels hooked over a fallen chair. The hall was bedlam. Malcolm's pregnant wife, Betty, rushed on stage screaming, “They're killing my husband!” His retainers fired wildly through the crowd at the fleeing killers. Four assailants made it to side doors and disappeared.

The man with the shotgun, identified by police as 22-year-old Talmadge Hayer of Paterson, N.J., dashed down a side aisle to the stairway exit from the second floor ballroom. From the landing, one of Malcolm's bodyguards winged him in the thigh with a .45-caliber slug. Howling in pursuit (“Kill the bastard!”), the ballroom crowd caught Hayer on the sidewalk, mauled him, and broke his ankle before police rescued him.

Hayer was charged with homicide. Five days later, police picked up a karate-trained Muslim “enforcer,” Norman 3X Butler, 26, as suspect No. 2. The arrest of a Muslim surprised almost no one. For all his many enemies, Malcolm himself had insisted to the end that it was the Muslims who wanted him dead. They seemed to dog him everywhere he went; a bare week before his death, he was firebombed out of his Queens home, the ownership of which he had been disputing with the Muslims. Increasingly edgy, he moved with his wife and four children first to Harlem's Hotel Theresa, finally the night before his death to the New York Hilton in the alien world downtown. When he died, Manhattan police assumed that Muslims were involved.

New York Post

NYPost_Malcom.jpgFeb 22, 1965They came early to the Audubon Ballroom, perhaps drawn by the expectation that Malcolm X would name the men who firebombed his home last Sunday, streaming from the bright afternoon sunlight into the darkness of the hall.

The crowd was larger than usual for Malcolm's recent meetings, the 400 filling three-quarters of the wooden folding seats, feet scuffling the worn floor as they waited impatiently, docilely obeying the orders of Malcolm's guards as they were directed to their seats.

I sat at the left in the 12th row and, as we waited, the man next to me spoke of Malcolm and his followers: “Malcolm is our only hope,” he said. “You can depend on him to tell it like it is and to give Whitey hell.” Then a man was on the stage, saying: “. . . I now give you Brother Malcolm. I hope you will listen, hear, and understand.” 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. 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.

LifeMagazine_Malcom.jpgLife Magazine

March 5 1965—His life oozing out through a half dozen or more gunshot wounds in his chest, Malcolm X, once the shrillest voice of black supremacy, lay dying on the stage of a Manhattan auditorium. Moments before, he had stepped up to the lectern and 400 of the faithful had settled down expectantly to hear the sort of speech for which he was famous—flaying the hated white man. Then a scuffle broke out in the hall and Malcolm’s bodyguards bolted from his side to break it up—only to discover that they had been faked out. At least two men with pistols rose from the audience and pumped bullets into the speaker, while a third cut loose at close range with both barrels of a sawed-off shotgun. In the confusion the pistol man got away. The shot gunner lunged through the crowd and out the door, but not before the guards came to their wits and shot him in the leg. Outside he was swiftly overtaken by other supporters of Malcolm and very likely would have been stomped to death if the police hadn’t saved him. Most shocking of all to the residents of Harlem was the fact that Malcolm had been killed not by “whitey” but by members of his own race.

Associated Press

Feb 22, 1965A week after being bombed out of his Queens home, Black Nationalist leader, Malcolm X was shot to death shortly after 3pm yesterday at a Washington Heights rally of 400 of his devoted followers. Early today, police brass ordered a homicide charge placed against a 22-year-old man they rescued from a savage beating by Malcolm X supporters after the shooting. The suspect, Thomas Hagan, had been shot in the leg by one of Malcolm’s bodyguards as, police said, Hagan and another assassin fled when pandemonium erupted. Two other men were wounded in the wild burst of firing from at least three weapons. The firearms were a .38, a .45 automatic and a sawed-off weapon on which the stock also had been shortened, possibly to facilitate concealment. Cops charged Reuben Frances, of 871 E. 179th St, Bronx, with felonious assault in the shooting of Hagan, and with Sullivan Law violation—possession of the .45. Police recovered the shotgun and the .45.

sourcebook_img_194.jpgAmsterdam News

Feb 27, 1965“We interrupt this program to bring you a special newscast…” the announcer said as the Sunday afternoon movie on the TV set was halted temporarily. “Malcolm X was shot four times while addressing a crowd at the Audubon Ballroom on 166th Street.” “Oh no!” That was my first reaction to the shocking event that followed one week after the slender, articulate leader of the Afro-American Unity was routed from his East Elmhurst home by a bomb explosion. Minutes later we alighted from a cab at the corner of Broadway and 166th St just a short 15 blocks from where I live on Broadway. About 200 men and women, neatly dressed, were milling around, some with expressions of awe and disbelief.

Others were in small clusters talking loudly and with deep emotion in their voices. Mostly they were screaming for vengeance. One woman, small, dressed in a light gray coat and her eyes flaming with indignation, argued with a cop at the St. Nicolas corner of the block. “This is not the end of it. What they were going to do to the Statue of Liberty will be small in comparison. We black people are tired of being shoved around.” Standing across the street near the memorial park one of Malcolm’s close associates commented: “It’s a shame.” Later he added that “if it’s war they want, they’ll get it.” He would not say whether Elijah Muhammed’s followers had anything to do with the assassination. About 3:30pm Malcolm X’s wife, Betty, was escorted by three men and a woman from the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Tears streamed down her face. She was screaming, “They killed him!” Malcolm X had no last words… The bombing and burning of the No. 7 Mosque early Tuesday morning was the first blow by those who are seeking revenge for the cold-blooded murder of a man who at 39 might have grown to the stature of respectable leadership.

malcolmx.jpgBBC

February 21, 1965: Black nationalist leader shot dead
Controversial black leader Malcolm X, who once called for a "blacks-only" state in the US, has been assassinated. He was shot several times as he began a speech to 400 of his followers at the Audubon Ballroom just outside the district of Harlem in New York. Malcolm X, who was 39, was taken to a nearby hospital but was pronounced dead shortly afterwards. Two men believed to have carried out the shooting were cornered outside the ballroom by a crowd and badly beaten.

"Malcolm knew he would be killed." — Percy Sutton, Malcolm X's lawyer
It took 10 police officers several minutes to rescue them. One of the arrested men, Thomas Hagan, 22, had a bullet wound to his leg and was taken to hospital. It is believed the men are members of the black Muslim group, the Nation of Islam (NoI). Malcolm X had long been tipped to take over from the NoI's aging leader, Elijah Muhammad. He gave up his "slave" family name of Little when he joined the black Muslim group while serving a jail term. But he broke away from the NoI acrimoniously two years ago to set up his own organization which he said was for "Negro intellectuals who favored racial separation but could not accept the Muslim religion." However, after a recent trip to Mecca he appeared to be taking a more conciliatory approach to white people.

Sanford Garelick, assistant chief of New York police said Malcolm X's death could most probably be put down to rivalry between the two groups. "This is the result, it would seem, of a long-standing feud," he said. Only last week Malcolm X and his family survived the firebombing of their home in the Queen's district of New York. Malcolm X's lawyer, Percy Sutton, said he was aware his life was in danger. "Malcolm knew he would be killed," Mr Sutton said. Police said they were investigating reports that some of Malcolm X's followers were planning a revenge attack.

Video Resources


Who was Malcolm X?

Interviews with biographer, Manning Marable, 2005

The Assassination

Interviews with biographer, Manning Marable, 2007


Brother Minister

Documentary on the Assassination of Malcolm X, 1994

Review by Owen Gleiberman (Critic, Entertainment Weekly)
In the gripping new documentary, Brother Minister: The Assassination of Malcolm X, there's an extraordinary video clip of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, as he addresses a closed gathering of his followers in February 1993. Exhorting the crowd in hellfire tones, Farrakhan describes Malcolm X as a ''traitor'' and then, as if speaking to some mythical accuser, he says that if the Nation of Islam ''dealt with him'' the way that any nation deals with a traitor, ''what the hell business is it of yours?'' His words seem to suggest that when Malcolm was gunned down 30 years ago by members of the Fruit of Islam, the NOI's trained security wing, they were acting on an implicit directive from their leaders. Was Farrakhan himself involved — a suspicion revived by the Jan. 12 arrest of Malcolm's 34-year-old daughter, Qubilah Shabazz, on charges that she tried to hire a hit man to kill Farrakhan? Given the closed society of the NOI, there is probably no way of ever knowing. But Brother Minister, which includes detailed interviews with journalists and several of Malcolm's bodyguards, presents circumstantial evidence indicating that the assassination was at least tacitly approved by the Nation's leaders and, perhaps, assisted by an FBI disinformation campaign. Above all, the movie reminds us of the most haunting aspect of Malcolm X's murder: that on some level it was an act of cultural suicide — the soul of black America destroyed from within.

Notes:

Evidence of Malcolm X's stand on guns and violence near the end of his life. (44.28)
Questions about FBI, CIA &NY Police involvement in the assassination (1:17.19)
Malcolm X was going to join with Martin Luther King (1:29.32)
Malcolm X Legacy, who won? (1:30.55)
Conversation with creator of Brother Minister

Thoughts on Story

African American History

Context: The Times

FreeSpeech.jpgBerkeley in the Sixties:

A 1990 documentary (uploaded on YouTube)

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