You may have difficulty pronouncing El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. You may have difficulty spelling El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. You may have never even heard the name, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. But you could say it, spell it, and you likely have heard the name. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was more commonly known as Malcolm X and on this day, February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was shot to death at the Audubon Ballroom in NYC.
I would have been 23 years old and living in California. The civil rights movement was going on all around me and I, like so many white Americans, was struggling to understand what it all meant. Also, like so many whites I accepted the idea that Malcolm was a violent person and belonged to a violent religion that was led by a violent and dictatorial leader, Elijah Muhammad. I also assumed that Malcolm had died as he had lived, violently, and got what he deserved.
It wasn’t until years later that I read his autobiography, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It had been printed posthumously in 1965 and co-authored by Alex Haley. By the time I read the book, Haley had become world-renowned as the author of Roots and his name, connected with Malcolm’s name, gave the autobiography the credibility it needed to attract me.
Truth is that I don’t recall many of the autobiographical details of Malcolm’s book but I do recall that I came away with an entirely different viewpoint of Malcolm X as a person and a leader. The more I studied the history of America and Western European nations the more I came to understand that Malcolm had strongly spoken truth to power and suffered the fate suffered by so many that have.
A couple of days ago I began watching a Netflix series titled, Who Killed Malcolm X? So far I’ve only watched the first episode but it is bringing so much of the past back to mind. It is also adding to the story by revealing that so little effort was spent trying to find out exactly who was responsible for Malcolm’s assassination.
I don’t know where all this is headed. I don’t know if Malcolm’s killers are known and will be revealed. All I really know is that so much of what was true about the world Malcolm X lived in remains, unfortunately, true about the world you and I live in. There is still a white power structure in America and it still doesn’t want to give up its grasp. An overweight black man with a respiratory problem can still be robbed of his life by an NYC policeman employing an illegal chokehold. The black man’s crime, selling a single cigarette outside a neighborhood bodega. The black man’s last words, “I can’t breathe.”