The Malcolm X story ‘lives on’

But as his killer is freed, questions surrounding his death remain unanswered.

Malcolm X headshot
Malcolm X’s influence in the world is much greater today than during his lifetime [GALLO/GETTY]

Thomas Hagan, the only man who admitted his role in the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, was freed on Tuesday, a day earlier than planned.

The New York State Department of Correctional Services said that his early release was because the paperwork was processed more quickly than anticipated.

Hagan, 69, had been partially free on work release for the last 22 years, although he was still required to spend two nights a week at a low-security Manhattan prison, that was located at the intersection of West 110th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard.

He was a member of the Nation of Islam movement on February 21, 1965, when he shot Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom in New York.

“I have deep regrets about my participation in that,” Hagan said last month.

“I don’t think it should ever have happened.”

Hagan, assisted by two accomplices who created a distraction in the audience, shot Malcolm X in front of a crowd of hundreds, including his young children, as the civil rights leader began a speech.

Malik Al-Shabazz

Malcolm changed his name to Malik Al-Shabazz after leaving the Nation of Islam movement and embracing mainstream Islam, following his Hajj pilgrimage.

After serving as a senior member of the Nation, he fell out with the movement’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, and began endorsing black consciousness as his political philosophy, thereby separating himself from Muhammad, who had defined the Nation as strictly religious and apolitical.

Malcolm’s travels through the Middle East, Africa and Europe, where he explained the black struggle for justice in the US and linked it with liberation struggles throughout the world, caused his thinking to change dramatically.

“You can’t understand what is going on in Mississippi if you don’t know what is going on in the Congo,” he told blacks in Harlem.

Hagan has said that he has deep regrets about killing Malcolm X [AP]

“They are both the same. The same interests are at stake.”

At the age of 39 when he died, Malcolm who had renounced his earlier views toward whites, when he denounced them as “blue-eyed devils”, had transformed himself from a street hustler to a man eulogised by Ossie Davis, an American actor, as “our own black shining prince”.

Hagan, known then by the name Talmadge Hayer, was 22 and a radical member of the Nation of Islam when he assassinated Malcolm.

“Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam, separated from the Nation of Islam, and in doing so there was controversy as to some of the statements he was making about the leader,” Hagan said.

“History has revealed a lot of what Malcolm X was saying was true.”

Two other men, Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Kahlil Islam, were also found guilty of murder in 1966 and received 20 years to life.

However, they both proclaimed their innocence and Hagan later admitted his part in the murder and testified that both men were innocent. Aziz was paroled in 1985 and Islam was freed in 1987.

He said it was two other men who helped plot, plan and participate in the killing but that it was not done under orders from the Nation.

“I can’t say that anyone in the Nation of Islam gave us the idea or instructed us to do it. We did this ourselves for the most part,” Hagan later said.

Global influence

Over 45 years later, Malcolm’s influence in the world is much greater today than during his lifetime but many questions about his killing remain.

Malcolm’s trips to Africa and the Middle East had made him a much larger threat to the US government than he had been within his role at the Nation.

Malcolm’s actions and speeches were of great concern to the US government [AP]

After meeting with the Organization of African Unity, where he was the only American allowed to be heard, the US government began investigating his activities.

His actions and speeches were of such concern to the government that CIA director Richard Helms instructed his agents to do everything they could to “monitor” the activities of Malcolm X.

Malcolm X was then mysteriously poisoned during a trip to Egypt and barely left the country alive.

On his return to the US, and a short while before his assassination, his home was firebombed. The police never caught the perpetrator but blamed Malcolm for firebombing his own house to make it look as if he was being targeted.

Meanwhile, Malcolm had been targeted for heavy surveillance and one of his own bodyguards was an undercover agent for New York City’s organised crime and anti-Communist unit.


Also, James Ali, the then treasurer of the Nation of Islam, was a high-placed informant for the FBI – a fact first discovered by an author who later died when the brakes on his car failed while driving to begin shooting a film documenting the conspiracy surrounding Malcolm X’s assassination.

Ali, openly hostile to Malcolm, was seen at a rehearsal speech just days before Malcolm was killed – at which a scuffle broke out, similar to the one that would break out on the night of the shooting, distracting the crowd just long enough for the killer to walk up and shoot Malcolm X at point blank range.

Interestingly, most of the other speakers that night had cancelled at the last moment, leaving Malcolm to carry the evening.

While it is now clear that nothing could have been done to save him, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, a premier medical institution across the street from the site of the shooting, did not respond to any requests for help.

People at the hall had to go across the street to bring a stretcher and wheel Malcolm back before he received any attention.

One of Malcolm’s top aides went to the FBI shortly after the assassination to report what he felt was a larger conspiracy, incorporating elements of the US government, surrounding Malcolm’s death.

This aide was found dead in his apartment a few days later – his death was initially classified as a suicide, then changed to a drugs overdose, with natural causes finally recorded as the cause of death.

Unanswered questions

With Hagan’s release the prospects of answers being provided to the many questions surrounding the death of Malcolm X may have diminished.

The Audubon ballroom where he was killed has been converted into The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center.

Zead Ramadan, the chairman, said that the centre did not have a position on Hagan’s release but was surprised that it had been allowed.

“I personally find it strange that for a couple decades any person convicted in the assassination of such an iconic figure would be allowed such leniency,” Ramadan said.

He said that there was outrage among some African-Americans that Hagan was released.

“The Malcolm X story has not ended. His popularity has grown in death …. Only God knows why this was allowed to happen.”

Source: Al Jazeera