Today Malcolm X would have turned 85 had he not been gunned down 45 years ago.
Thomas Hagan , convicted of the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, was paroled last month after serving 45 years of a 20-year-to-life sentence. Now 69 year old Hagan was released from Lincoln Correctional Facility in Harlem, NY where he walked into freedom under the shadow of a sign naming the street in honor of the man he had murdered — “Malcolm X Boulevard.”
Hagan had been in a work-release program since 1992 that allowed him to spend five days working and living with his family and two days in the prison. He reportedly intends to work as a substance abuse counselor and hopes to make a more positive mark in the world.
During his incarceration, Hagan testified to the innocence of the two other men tried and convicted for Malcolm’s murder. Hagan had maintained that others participated in the assassination, but that those arrested and convicted were not the ones. (The two men convicted also said they were innocent.) No other arrests were made in the shooting. While his own requests for parole had been turned down 14 times, Hagan’s accused accomplices were paroled sometime in the 1980′s.
Hagan, then in his 20s was loyal to a brand of Islam that Malcolm, the Nation’s popular spokesperson, publicly abandoned after making a pilgrimage to Mecca and discovering the universality of his faith. The Nation’s founder, the honorable Elijah Muhammad, taught that all white people were devils, but in Mecca Malcolm found himself worshipping alongside men of all races, all with heads bowed in reverence to and love for the same God. He left the Nation and adopted orthodox (mainstream) Islam.
Malcolm also brought to light some inconsistencies in Elijah Muhammad’s own behavior. When he spoke of his experience, and his changed beliefs, many in the Nation were angered. The Nation had brought dignity, structure and purpose to the lives of many men whose existences had been governed by violence, the indignities of racism, and the hopelessness of poverty. Malcolm himself had been introduced to it while in prison. Loyalty to the Nation, and to its prophet, Elijah Muhammad, was fierce. Malcolm’s body was riddled with bullets when he fell to his death in front of his pregnant wife and four daughters in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965. Hagan has expressed regret for the killing, telling the parole board on March 3, according to a transcript,”I don’t think it should ever have happened.”
Although he may be remorseful Hagan’s actions sentenced Malcolm’s family to a life sentence.
Drawing from the wisdom expounded by her late husband, Dr. Betty Shabazz worked diligently at avoiding that sentence for her as well as her family by exercising forgiveness and peace for the men who was responsible for his death.
“One of the things Malcolm always said to me is, ‘Don’t be bitter. Remember Lot\'s wife when they kill me, and they surely will. You have to use all of your energy to do what it is you have to do,’” Shabazz said in a May 1995 speech.”
You might detect from the words of her daughter Attallah in the interview shown above, that Dr. Betty Shabazz did in fact focus her energy to raise her children who were never members of The Nation Of Islam in an environment where they would avoid being defined under the notoriety of their father’s Nation Of Islam days. However, all her efforts would not be able to erase the memory of their father being violently assaulted with gun fire before their very young innocent eyes.
Many rumors surrounded the shooting of the man who was and still remains a hero to many African-Americans. It has been said that it had been orchestrated by both the U.S. government and the Nation of Islam. Dr. Betty Shabazz had blamed Louis Farrakhan, who inherited the leadership of the Nation following Muhammad’s death. Perhaps remembering Malcolm’s counsel, Shabazz reconciled with Farrakhan in 1995 — but not before one of her six daughters, Qubilah, allegedly sought revenge.
Qubilah, “was charged in Minneapolis with trying to hire a hit man to kill Farrakhan. Mother, Betty Shabazz stood behind her daughter, insisting that an FBI informant entrapped her. Qubilah Shabazz made a deal with prosecutors in which they agreed to drop charges if she completed treatment for alcohol and psychiatric problems. She signed an affidavit accepting responsibility for her conduct but maintained her innocence.”
Farrakhan and Betty Shabazz made their reconciliation public when Farrakhan, shook her hand “on the stage of Harlem’s Apollo Theater as 1,400 people cheered at a fund-raiser for her daughter’s defense. Dr. Shabazz also spoke at Farrakhan’s Million Man March in October 1995.”
Unfortunately this was not the happy ending to a troubling story trickled down from the unnecessary assassination of the man who was also known as Malcolm El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Two years later, Betty Shabazz herself was killed – not by strangers but by her own grandson, Qubilah’s child. The 12 year old, reportedly upset because he had been sent to live with his grandmother in Yonkers, NY, set fire to her home. Betty Shabazz was burned over 80 percent of her body.
The young lad also named “Malcolm Shabazz, pleaded guilty to the juvenile equivalent of manslaughter and was given 18 months in a youth detention and treatment center, with extensions possible until he turned 18. There have been several extensions, partly because of several escapes in 1999.” In 2001, his attorney, Merril Sobie, told a NY Times reporter “he thought the teenager had overcome his problems and expressed optimism about him. ‘He wants to go to college,’ [Sobie] said. ‘Malcolm is extremely bright, and I know he has matured a lot.’ ” A year later, the Times reported, that the young Malcolm Shabazz was given three and a half years in prison in connection with beating and attempting to steal $100 from a teenager in Middletown, N.Y. In August, 2006, the same newspaper reported that he was was charged with reckless endangerment, assault and criminal mischief in Mount Vernon, NY, after punching a hole in a doughnut shop window, injuring two people inside.
Hagan has spent a considerable amount of his adult life paying for his irresponsible deed, and unlike Susan Atkins has now been paroled. Atkins was convicted of stabbing to death a pregnant Sharon Tate in 1969 as a part of the Manson gang. Atkins herself was denied parole 18 times including a request after it was discovered that the born again christian was terminally ill. That request was denied and Susan Atkins died in prison on September 24, 2009.
At 69 Hagan will spend the rest of his life with his family and hopes to become a substance abuse counselor making a more positive mark in the world. Should he successful at his quest the children, grand children and perhaps great grand children of Malcolm X will be forever scared by the rippling impact of Hagan’s violent actions inside what is now know as the The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center some 45 years ago.
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