Malcolm X’s Daughter Ilyasah Shabazz on Her Father’s Legacy & the New Series “Who Killed Malcolm X?”
February 21, 2020
Fifty-five years ago today, Malcolm X was assassinated. The civil rights leader was shot to death on February 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. He was only 39 years old. Details of his assassination remain disputed to this day. Earlier this month, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said he was considering reopening the investigation, just days after a new documentary series about the assassination was released on Netflix called “Who Killed Malcolm X?” It makes the case that two of the three men who were convicted for Malcolm X’s murder are actually innocent and that his uncaught killers were four members of a Nation of Islam mosque in Newark, New Jersey. We are joined by Ilyasah Shabazz, one of six daughters of Malcolm X, who was just 2 years old when her father was assassinated in front of her, her siblings and her mother. We also speak with award-winning author Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, independent scholar, historian, journalist, writer and activist, who is widely regarded as one of the most respected authorities on the life and legacy of Malcolm X and is featured in the new documentary series, and Shayla Harris, a producer for the series and an award-winning filmmaker and journalist.
AMY GOODMAN: Fifty-five years ago today, Malcolm X was assassinated. The civil rights leader was shot to death on February 21st, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, here in New York. He was just 39 years old. Details of his assassination remain disputed to this day. Earlier this month, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said he was considering reopening the investigation, just days after a new documentary series about the assassination was released on Netflix. It’s called Who Killed Malcolm X? This is the series trailer.
MALCOLM X: We’re not brutalized because we’re Muslims; we’re brutalized because we are black people in America.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: The power of this man’s courage to say this stuff, it changed the entire trajectory of my life.
SHAUN KING: He was becoming a figure that transcended the Nation of Islam.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: It was politics that really started the rift between Malcolm and the Nation.
MALCOLM X: Here the white man is the greatest hate teacher that ever walked the Earth!
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: The FBI was deathly afraid of someone like Malcolm X.
MALCOLM X: What kind of democracy is that?
QASIM AMIN NATHARI: People had to start wondering, “If something happens to Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm becomes the leader, it’s over for all of us.”
RAY SIMPSON: And just then, the gunfire went off.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Malcolm’s death never sat right with me.
TONY BOUZA: The investigation was a failure.
DAVID GARROW: Asking who’s guilty is a dangerous question to ask.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: What is the real story?
EARL SIDDIQ: It’s in the history book. Leave it there. Leave it alone.
KHALILAH ALI: Elijah Muhammad told everybody, “Do not raise a hand against Malcolm X.”
IMAN MUSTAFA EL-AMIN: He didn’t have to give the order. Someone would take care of it.
DAVID GARROW: The FBI should have known.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Why doesn’t someone want to get to the bottom of this?
A. PETER BAILEY: They never had any intentions of seriously investigating that assassination.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: That is my mission. I’m not going to stop until I get justice, because the official count of who killed Malcolm X, it’s not true.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the docuseries for Who Killed Malcolm X? It makes the case that two of the three men who were convicted for Malcolm X’s murder are actually innocent and that his uncaught killers were four members of a Nation of Islam mosque in Newark, New Jersey.
For more, we’re joined here in New York by a number of guests. In a moment, we’ll be joined by Ilyasah Shabazz, one of six daughters of Malcolm X. She was just 2 years old when her father was assassinated in front of her, her siblings and her mother. She’s a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a community organizer and award-winning author. Abdur-Rahman Muhammad is an independent scholar, historian, journalist, writer and activist, widely regarded as one of the most respected authorities on the life and legacy of Malcolm X. He’s featured in the new documentary series Who Killed Malcolm X? And we’re joined by Shayla Harris, a producer for the series and award-winning filmmaker and journalist.
Shayla, let’s begin with you. This is the day that Malcolm X was assassinated. You’ll be having an event tonight with professor Skip Gates, who is one of the executive producers of this series. Can you talk about when you began this documentary series and the significance of the Manhattan DA saying he is considering reopening the investigation into the assassination of Malcolm X?
SHAYLA HARRIS: So, our team at Ark Media, that began with the co-directors Rachel Dretzin and Phil Bertelsen, and my fellow producer Nailah Sims, we’ve been working on this series for more than two years. And we began our investigation just looking through all of the evidence, obviously building on some of the scholarship and research that had begun by a number of notable scholars, like Manning Marable, and folks like Zak Kondo, who we feature in the film. And we really wanted to kind of unpack this kind of open secret about who killed Malcolm X, and really try to corroborate some of this stuff with very detailed evidence and solid reporting. And so, for us, the fact that DA Vance is thinking about opening the case is really gratifying to us and shows that some of the questions and the things we were troubled by are troubling him, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: So, explain the series. Six parts.
SHAYLA HARRIS: So, this is a six-part series that essentially follows the last year or so of Malcolm’s life. It’s not a cradle-to-grave kind of biography. We really wanted to dig into that particular question of who killed Malcolm X, and really try to find the living eyewitnesses who could kind of speak to that moment and start to unpack some of the things that were swirling around him, not just focusing just on the trigger man, but sort of the context and the other players that may have been complicit in creating a climate where the questions around who killed him would maybe not have been properly investigated. And so, to have that featured on Netflix, which is a global platform and can reach audiences around the world, was something that we are very excited about.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, this film goes to — and if the investigation is reopened, it goes to issues larger than particular shooters or who had the gun.
SHAYLA HARRIS: Indeed.
AMY GOODMAN: The larger forces of the FBI, the New York Police Department. And we’ll talk about that in a moment. I want to go back to a clip from the Netflix documentary Who Killed Malcolm X?
MALCOLM X: Who are you? You don’t know. What were you before the white man named you a Negro? What was your name? It couldn’t have been Smith or Jones. They don’t have those kind of names where you and I came from.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Malcolm spoke truth to power. This guy is fearless.
MALCOLM X: It’s the white man that’s cracking skulls!
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: But even at the height of his popularity, he had a lot of enemies.
MALCOLM X: I do believe there will be attempts of my life. They’re foaming at the mouth.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s a clip from Who Killed Malcolm X? Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, if you can set the stage for us? I mean, at the end of Malcolm X’s life, it wasn’t just February 21st. It was February 14th, the firebombing of his home, and so much more. But how did you get involved with this case?
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Well, around 1980, Talmadge Hayer, the only convicted, confessed assassin, was doing a lot of television interviews, and he was trying to exonerate the two men who were convicted with him, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson. He was doing a lot of local TV here in New York, Gil Noble and Tony Brown’s Journal. And as a young college student, I watched this, and that’s where I first became exposed to the case. That’s where I first began to become educated in it. But along the way, around 1986 or so, I became a Muslim and started to circulate amongst the community and begin to hear things that caused me to take the investigation a little further.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about, I mean, your job in Washington, D.C., what your day job has been over the years.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Well, I mean, I’ve done many things, but most recently I was a tour guide. But, I mean, I’ve sold cars —
AMY GOODMAN: For Arlington National Cemetery.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: For Arlington National Cemetery, yeah. And like I said, I’ve sold cars. I’ve done any number of things. I’m a working-class guy. I’m just a regular guy. I don’t have an advanced degree. I don’t have any kind of tenured position anywhere. I’m just someone who was concerned about this case and just followed through on it.
AMY GOODMAN: And what most disturbed you, as you began to investigate, about what wasn’t investigated?
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Well, what disturbed me is that the assassins had been named in 1977, 1978. They were named a long time ago by time Talmadge Hayer. And what concerned me —
AMY GOODMAN: And Talmadge Hayer was the man who admitted he was involved in the assassination of Malcolm X, and he went to prison for decades.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: That is exactly right. And the question became, you know: Why didn’t law enforcement investigate the matter and go question the true assassins? They’ve been living on the streets for the last, you know, 50-something years.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and then come back to this discussion. A new Netflix docuseries has just been released. It’s called Who Killed Malcolm X? Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “This Bitter Earth” by Dinah Washington. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Fifty-five years ago today, Malcolm X was assassinated, shot to death February 21st, 1965, in the Audubon Ballroom in New York City as he just started to address the audience. He was just 39 years old. This is another clip from the film docuseries Who Killed Malcolm X?
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: When Malcolm went to Mecca, the scales were falling off his eyes. He was able to cast off a lot of the views that had straitjacketed him.
MALCOLM X: Because of the spiritual rebirth which I was blessed to undergo as a result of the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, I no longer subscribe to sweeping indictments of any one race.
HERB BOYD: Malcolm is just emerging as a world leader. He had the opportunity to fully express himself.
MALCOLM X: How are you going to tell me you’re a second-class citizen? Second-class citizenship is nothing but 20th century slavery.
WILLIAM JELANI COBB: This is no longer a rabble-rouser riling up the disfranchised Negroes of American urban centers. This is now a person who’s ad hoc ambassador of Black America. His concerns are no longer just the NYPD; his concerns are now the State Department.
MALCOLM X: Understand this, that the ballot is as powerful as the bullet. And if you don’t use the ballot, you’re going to have to use the bullet.
ZAHEER ALI: He is being perceived as a threat that needs to be neutralized.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: The greatest injustice is that the government made an enemy out of one of its citizens. That’s what led up to everything else.
A. PETER BAILEY: Brother Malcolm might have been that Messiah. And that’s what they did not want.
ZAHEER ALI: This was the power of Malcolm. He represented the controlled force of black people.
MALCOLM X: You don’t need a debate.
ZAHEER ALI: And should it be unleashed —
MALCOLM X: You don’t need a filibuster.
ZAHEER ALI: — would be a formidable challenge to the system.
MALCOLM X: You need some action.
ZAHEER ALI: And in 1964 and 1965, that force was being unleashed.
AMY GOODMAN: That clip from the docuseries Who Killed Malcolm X?, making the case that two of the three men who were convicted and served years in prison for Malcolm X’s assassination are actually innocent and that his uncaught killers were four members of a Nation of Islam mosque in Newark, New Jersey. We’re continuing our discussion today here in New York City with our three guests. Ilyasah Shabazz has joined us, one of six daughters of Malcolm X. She was 2 years old when her father was assassinated in front of her, her siblings and her mother; now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a community organizer and award-winning author. Still with us, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, independent scholar, historian, journalist, writer, activist, widely regarded as one of the most respected authorities investigating the assassination of Malcolm X, featured in this new film, Who Killed Malcolm X? And Shayla Harris, producer for the series, award-winning filmmaker and journalist.
Ilyasah, our condolences once again on this day and what happened to your father, Malcolm X.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Thank you. I do appreciate it.
AMY GOODMAN: So, 55 years ago today, you were in the Audubon Ballroom with your mother and three of your sisters.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: That’s correct, my mother, who was pregnant at the time, my young mother, my father. A week prior, on what would have been Valentine’s Day evening in the United States, a Molotov cocktail, firebomb, was thrown into the nursery of where my parents’ baby slept. And one week later, he would be gunned down by assassins’ bullets at the Audubon Ballroom, which is now the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center. And I think — I’m grateful for Abdur-Rahman Muhammad and for Shayla Harris and the producers and directors and anyone that could bring light to investigating who killed our father, who took the life of a very young man who challenged the moral compass of world nations.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you were 2 years old?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Yes, I was 2 years old.
AMY GOODMAN: That day. Now, most people don’t remember when they were 2 years old.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: But do you have any memory?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: No, I don’t. And I’m really grateful that I don’t have memory, as my older sisters, I’m sure, can recollect, being 6 years old and 4 years old, the trauma and chaos and understanding that our father never came home, and especially to my mother, who was a young woman that actually saw bullets just tear my father’s body apart.
AMY GOODMAN: Your mom was pregnant with twins at the time.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: My mother was pregnant with my youngest sisters, the twins, Malikah and Malaak. And Gamilah was actually just a few months old.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go to — and let me just ask. Your father, because your house had just been firebombed on Valentine’s Day, and it seems that the police were trying to spread rumors that maybe this wasn’t true, or he had done it to himself —
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, I want to go to that issue of the police and to the FBI. You can’t remember. You were 2 that day. But the issue of what was happening in the ballroom before your father spoke, the surprise of many of the hundreds of people who were coming to see him, that they were used to seeing lines of cops where Malcolm X spoke.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: Suddenly, they weren’t seeing lines of police officers. Shayla, would you like to talk about that?
SHAYLA HARRIS: Well, I think one of the most troubling aspects of investigating that day is that very fact. That Malcolm at the time was a notable figure, his life had been threatened publicly in a number of ways, and his home had been firebombed, as Ilyasah mentioned, and the fact that he was going to speak in front of a number of people, and there was no visible evidence of police, no exhaustive security measures of the people who were entering the room on that day, raises a lot of questions. And that was something that we wanted to understand and explore.
AMY GOODMAN: If you’d like to weigh in on this, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, this issue of the lack of security, when in fact where Malcolm X would go and speak he often would be under siege by security, by police?
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Well, one of the things I found in my research is that the police despised Malcolm X. You know, he would attack the police chief — and rightly so — for his support of violence against African Americans in the city. He was a reviled figure. And they weren’t about to put their men on the line to protect the life of this individual that they despised, quite frankly. And so, you know, you will hear the police talk about — we’ve identified, we’ve tracked down police that were listening on Malcolm’s phone. Gerry Fulcher, his job, all day, from like 8:00 in the morning to 10:00 at night, was to pick up Malcolm’s phone every time he made a telephone call. So, they knew that his life was in danger, it was in peril, it was in mortal danger. Again, his house had just been firebombed. And there was no police to be found. It was absolutely appalling.
AMY GOODMAN: And they were listening in on the telephones of many of the Nation of Islam people, and so they also understood other developments that were taking place.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Well, both groups, Malcolm’s followers, the Organization of Afro-American Unity and the Muslim Mosque Incorporated, and the Nation of Islam were saturated with informants. And, well, I would say “informants,” but I can’t say “agents,” because back in those days the FBI didn’t have black FBI agents. These would have been informants.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to another clip, and then we’re going to talk more about this, because while I say that police weren’t present, this whole issue of informants and those even on the payroll, for example, of the New York Police Department, they were in the room. Let’s go to another clip of Who Killed Malcolm X?
A. PETER BAILEY: In the 1960s, the FBI launched one of the biggest counterintelligence operations in its entire history.
MALCOLM X: Black people everywhere today are fed up with the hypocrisy practiced by whites.
A. PETER BAILEY: And they kept a very close watch on Brother Malcolm.
MALCOLM X: And if something isn’t done, then I’m afraid that you will have a racial explosion. And a racial explosion is more deadly than an atomic explosion.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, was deathly afraid of someone like Malcolm X. Malcolm was being surveilled. He was being followed. His phone was tapped.
JOHN FOX: If you look at the investigation of Malcolm X, it’s when he becomes a public figure for the Nation of Islam that the bureau starts taking more of an interest into his subversive rhetoric.
INTERVIEWER: You seem to be dissatisfied with everything. Just what do you want?
MALCOLM X: I’m not dissatisfied with everything. I’m just telling you that the Negroes themselves will take whatever steps necessary to defend themselves.
DAVID GARROW: The FBI had multiple high-ranking paid human informants in the leadership of the Nation of Islam. Could it have been that FBI informants were actively involved in Malcolm’s murder? Almost certainly so.
A. PETER BAILEY: Some members of the Nation of Islam became willing tools. But they were the puppets. The puppeteers were in charge of that whole situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Ilyasah Shabazz, can you elaborate on this?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Well, I think my father said, when he — you know, at some point he thought that it was the Nation of Islam solely that was after him, because he had been chased with sawed-off shotguns. There were so many challenges and threats against his and his wife’s young lives, and with their home being firebombed. But he said, when he went to France, that France would not allow him into their country. And he realized that this was bigger than the Nation of Islam, that the Nation of Islam itself did not have the power to keep him off of France’s territory. And France did not want history to include that Malcolm was assassinated on their land, and so that speaks volumes. And my father understood that his life was not just challenged by the Nation of Islam and that it was much bigger than that. And so it’s important to look at the work that he was doing, challenging world powers, challenging world nations for taking control of an unequal distribution of the world’s wealth, and challenging that threat.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to go back to the Nation of Islam, though, because of the rifts that might have been exploited within that organization and the rift that Malcolm X had with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Let’s go back to Who Killed Malcolm X?
ANNOUNCER: Minister Malcolm X.
HERB BOYD: The ascendance that Malcolm had is like phenomenal. I mean, it was 1952. He was in prison. And then, several years later, he’s the national spokesperson for the Nation of Islam.
MALCOLM X: We who have had our eyes opened by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
SHAUN KING: Malcolm was becoming, in a way, a figure that transcended the Nation of Islam.
MALCOLM X: Everybody in Harlem is a Muslim.
SHAUN KING: But there were people who struggled with this meteoric rise of Malcolm X.
JAMES SHABAZZ: Malcolm lusts for power, and he lusts for television and the press.
QASIM AMIN NATHARI: There were people who had to start wondering, “If something happens to Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm becomes the leader, it’s over for all of us.”
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Over the years, I realized I couldn’t understand Malcolm’s murder without understanding his rise and fall in the Nation of Islam and his complex relationship with their messenger, Elijah Muhammad.
MALCOLM X: The Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught me everything I know and made me everything I am.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: At first it was like a father and a son. But there were some people who thought Malcolm was becoming too powerful and getting in the way. The question is: Who were they? And were they given an order to kill him?
WILLIAM JELANI COBB: It was all kind of like a Rorschach test, when you look at Malcolm’s assassination — all these contributing factors, and it’s a kind of blur. And the people look at it and say, “What do you see?” And I see a lot of people who wanted Malcolm dead.
ELIJAH MUHAMMAD: I’m real thankful of my brother Malcolm Shabazz here, who has — why, this is a real disciple. You will have to kill this one to take him away.
AMY GOODMAN: That last voice, Elijah Muhammad, saying, “I’m real thankful for my brother Malcolm Shabazz here. Why, this is a real disciple. You’ll have to kill this one to take him away.” And before that, Jelani Cobb and our guest, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad. I want to go to another clip from Who Killed Malcolm X? that begins with Malcolm X talking about the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
MALCOLM X: There is no organization in this country that could do more for the struggling black man than the Black Muslim movement, if it wanted to. But it has gotten into the possession of a man who has become senile in his old age and perhaps doesn’t realize it. And then he has surrounded himself by his children, who are now in power and want nothing but luxury and will do anything to safeguard their own interests.
IMAN MUSTAFA EL-AMIN: I wouldn’t exclude anyone, at the point that it had got to, to have Malcolm removed. I mean, that was a badge of honor to move on Malcolm like that. I think the Honorable Elijah Muhammad didn’t necessarily give the order. He didn’t have to give the order. He could say something simple like this: “Man, this situation is really causing me a problem.” And someone would take care of it.
AMY GOODMAN: From Who Killed Malcolm X?, the Netflix docuseries that has just been released. Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, take it from there. Talk about the rifts within the Nation of Islam and the context of that time, what you believe happened.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Well, there was a real rift in the sense that Malcolm started to see things a different way. Malcolm was more a political actor, whereas Elijah Muhammad wanted to be more just like a religious figure, a very, very conservative figure. They had a policy where they refrained from any civil rights protests or any civil rights activities. And over the time that Malcolm was in the Nation, the 12 years that he served in this organization, he started to see the problem with this position, that it was something of an embarrassment for the Nation of Islam that they talk this very militant, very strident, powerful speech, but at the same time they were completely dormant when it came to political activism and engaging in the civil rights struggle. And the civil rights struggle, under leadership of Dr. King and the other civil rights leaders, was making much progress, you know, in furthering the rights of African Americans in this country. And the Nation of Islam, for all its strong talk, really did nothing. And so, this created a rift with Malcolm. And this was exacerbated. It came to a head with the death of Ronald Stokes in Los Angeles, that we go into, in 1962. So, there was a —
AMY GOODMAN: Explain.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Well, in 1962, April of 1962, very loyal follower of Elijah Muhammad, a Korean War vet by the name of Ronald Stokes, who was very, very friendly with Malcolm, he and his wife. Malcolm loved him very deeply. He was brutally gunned down in the mosque with his hands raised, you know, just a police raid over some innocuous incident like selling illegal clothes, which were not illegal, OK? They just raided the mosque, gunned the brother down. And this sent Malcolm into something of a rage, of a tirade. He wanted revenge against the police for what they had done to Ronald Stokes.
And Elijah Muhammad vetoed it. And his solution or his answer to it was “Just go sell more Muhammad Speaks newspapers.” You know, and Malcolm’s philosophy was “You taught us this man is the devil. You know, this man, he’s got his foot on our neck, and he took the life of our brother.” And for years and years and years, he preached an eye for an eye. He said, “We’re taught to obey the law. We’re taught to be peaceful. But if anyone puts a hand on you, you send them to the cemetery.” He had taught this for years. And now that one of the Muslims had been killed, Malcolm felt that this was the time to respond. This was the time to take our stand. And it was vetoed. And he had to come all the way back to New York and explain to his very militant followers why the Nation of Islam did nothing, like they always did nothing. And this created a rift in the Nation, because this was causing a problem for Elijah Muhammad.
AMY GOODMAN: Ilyasah Shabazz, talk about your father’s change over time, going to Mecca, coming back, wanting to go broader than he was being really captured within the Nation of Islam, become far more politically engaged.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Well, I think that, you know, this thing that my father went to jail and miraculously became Malcolm X, he was always a leader. He was always compassionate. He was always a learned young man. His parents instilled specific values in him and his siblings: the importance of self-love, the importance of compassion, care, the importance of literary.
AMY GOODMAN: His father, a Garveyite.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: His father, the chapter president of a movement that commanded millions of followers in the 1930s. His mother, who was the national recording secretary for this organization, who made sure that her children understood their roles as human beings, as global citizens. And for the Nation of Islam, my father, when he joined, found hundreds of members. And he thought, “This is too much of an important organization and message, that we should have more members, who want to know their identity, who want to know history, who want to know their relationship with God.” So he turned this organization from a handful of members to tens of thousands. The income ballooned, millions of dollars annually. They owned property, real estate, businesses, their own school that operated and taught children with their own curriculum of accurate information. And so, my father not only posed a challenge to others, who would unfortunately be envious of his intellect, of his commitment, of his righteousness, but also to world powers, who really could care less about their citizens, for their own personal greed. And so I think that anything that takes away from Malcolm and his ability to organize and all the things that he does is just a disservice to progress.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, he expanded the membership of Nation of Islam from hundreds to thousands of people.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Right. They say hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands?
SHAYLA HARRIS: Thousands.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Tens of thousands.
SHAYLA HARRIS: Still a lot.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go back to — well, let’s go to a break, and then we’re going to come back to a final clip from Who Killed Malcolm X? We’re talking about the specifics of the men involved, but then we’re also talking about the forces in this country that did not want to see Malcolm X continued. Again, 55 years ago today, Malcolm X was assassinated at the age of 39, just like Dr. Martin Luther King a few years later, both gunned down at the age of 39. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Malcolm X” by Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Fifty-five years ago today, on February 21st, 1965, Malcolm X was gunned down, assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, New York. In this clip from the new Netflix docuseries Who Killed Malcolm X?, our guest, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, describes footage of the scene outside the ballroom after the assassination.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: The coroner ruled the cause of death to be the shotgun pellet. It wasn’t the wounds from the shooters after the shot that killed Malcolm X. The cause of death was ruled to be the sawed-off shotgun.
REPORTER: Rally attendees seized one of the gunmen as he tried to escape the Audubon.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: There is archival film of the scene outside the Audubon Ballroom right after the assassination. You see a scuffle between the police and the crowd that was trying to beat down Talmadge Hayer, the only one of the assassins to confess. There’s a man standing on the edge of that crowd who looks a lot like William Bradley, who, according to Hayer, fired the shotgun that killed Malcolm. And he’s feigning like he’s part of the brawl. And in that kind of misdirection, he steps back, and then you see him walk across the frame, very calmly, closing his coat, and he just walks away. This is how he got away. If William Bradley is the man who pulled out that shotgun and took the life of Malcolm X and I can prove it, I want to confront him face to face.
AMY GOODMAN: William Bradley. Who is this, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad? That’s a clip of you speaking in the documentary, but let’s talk about where your investigation led.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: William Bradley was an old Nation of Islam strongman. He was the muscle for Mosque No. 25 in Newark, New Jersey. But he was also a notorious gangster, bank robber, stickup man, with a long, long criminal record. He was specifically recruited to carry out this assassination because of his proficiency with the sawed-off shotgun, which is a very, very difficult weapon to fire, I’m told. He has been in the community almost since the beginning of the founding of Mosque 25 there in Newark. And he’s an infamous criminal on the streets of Newark. He’s well known. And he wore the assassination of Malcolm X as a badge of honor. This was his street cred, that he was the one who took out Malcolm. And he would remind you of that. And that’s the reason, by the way — one of the reasons — why we know who he is, because for many, many years before he went to prison on his last stint, he actually would brag about it. You know, even that clip that we just saw of him walking away from the Audubon, he would sit there and point it out and say, “Hey, that’s how I got away,” and so on and so forth.
AMY GOODMAN: Just to be clear, Thomas 15X Johnson served 22 years in prison; Norman 3X Butler served 20 years in prison for Malcolm X’s assassination, now known as Muhammad Aziz; and Talmadge Hayer — they were the ones who went to prison. And Talmadge Hayer said he was involved in the assassination, but he said the other two were not. And this issue of William Bradley and why he wasn’t picked up at that time. Now, I want to also go to Shayla Harris on this, because you have in the documentary these amazing moments, like you’re speaking to Cory Booker, the senator, and you’re going back to an ad from when he was running for mayor. And there is William Bradley in the ad.
SHAYLA HARRIS: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: At that point, of course, he’s out of prison. He’s a community organizer, runs a gym, or community empowerment for young people in Newark. And you show Cory Booker his picture, and you say, “Do you know him?”
SHAYLA HARRIS: Yeah, I mean, that’s an incredible moment in the series. And it was certainly an incredible moment for us when we realized that the person who was the trigger man in this incident was in a campaign ad for Cory Booker, who is a notable politician from Newark. And, you know, he even wasn’t aware of the history of William Bradley. And that was part of the thing that propelled Abdur-Rahman’s investigation, and certainly ours, is that this man is hiding in plain sight.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, you have Ras Baraka, now the mayor of Newark, of course, the son of the famous poet and activist Amiri Baraka, saying, “Yes, of course, we know this” — I think he calls him “shotgun dude,” known as “shotgun man.” But when a person isn’t charged, you know, there are a lot of rumors in the community. And we have to be very careful, because we know of people who are innocent who have been accused of crimes or convicted of crimes, even for which they were not involved. But this issue, Ilyasah Shabazz, of a person who you say, Abdur-Rahman, was in plain sight not being arrested, your thoughts?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Well, you know, if he was not arrested, then obviously someone protected him. Someone protected him from going to jail. And someone protected him so much so that he felt invincible to continue to live in broad daylight, knowing that he had pulled the trigger, and, admittedly so, on my father.
AMY GOODMAN: This is the man who came up right as your father was speaking at the rostrum, and has a sawed-off shotgun under his coat, takes it out and opens fire on him at point-blank range.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: That’s right. And so, we know that the Nation of Islam itself cannot prevent anyone from going to jail, but that it has to be someone or an entity that’s much larger.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I don’t know which one of you want to take this, but Gene Roberts, in the film, Gene Roberts. And you were just suggesting, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, when you were saying there are agents for the police, they’re unpaid, they’re assets, they’re informants. But this man was not on the books as an NYPD detective, undercover agent, but he was. And he was one of the closest men to Malcolm X. He is right there, right under the podium where Malcolm X is speaking. He’s the one who gives him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He’s never called in any trial. The police say — or, rather, the prosecutors say they didn’t even know he existed.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Young man. They called him Brother Gene, originally from Virginia. He said he just joined the police force because he had a new baby, and, you know, that’s an opportunity that was open to him, so he joined the police. But he joined what was called BOSS, the Bureau of Special Services. This was an ultrasecret division within the New York City Police Department. It was modeled after the FBI.
And you’re right. He’s the closest person to Malcolm in this footage. You see him standing right next to him at the podium. You’ll see clips of Malcolm walking from an event, and Gene is right there by his side. And it’s really frightening, the extent to which they had Malcolm surveilled. I mean, I cringe when I think about just how much there was all over this man, that law enforcement was all over this man. It’s absolutely frightening. But yes, he is the one who administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and he’s in all the images that you see of Malcolm.
And this man, even though he was facing the audience at the time of the assassination, he was not called to the stand during the trial of the three men who were convicted for the assassination — Norman 3X Butler, Thomas 15X Johnson and Talmadge Hayer. Even though he was an eyewitness facing the audience, and he was a law enforcement officer, he was never called to the stand.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Ilyasah Shabazz, your thoughts on Cyrus Vance, the DA, saying he’s considering reopening the investigation into the assassination of Malcolm X, of your father?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Well, I think that I speak on behalf of my family, in this case, when I say that I’m grateful that Cyrus Vance, Manhattan district attorney, is considering to open this case and investigate who really killed our father. I think I speak on behalf of many millions of supporters and followers in this country and around the world, when I say that we want to know not only who killed him, but why he was killed.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Shayla Harris, why don’t you expand on that and talk about that legacy? And I want to go back to Ilyasah for that, why he was killed.
SHAYLA HARRIS: Yeah, I mean, I think it is an important question. I mean, Malcolm had such an important influence and impact on later generations. And to see that his death was overlooked and wasn’t thoroughly prosecuted or investigated in a way befitting his stature in our culture, it is really disappointing. And I think that if this is an opportunity to bring some justice to him and his family, and certainly to Muhammad Aziz and his family, then I think it’s a good start.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Ilyasah Shabazz, I mean, you’re a professor now at John Jay College. This is the College of Criminal Justice. Very interesting that you’re there and what you teach the students now, who are dealing with the issue of criminal justice, and what your father would have thought is real justice in this country and around the world?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Yeah, that’s right. You know, my father continues to inspire this generation. I always tell my students and young people around the world that this is the generation that gets it. This is the generation that has stood truth to power. They believe in our humanity. They believe in the oneness of God, that we are all human beings with the same privileges and opportunities. And, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, I wanted to ask: Did you ever end up meeting William Bradley, also known as Al-Mustafa Shabazz?
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Well, that’s the most heartbreaking thing in the series. The answer is, no, I was not. And, you know, this was one of the toughest parts of this research, is that after all these many decades of investigating the assassination of Malcolm X, having identified William Bradley, all of the energy and resources it took to get a photograph of him so that I could get a positive ID, and we got to this point where we were right on the cusp of confronting him with his horrific crime and ask him, “How could you do this to our people? How do you live with yourself? How do you deal with this on a daily basis, you know? How do you explain yourself? Are you going to run in the house like the coward that you are, like the dirty coward that you are?”
AMY GOODMAN: But you didn’t get to.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: I didn’t get that chance, no. He died. I mean, we were right there. And this — he was taken.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, it goes larger than one man. It goes to the issue of the police, of the FBI, of this country.
ABDUR–RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Amy, on that point —
AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds. We’re going to have to save it for another time. Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, scholar, historian, journalist, activist, featured in the new documentary series Who Killed Malcolm X? Shayla Harris, series producer, award-winning filmmaker. And Ilyasah Shabazz, one of the six daughters of Malcolm X. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.