A Time for Martyrs
It did not take long for the reactionaries to strike out at Malcolm X. Members of the NOI resented what they thought were his attempts to supplant Elijah Muhammad. Government entities feared his involving the NOI in international issues, as well as his starting to lean too far to the left, while law enforcement officials looked upon him and his actions as radical, criminal and detrimental to society.
Early on the morning of February 14, 1965, Malcolm and his family were peacefully asleep in their home in Elmhurst, New York. They were suddenly awakened by the sounds of shattering glass and explosions. Several Molotov cocktails had been thrown through their living room window, engulfing the house in roaring flames. Malcolm and his wife, Betty, quickly gathered their children and rushed out of the burning house. Once safe, they stood outside in the cold air, watching as their home and possessions burned. It was never determined who had tried to kill them, though Malcolm did tell authorities he thought it may have been the NOI.
The Audubon Ballroom was almost full on that cold February day in
That next afternoon, over 400 followers of Islam crowded the ballroom, anxiously awaiting the guest speaker, Brother Malcolm X. No uniformed police were visible inside the Audubon, but two were stationed outside the entrance. It was common knowledge that an attempt on Malcolms life was a real possibility. Several dozen police officers were across the street in the hospital, supposedly positioned there at Malcolms request because he thought their presence in front of the ballroom would create discomfort to those coming to hear him speak. Malcolms wife, Betty Shabazz, later denied that her husband ever made such a request. Malcolm always feared being assassinated and would not refuse protection.
Inside the Audubon Ballroom, several dark-suited NOI guards were positioned near the stage and towards the rear of the room. As soldiers of the NOI, the militancy of the neatly dressed men was evident in their demeanor, as they surveyed the room, quietly watching the seating of late arrivals.
Malcolm X, his pregnant wife and their four children waited in an anteroom. It was a tense and nervous Malcolm X who ordered two of his guards to take his family out into the hall to their seats in a box near the front of the stage. Seemingly irritated and exhausted, Malcolm X mentioned to his aides that he had reservations about speaking. They tried to get him settled down, without success. Malcolms misgivings were reflected in his taut features as his restless eyes darted around the room toward the men. He listened to brother Benjamin Goodman making the opening speech. Getting to his feet, Malcolm waved away the men guarding him and forced a slight smile, Malcolm calmly waited backstage.
At approximately , brother Benjamin ended his speech and introduced Malcolm X, who walked out onto the stage to a lengthy ovation. Malcolm stepped up to a wooden podium and looked out at the audience. When the applause finally settled down, he offered the audience the Muslim greeting and smiled when they responded in-kind. Just as he began to speak again, a commotion broke out near the rear of the ballroom. Two men jumped up, knocking wooden folding-chairs to the floor, as one of the men yelled, Get your hand out of my pocket! As Malcolm responded with, Cool it there, brothers, a loud explosion suddenly erupted in the back of the room, which began to fill with smoke.
Malcolms bodyguards and aides hardly had time to react as the well coordinated ruses effectively diverted their attention from him, allowing unopposed gunmen to begin their attack. A man rose from the front row and pulled out a double-barreled, sawed-off shotgun from under his coat and fired twice at Malcolm. Both shots tore through the podium, striking Malcolm in the middle of his chest. Simultaneously, as Malcolm was falling backwards and clutching his bloody chest, two more men jumped up and fired pistols at him as they rushed the stage. Although Malcolm was down, the two men repeatedly fired bullets into his body before turning and running to flee the premises. More shots were fired as they ran. Several of Malcolms followers rushed to his aid. By the time they reached him the entire ballroom was in total chaos. Most of the panicked crowd attempted to flee the smoke-filled room and frightening onslaught, while others rushed to violently attack the fleeing perpetrators.
Betty Shabazz, shielded her children with her body beneath a bench. As soon as the shooting ceased, she rushed toward the still body of her husband as she screamed, Theyre killing my husband! Theyre killing my husband! When she reached his side she realized he was dead, despite the frantic efforts of followers trying to stop the flow of blood from his bullet riddled body.
One of the assassins managed to escape by climbing through a bathroom window, while two other accomplices tried to flee down a flight of stairs and were pummeled with chairs and whatever else the angry and frightened crowd could find. One suspect, 22-year old Talmadge Hayer (aka. Thomas Hagan), was shot in the leg by one of Malcolms bodyguards and was unable to flee the wrath of the angry mob that followed him out of the building. Hayer was being kicked and beaten before two uniformed policemen rescued him from possible death. His fellow accomplice managed to escape after being knocked down by an undercover policeman named Gene Roberts, a member of BOSS (Bureau of Special Services). Roberts had grown so close to Malcolm X that the leader and his followers called him brother Gene. Roberts then rushed to the stage and attempted to resuscitate the profusely bleeding Malcolm X. A litter was provided from the hospital across the street and Malcolm was quickly taken to the emergency room, where the attending heart surgeon tried to revive him. A few minutes later, Malcolm X was pronounced dead.