The recent Netflix series Who Killed Malcolm X, shed light on many dark secrets tsurrounding the assassination of Malcolm X (1925-1965) on February 21, 1965 as he began a speech at the Audobon Ballroom in Harlem, New York. In the wake of the murder, three men were convicted for the crime. Talmadge Hayer and Norman 3X Butler (now known as Muhammad Abdul Aziz) are still alive but Thomas 15X Johnson died in August, 2009. It is known today that Hayer was one of five assassins who executed Malcolm X. Of the four, high focus was paid on the late Ali Mustafa Shabazz, known then as William X/William Bradley. In his affidavit provided to attorney William Kunstler (1919-1995), Hayer claimed that “William had the shotgun”. In spite of the new revelations in 1970, Malcolm’s murder is considered a solved homicide. The Netflix series revealed a wealth of information as did Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. However, the examination of the murder presented here by author Karl Evanzz, is a gem of its own.
Surprisingly, the book is not solely focused on Malcolm’s murder. In fact, the actual assassination is addressed at the beginning and end of the book. But in between, Evanzz discusses a range of topics related not only to Malcolm’s murder but other events that took place during the turbulent 1960s. What can be gleaned from the book is that a crucial part of the plot to kill Malcolm might have been related to political change in the continent of Africa. As I read through the book, I thought to myself that this part of the discussion is almost always left out. And once readers have digested the full magnitude of what Malcolm had been planning at the time of his death, the assassination will be seen in a much different light.
In the Netlix series, the tension and eventual falling out between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975) is discussed extensively. However, there were somethings that were not included in the final editing process. Evanzz provides a significant amount of information on the inner workings of the Nation of Islam (“NOI”) and Muhammad’s personal life including the legal issues of at least two of his sons. And for readers interested in the history of the NOI, Evanzz revisits examines the story of the once elusive Wallace Fard Muhammad (1877-1934), the prophet who established the Temple of Islam, the forerunner to the NOI. Fard was never seen again after 1934 and we can only guess as to what happened to him. In the wake of his death, Elijah Muhammad established himself as the unquestioned leader of the NOI. On the surface, he presented himelf as an all-loving leader fully committed to the well-being of black men and women but below the surface as we see in the book, Muhammad was protecting many dark secrets.
As I read through the book, I felt that the murder of Malcolm X is really a small part of the full story. The author did an incredible job of taking the reader back into time to understand how the United States and the world was changing at the time. Malcolm was without a doubt the NOI’s rising star and heir apparent to Muhammad. But over time the friction between the two developed on account of Muhammad’s personal life which became a hot topic in NOI circles. The fallout that ensued revealed the bitterness between teacher and former student. And once the rift develops, a dark cloud is cast over the story as the NOI ramps up its attacks on Malcolm, who realizes that death is coming for him. But what Malcolm says about who wants him dead threw me for a loop and raised my suspicions about a number of things. Readers familiar with the NOI”s inner circle might blanch when they read through this part.
I truly cannot say enough good things about this book. Evanzz looked at the murder for many angles and left no stone unturned. Secrets emerge regarding the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (“FBI”) COINTEL program, the NYPD’s Bureau of Special Servicess (“BOSSI”) and the actions of the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”). And even within the NOI, disturbing facts come to light about life as a follower of Muhammad. The Netflix series did feature John Ali, who held several different titles in the NOI. What is learned about him in the book just might make some readers stare in belief at the pages in front of them. Evanzz’s words are beyond sobering and highlight just how deep the division between Malcolm and the nation was. However, a statement Malcolm makes about the forces he believed were pulling the strings behind the attempts on his life should cause readers to take notice. If is almost as if Malcolm knew there was a far more sinister plot in the works. In the weeks leading up to his murder, his actions which are retraced here, show a man who knew the end was coming but continued on his path even with a bullseye on his back.
Marable’s book on Malcolm’s life is far more extensive than what is found here. However, Evanzz did not write a biography and solely focuses on Malcolm’s demise. As a result, the discussion is shorter but also more streamlined. Regardless, it is a fascinating look into what really was taking place in the weeks leading up the assassination. The book is riveting, informative and also tragic. But it is a great source of information for the last few years of Malcolm’s life. Good read.