Marable Manning: Interviewed about Malcolm X

Historians in the News

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we spend the hour examining the life and death of Malcolm X, one of the most influential political figures of the twentieth century. Saturday would have been Malcolm X's eighty-second birthday. This is Malcolm X speaking a week before he was assassinated in 1965.

MALCOLM X: …my house was bombed. It was bombed by the Black Muslim movement upon the orders of Elijah Muhammad. Now, they had come around to -- they had planned to do it from the front and the back so that I couldn't get out. They covered the front completely, the front door. Then they had come to the back, but instead of getting directly in back of the house and throwing it this way, they stood at a forty-five degree angle and tossed it at the window so it glanced and went onto the ground. And the fire hit the window, and it woke up my second oldest baby. And then it -- but the fire burned on the outside of the house.

But had that fire -- had that one gone through that window, it would have fallen on a six-year-old girl, a four-year-old girl and a two-year-old girl. And I'm going to tell you, if it had done it, I'd taken my rifle and gone after anybody in sight. I would not wait, 'cause in -- and I said that because of this: the police know the criminal operation of the Black Muslim movement because they have thoroughly infiltrated it.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Malcolm X speaking at a rally of the newly formed Organization of Afro-American Unity, February 15, 1965. A week later he was shot dead at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

Today, we spend the our with Professor Manning Marable and hear more clips of Malcolm X. Professor Marable, one of the leading experts on the life and legacy of Malcolm X, a professor at Columbia University, close to completing an important new biography called Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. It will be published in 2009. Welcome to Democracy Now!

MANNING MARABLE: Thank you, Amy. It’s great to be back.
AMY GOODMAN: It is great to have you with us. It was six days after he was speaking about the forces that were infiltrating that Malcolm X was gunned down.

MANNING MARABLE: That's right, although there were pivotal decisions that were made after this address. Malcolm met with the key members of the two organizations that he had established: Muslim Mosque Incorporated, MMI, which was largely a group of former Nation of Islam members who left the NOI out of loyalty to Malcolm; and second, OAAU, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which was a secular organization of African American middle class and working class activists who joined Malcolm in building a more radical black nationalist movement in the mid-’60s.

The debate was, what do we do regarding the security of Malcolm X? The organization made two decisions that were highly contentious that evening: one, that none of Malcolm's bodyguards, usually provided by Muslim Mosque Incorporated, would wear guns on the day of the big rally, which was scheduled on Sunday afternoon at the Audubon on the 21st of February; and secondly, no one would be searched, which actually was the standard protocol over the last several months at the Audubon, because Malcolm did not want to frighten off middle class Negroes who were coming around and joining his movement.

But Malcolm's own home had been firebombed the Sunday night before. I talked with James 67X Shabazz, who was Malcolm's chief of staff, and others who eyewitnessed the assassination, and I challenged them personally and said, “How could you in good conscience have permitted Malcolm -- even though he was the leader of the organization, nevertheless, there is a process of consultation. You were a his right-hand men and women. How could you have allowed him to do this?” And they said to me, “Brother Manning, you just didn't know Brother Malcolm.” Then Malcolm insisted upon it.

So one of the riddles that I’m trying to solve in the autobiography is, why did Malcolm permit the context of the absence of security to occur on that particular day, especially at a time when the NYPD, the New York Police Department, and the FBI clearly set into motion decisions that facilitated the assassination on that day?

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain exactly what happened on February 21, 1965, from the time, actually six days before, that we just heard this clip.

MANNING MARABLE: Yes. To the best of our knowledge, the assassination conspiracy is directly at odds with what the New York District Attorney's office came up with in the murder trial of 1966. According to the New York prosecutors and the NYPD, there were three people who were responsible for the murder of Malcolm X: Talmadge Hayer, Thomas Johnson and Norman Butler. These three men were affiliated with the Nation of Islam. They were prosecuted and convicted of first-degree murder. At the time, New York State did not have a death penalty. They were sent to prison for a quarter of a century.

It is very clear to me that Butler and Johnson were not at the Audubon that day of the assassination. Talmadge Hayer was. He was shot by Reuben Francis, the chief bodyguard of Malcolm X. But the circumstances of the murder and all of the evidence that we have points to six men, not three, who were involved in the assassination; that the assassination was carefully planned for weeks; that, indeed, the day before the Audubon rally that Malcolm X and the OAAU held, that there was a one-hour walkthrough that night of the killers.

And what's curious were the actions of the NYPD and also the FBI. The NYPD ubiquitously followed Malcolm around wherever he spoke in the last year. They always had one to two dozen police officers. On this day, they pulled back the police guard. Many writers have already talked about this. But there were only two police officers in the Audubon at the time of the actual killing. And these two were assigned to the furthest end of the building, away from where the 400 people had gathered in the main ballroom. There were no cops outside. Usually, there were more than one or two dozen. So the police knew in advance something was going to occur that day. ...

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