50 Years After Murder, Malcolm X Remembered by Daughter Ilyasah Shabazz & Friend A. Peter Bailey
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
As Democracy Now! continues to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, we are joined by his daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, and friend, A. Peter Bailey. Both were inside the Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965, the day Malcolm X was shot dead. Shabazz was just two years old, while Bailey was among the last people to speak with Malcolm X that day. Shabazz is a community organizer, motivational speaker and author of several books, including the young adult-themed "X: A Novel" and a memoir, "Growing Up X." Bailey is a journalist, author and lecturer who helped Malcolm X found the Organization of Afro-American Unity and served as one of the pallbearers at his funeral. Bailey is the author of several books, including "Witnessing Brother Malcolm X, the Master Teacher." Shabazz and Bailey discuss the circumstances surrounding Malcolm X’s killing and share personal reflections on his life and legacy.
Watch Part 2 of the discussion here.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AARON MATÉ: As Democracy Now! continues to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, today we spend the rest of the show with his daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, and his friend, A. Peter Bailey. They were both inside the Audubon Ballroom on February 21st, 1965, the day Malcolm was shot dead. Ilyasah was just two years old.
AMY GOODMAN: Ilyasah Shabazz is a community organizer, a motivational speaker, activist and author. She recently co-wrote a young adult book called X: A Novel. Her previous books include Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X and The Diary of Malcolm X: El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Her 2003 memoir is called Growing Up X. Her latest piece for The New York Times was headlined "What Would Malcolm X Think?" She joins us here in New York.
And from Silver Spring, Maryland, we’re joined by A. Peter Bailey, journalist, author, lecturer, helped Malcolm X found the Organization of Afro-American Unity and edited its newsletter, Blacklash. Bailey was one of the last people to speak with Malcolm X on the day of his assassination. He served as one of the pallbearers at Malcolm’s funeral. He’s the author of Witnessing Brother Malcolm X, the Master Teacher.
We want to welcome you both to Democracy Now! Ilyasah, let’s begin with you, although I’m sure it’s hard to remember this day. You were in the Audubon Ballroom on February 21st, 1965?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: I was. I was there. My two older sisters, Attallah and Qubilah, and my mother, we were there to hear our father’s confederation on the OAAU. And I don’t—
AMY GOODMAN: What row were you in, or did your mother tell you after that you were in?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Yeah, yeah, we were stage right, in the front. Yeah. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Do you have any recollection?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: I don’t have any recollection. But, you know, I wasn’t quite three years old, and I—when I was writing Growing Up X, I remembered my uncle Wilfred visiting, and I remembered being at the Malcolm X College in Chicago, and I remember when he was leaving. And I was about a little over three. And I remember just crying at the top of my lungs. And my mother, later, she had this story that I used to wake up looking for my father. And, you know, she would replace this with cookies, because we used to share cookies late at night. And so, I used to wake up, when we stayed at Peter Bailey’s—I mean, not Peter Bailey, at Sidney Poitier’s house, and looking for my father, and so she started putting cookies at the door. So I sort of made the correlation that even though I was so young, I’m sure, you know, the chaos, the loud noise, had some sort of effect, and just remembering that your father never came home, you know, that missing.
AMY GOODMAN: Peter Bailey, your recollection of that day—where you were, what happened—at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, February 21st, 1965?
A. PETER BAILEY: Well, I was at the Audubon, and Brother Malcolm, when he came in, asked me to come backstage, which I did. And we talked about several things while I was back there. And then he asked which one of us—there was about five of us back there—recognized a New York City minister, who had been very involved in the school battles in New York. He was coming to the Audubon that day to make a pitch for support for clothing for Brother Malcolm’s children, which had been burned up in the firebombing of his home the previous weekend. So I said, well, I recognized him, so he asked me to go out front to the little lobby area before you came into the main ballroom—and the ballroom was huge—and wait for Reverend Galamison and bring him backstage.
So I was sitting there facing the entrance, and I heard Malcolm say, "Assalamu alaikum." And the next thing I heard, you know, was shots. It sounded to me like hundreds of shots. Later, I found out there weren’t that many, but it sounded like hundreds of shots. And I, with a few of us that were out there, we ran into this bathroom that was off to the side, and when the shooting stopped, we ran back. I came back and ran through the swinging doors into the main ballroom. And people were yelling and screaming and crying and cursing, and chairs were all knocked over, tables knocked over. And I ran down, and I jumped upon the stage. And Mary Kochiyama, a Japanese American who was very close to us, had him cradled in her arms. And his shirt was open, and I saw the bullet holes in his body. And I remember thinking to myself, "He’s going to die. He’s going to die. He’s going to die." And then the brothers came in with a rolling stretcher and put him on the stretcher and wheeled him over across the street, which was Columbia Presbyterian Hospital at that time. And I still remember that no doctor from the hospital would come to the Audubon.
AARON MATÉ: Mr. Bailey, can you—
A. PETER BAILEY: It was right across the street.
AMY GOODMAN: No doctor would come?
A. PETER BAILEY: No.
AMY GOODMAN: Why not?
A. PETER BAILEY: I assume because they were afraid.
AARON MATÉ: Well, on that point—
A. PETER BAILEY: So the brothers literally—they literally had to bogard and just take a stretcher and roll it through the streets back over to the Audubon and put Brother Malcolm on it. Now, when I jumped upon stage, he had not died, because he was gasping. I was watching as he was gasping. And then they put him on the stretcher and rolled the stretcher across the street to the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
AARON MATÉ: Mr. Bailey, can you talk about the climate for Malcolm at that time? You mentioned the firebombing of his house. He had recently broken with the Nation, living under constant threat, undergone what we believe to be a sort of political evolution in some of his views, or at least changing his views publicly. What was life like for him at that time?
A. PETER BAILEY: He was under constant threats from the Nation. There were elements in the Nation of Islam who were out to get him. And there was also the federal government. See, most people want to talk just about the thing between him and the Nation of Islam. But the federal government, the FBI, the CIA, were very concerned, because Brother Malcolm was on a mission to internationalize the movement. That’s why the organization that he founded, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, of which I was a member and editor of its newsletter, we called ourselves a human rights organization, not a civil rights organization. And Brother Malcolm was planning to take the United States government before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights for being either unable or unwilling to protect the lives or property of black people. And he spent most of the last year of his life, you know, moving towards that goal. And because of what he was doing, he was getting—being threatened by elements in the Nation of Islam and by U.S. government agencies. And I think that the assassination was a willing collaboration between these two factions.
AMY GOODMAN: And for young people especially, Peter Bailey, when you talk about the rift with the Nation of Islam, who might not be familiar with what happened, how Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam?
A. PETER BAILEY: Well, Brother Malcolm—I think it really got down to the fact that there were elements in the leadership of the Nation of Islam who wanted to keep—you know, like it’s better to control a small—what is it? You know, a small pond than to be—have a larger thing to deal with. And they did not like the fact that he was making outreach to the traditional civil rights organizations. And, by the way, this happened before he even got out. In 1963, he had a rally in Harlem that he invited all the major civil rights leaders to come to. They didn’t come. And at that time, he was still in the Nation of Islam. So, they did not want—they didn’t like what he was doing in terms of the outreach. They did not like what he was doing in terms of being more involved actively in making some connection with the civil rights movement. They wanted to keep themselves isolated, and many of them resented that.
And so they began to try to undermine him with Elijah Muhammad, who was the leader of the Nation of Islam. And I’ve always believed that if Elijah Muhammad had not been ill at the time, where people can take advantage of a leader who’s ill, he might have just called Brother Malcolm in and said, "Listen, what’s going on here? Let’s sit down and talk." But when I read a book called Pathology of Leadership, that sometimes when a leader is ill, it can have a major effect on events.
And so, those—and then, of course, again, government agencies were helping to promote this. They would call Brother Malcolm’s people and say, "You better watch out for Elijah Muhammad’s people." They would call Elijah Muhammad’s people and say, "You better watch out for Malcolm X’s people." So they were kind of trying to keep the rift going. And there were elements in the Nation leadership who were working, who were collaborating with this effort. And that’s the way I have to come to realize it and see it after all these years.
AARON MATÉ: Ilyasah, can you reflect on this time for Malcolm? One of the big revelations in the movie Selma that surprised many people is that your father goes to Selma to meet with Coretta Scott King while Dr. King is in jail.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Right, that’s correct. First, you know, both of our families were very close—Dr. King’s family and Malcolm’s family. And both were seeking solutions to this human condition that would oppress its fellow man. It’s just an unfortunate situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Ilyasah, while at the time, of course, you were too young, you have written extensively about your dad. You’ve written—you co-wrote, with Herb Boyd—you co-edited The Diary of Malcolm X in that last year. In 1964, your father went to Africa, went to Mecca. Talk about the significance of that period. And then, how interesting that your families knew each other—Dr. King’s family and yours—yet a lot has been made of the rift between your father and Dr. King. But you’re saying there was something else going on.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Well, yes, our families were very close. But, you know, it had to have been quite challenging for my father to discover that the Nation of Islam wasn’t what he thought it was, that he had sacrificed so much of his life, that he had dedicated so much to this organization that he felt was the best kind of organization to help black people reliberate themselves, reclaim their history and so forth. And so, you know, to find that it wasn’t the organization that he thought had to have been quite devastating. And he was fortunate to go and make his pilgrimage and, you know, be treated as a human being. And many times, you know, we forget what the social climate was like in the 1960s. And so, that he was able to go to this holy place and be treated as an equal, you know, to be treated as a man, which was not the case here in America. And I think that that’s really one of the things that we—we seem to forget that, the social climate that was in the 1960s, that my father and Dr. King and so many others fought against.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you tell young people? Now, you wrote the novel; it’s called X: A Novel. Why did you choose to make it a novel?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Historical fiction to bring the young reader in, you know, along into Malcolm’s journey of self-discovery. He was evidently in pain by the loss of his father, by—
AMY GOODMAN: What happened to his dad?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: His father—you know, his father was a great activist—both of his parents. And he was a Garveyite. He was the president—
AMY GOODMAN: Follower of Marcus Garvey.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Yes. He was the president, actually, of the Milwaukee chapter where they lived in the Midwest. And he wrote a letter to President Coolidge when Marcus Garvey was arrested. And, I mean, when you read this letter that he wrote to the president, you can see his son, Malcolm X, you know, where he said, "I suggest that you let this dear man out of jail. He did not commit any crimes. And if you do let him out, you will be in good graces with God and the people and history." And not too long after, President Coolidge released him from jail. So you see the kind of father that Malcolm had, you know, the two parents who contributed to this development, the foundation of Malcolm. And so I thought it was important to write first the children’s book, because it promotes self-love and leadership for young children, and then to write X: The Novel, which would bring the young reader along the journey of Malcolm in this time of pain, sometimes living a life of self-destruction, self-destructive behavior. And so, young people, challenged, can see that ultimately he would grow to become one of the greatest political strategists of our time.
AARON MATÉ: Mr. Bailey, the place where Malcolm X was killed, the Audubon Ballroom, is now a center in his name and that of his wife, Betty Shabazz. Looking back 50 years later, how do you want us to remember Malcolm X?
A. PETER BAILEY: I want him to be remembered as a wise leader; as a man who at a time when white supremacy terrorism rampant, between 1955 and 1965, was courageous enough to stand up to that; as a man who advocated the gaining of knowledge; as a man who understood that we were part of a world, not just the United States, but that we were part of a world, so he was reaching out to kind of internationalize the movement and connect the movement against white supremacist terrorism to the movement against colonialism, especially on the African continent. I mean, he was a teacher. That’s why when I talk about him to young people especially, I always refer to him as a master teacher. And there’s no more important a member of a community than a master teacher. He taught us. People say, "What did he do?" I say he changed minds. He gave us a perception on how to view the world, and the country and the world. He taught us the importance of doing research and speaking, and not just off the top of your head, of actually getting the facts. He used to say, "I know when I go out and speak at various places that there are people in the audience whose sole reason of being there is to catch me with my facts wrong. So I don’t give them that opportunity."
AMY GOODMAN: Peter Bailey, we have to break now, but we’re going to do part two of this discussion with you and Ilyasah Shabazz, and we’ll post it online at democracynow.org.