Malcolm X daughter: what happened to Malikah Shabazz, who was Black civil rights leader - and who killed him?

Malikah Shabazz was Malcolm X’s youngest daughter, who was born after his death in 1965

Malikah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter, has been found dead in her home in New York at the age of 56.

She was discovered unresponsive in her home around 4:30pm local time, and was later declared dead.

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This is everything you need to know, including the life and death of her father, Malcolm X.

What happened to Malikah Shabazz?

Malikah Shabazz, one of X’s daughters, was found dead in her home in Brooklyn on Monday (22 November) at age 56.

Officials said that she was found unconscious by own daughter. A medical examiner attended the scene and has stated that the incident did not appear to be suspicious. Cause of death is yet to be determined.

(L-R) Malikah, Malaak and Qubilah Shabazz attending the funeral of their mother (Photo: BOB STRONG/AFP via Getty Images)

Responding to the news, Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr, wrote on Twitter: “My heart goes out to her family, the descendants of Dr Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X. Dr Shabazz was pregnant with Malikah and her twin sister, Malaak, when Brother Malcolm was assassinated. Be at peace, Malikah.”

Who was Malcolm X?

Malcolm X, who was born Malcolm Little on 19 May 1925, was an African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist who became a prominent figure amidst the civil rights movement.

X was the nation’s most visible proponent of Black Nationalism, which challenged Martin Luther King Jr’s nonviolent approach to activism.

He was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and was the fourth of seven children to parents Louise Helen Little (née Norton) and Baptist minister father Earl Little.

When X was six, his father died in what police ruled as a streetcar accident, however the Little family believed it was the work of the Black Legion, a white supremacist organisation whom Earl had accused of setting fire to their home in 1929.

When his mother was committed to a mental institution after suffering from an emotional breakdown years after her husband’s death, X and his siblings were split up and placed in various foster homes and orphanages.

X moved to Boston and in 1946 he was arrested and convicted on burglary charges where he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was paroled after seven years, but it was during his time in prison that he began to show an interest in the Nation of Islam after it was brought to his attention by his siblings.

While in prison, his brother Reginald  would visit him and discuss the teachings of the Nation of Islam. X began to study the words of the Nation of Islam leader, Elijah Muhammad.

Portrait of American political activist and radical civil rights leader Malcolm X (1925 - 1965) (Photo: Express Newspapers/Getty Images)

By the time he was paroled in 1952, X had become a follower of the Nation of Islam, and had changed his name from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X, as he considered Little to be a slave name.

In his autobiography, X explained that “X” symbolised his true African family name that he would never know. He wrote: “For me, my ‘X’ replaced the white slavemaster name of ‘Little’ which some blue-eyed devil named Little had imposed upon my paternal forebears.”

X was appointed as a minister and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam, and was tasked with establishing new mosques in cities like Detroit and Harlem. He used the media to his full advantage, spreading his message through newspaper columns, radio and television.

He was able to attract thousands of new members, and had been credited with increasing membership of the Nation of Islam from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963.

However, in 1964, X terminated his relationship with the Nation of Islam after becoming disillusion with its leader, Elijah Muhammad. He decided to found his own religious organisation instead, the Muslim Mosque, Inc (MMI).

X experienced a number of attempts on his life prior to his death, which meant he rarely travelled without bodyguards.

An FBI undercover officer had once been instructed to plant a bomb in X’s car, and in 1965, the home he shared with his family was firebombed. The family managed to escape unharmed.

Was he married and did he have children?

X was married to Betty Shabazz (born Betty Dean Sanders), who also became known as Betty X.

She was an American educator, civil rights activist and nurse, and the two met in 1955 after one of his lectures.

Because one on one dates were not allowed under the teachings of the Nation of Islam, X and Shabazz ended up sharing dates with dozens and sometimes hundreds of other members. X often led visits to museums and libraries in New York, and would make a point of inviting Shabazz.

He proposed in January 1958 and they were married two days later.

Betty Shabazz speaking at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York (Photo: JON LEVY/AFP via Getty Images)

X and Shabazz had six daughters together; Attallah (born 1958), Qubilah (born 1960), Ilyasah (born 1962), Gamilah (born 1962) and the twins, Malikah and Malaak (born 1975).

Shabazz died in 1997, after her 12-year-old grandson Malcolm set fire to her apartment. She suffered burns over 80% of her body and spent three weeks in intensive care.

She underwent five procedures to replace the damaged skin and save her life, but she died from her injuries on 23 June 1997.

Her funeral was attended by many prominent figures, including poet Maya Angelou, Coretta Scott King and Myrlie Evers-Williams.

Was he assassinated?

On 21 February 1965, when X was speaking at Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom, three men rushed the stage and shot him more than 15 times at close range.

X was taken to New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival.

His funeral was held in Harlem on 27 February 1965 at the Faith Temple Church of God, now renamed as Child’s Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ.

Malcolm X making a speech in the UK, on 22 November 1964 (Photo: Express/Getty Images)

Friends of X took the shovels from the waiting gravediggers and buried the activist themselves.

It was after his death that his partner, Betty Shabazz, gave birth to their twin daughters.

The site of his assassination was partially redveeloped in 2005 to accomodate the Malcolm X and Dr Betty Shabazz Memoiral and Education Centre.

He is buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

Who were the men exonerated for his death?

Three men were convicted of first degree murder in March 1966 for X’s assassination - Talmadge Hayer (also known as Thomas Hagan), Norman 3X Butler (known today as Muhammad Abdul Aziz) and Thomas 15X Johnson (known today as Khalil Islam).

At the trial, Hagan said that he was one of the three gunmen involved in X’s assassination, however he testified that neither Aziz or Islam were involved.

Aziz and Islam were identified as the other gunmen by witnesses, but the two always maintained their innocence, and were even able to offer alibis. Additionally, there was no physical evidence that connected them to the crime.

In 1977 and 1978, Hayer also signed affidavits that, again, maintained Aziz and Islam’s innocence, and even named other Nation members as participants in the murder or its planning - however, these affidavits were not enough to get the case reopened.

The three were sentenced to life in prison. Aziz went on to be paroled in 1985, Islam in 1987 before he died in 2009, and Hayer paroled in 2010.

Following their release Aziz and Islam advocated for their innocence and pushed to clear their names - and earlier this year they were exonerated following two years of reinvestigation.

Muhammad Aziz outside the New York City courthouse with members of his family and lawyers after his conviction in the killing of Malcolm X was thrown out on November 18, 2021 (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It was revealed by their attorneys, the Innocence Project and civil rights lawyer David Shanies, that the authorities had withheld evidence that would have worked in their favour in their 1966 trial.

The day their convictions were dismissed, Manhattan judge Ellen Biben said: “I regret that this court cannot fully undo the serious miscarriages of injustice in this case and give you back the many years that you lost.”

In a statement that he read out in front of Biben and other court spectators, Aziz said: “I do not need this court, these prosecutors or a piece of paper to tell me I am innocent… I am an 83-year-old who was victimized by the criminal justice system.

“I hope the same system that was responsible for this travesty of justice also takes responsibility for the immeasurable harm caused to me.”

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