BY TONY BOUZA
A TV crew traveled all the way from Paris, France, to interview me for over an hour about Malcolm X, who was killed in February 1965.
How can this be relevant?
I’m not sure but it is somehow contemporaneously relevant. I struggled with the question and finally concluded to stick to the facts and hope that the meaning would emerge.
I knew Malcolm from my dealings with him in the ‘60s. I was a lieutenant in an NYPD unit that monitored subversive (yes, a pretty archaic word—but this is archeology of sorts) organizations.
Malcolm led three distinct lives.
As Malcolm Little he was a thug going nowhere until, while in prison, he was proselytized into Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam (NOI)—an ersatz entity meant to organize Blacks into faithful, sober, contributing members of this separatist cult.
Intelligent and energetic—and very savvy about publicity—he climbed rapidly to the head of NOI’s Harlem mosque. He shed his slave name (Elijah’s usage) and became Malcolm X—his second iteration.
His rise and talent engendered the usual tensions, but he gave the hierarchy no excuse to derail him.
Then, in 1963, at the peak of his fame and power, he was overtaken by events that would lead to his assassination at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom in February 1965.
Kennedy has been slaughtered. Malcolm X was, as usual, delivering a peroration. He knew how to generate attention and labeled the killing “the chickens coming home to roost.” It captured the attention he sought and offered Elijah the excuse he needed. He suspended Malcolm X sine die.
Malcolm languished in exile. Confused and lost. When would he be restored?
Finally, he concluded it was a permanent expulsion and, since he was putatively a Muslim, he might as well do a Haj—an essential visit to Mecca for any Muslim.
While there, like Saul of Tarsus, he experienced an epiphany and returned a convinced acolyte.
He started a new organization and launched his third iteration, as Malcolm Shabbaz. The body he founded was named the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He was in business and his breach with NOI final.
Recriminations followed and escalated into violence and burnings.
Malcolm’s house was firebombed. The mosque was torched. Tensions escalated.
Predictably, Malcolm responded with a very dangerous and provocative speech.
Elijah Muhammad had sired several children with his secretaries.
The ultimate no-no.
We all knew this was toxic and the NYPD even, at my urging, offered Malcolm protection, knowing he’d scorn it.
And so Malcolm was shot dead. The guy standing next to him was an undercover cop working for us.
The three shooters went to prison.
No real investigation every followed, and, since he was killed by Blacks, there was little appetite for outrage among American Blacks.
The case remains unsolved and officially neglected. Yet it lives, even in Paris, France.