24 years ago, Malcolm X’s widow was severely burned in fire set by her grandson

Mildred Europa Taylor July 01, 2021
Betty Shabazz and her grandson Malcolm. Photos: Wikipedia/AP

Malcolm X was speaking at an Organization of Afro-American Unity event at Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965, when a group of men suddenly rushed to the podium and fatally shot him several times. Three Nation of Islam members were held responsible for the shooting and convicted in 1966. Malcolm X’s death shocked the world considering he was such a charismatic leader. He had become known as a champion of human rights from the moment he split with the Nation of Islam (NOI) following ideological differences between him and NOI leader Elijah Muhammad.

During his last days, Malcolm X had told his wife, Betty, that he is likely to die violently. He had advised her on how to live and take care of their daughters in his absence. Betty paid attention, and after her husband’s murder, she moved from Queens with her family to Mount Vernon, New York, and made sure her children did not see photographs of their father’s body after his killing. She sent her girls to good schools and urged them to imbibe values of truth, non-violence, peace and simplicity in their lives. Despite this, the family continued to endure misfortune.

In 1995, decades after Malcolm X’s death, Qubilah Bahiyah Shabazz, the second oldest of his daughters, was indicted for trying to hire a hitman to kill Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. Farrakhan was suspected of playing a role in Malcolm X’s murder. Qubilah’s arrest shocked almost everyone but her mother stood by her. Prosecutors later agreed to drop the charges against her if she “agreed to accept responsibility” for her role in the plot. She was to also seek counseling and stay out of legal trouble.

Two years after Qubilah’s legal troubles, Betty was severely burned in a fire at her apartment. Her 12-year-old grandson, Malcolm, who was Qubilah’s child, had set the fire deliberately, officials said. Child welfare workers had taken the boy from her mother’s home on suspicion of neglect. He was, therefore, living with his grandmother Betty when, in June 1997, he doused a hallway of their apartment with gasoline and set the fire because he was angry he had to live with her.

Betty was awakened by the fire. But when she ran toward her front door to try to put it out, the flames caught her nightgown and set her on fire, reports said. The early-morning fire in her apartment left her with third-degree burns over 80 percent of her body. Betty, a civil rights advocate and educator who was revered by many as she carried the mantle of her slain husband, died three weeks later as a result of her injuries.

Malcolm was convicted of the juvenile equivalent of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree arson for setting the fire that killed his grandmother. During his sentencing, a psychologist described him as “a chronic fire-starter and a paranoid schizophrenic.”

Following his release, he had more brushes with the law. He was connected to a robbery and the destruction of property. The troubled life of Malcolm would come to an end when in May 2013 he was killed in Mexico. Several reports linked his death to an attempt to rob him, although details about how he died have been varied.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: July 1, 2021


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