On February 21, 1965, in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom, African-American orator and activist Malcolm X having left the Nation of Islam 11 months prior was assassinated. His wife Betty Shabazz, who was in the audience near the stage with her daughters, tried to perform CPR to no avail.
After Malcolm’s assassination, Betty faced the grim reality of raising their six girls. The daughters were Attallah, born in 1958 and named after Attila the Hun; Qubilah, born in 1960 and named after Kublai Khan; Ilyasah, born in 1962 and named after Elijah Muhammad; Gamilah Lumumba, born in 1964 and named after Patrice Lumumba; and twins, Malikah and Malaak, born in 1965 after their father’s assassination.
Shabazz had difficulty sleeping for weeks after Malcolm X’s assassination and the burden of taking care of the family had a great deal of psychological effect on her. The publication of The Autobiography of Malcolm X helped because Shabazz received half of the royalties. Also, Alex Haley, who assisted Malcolm X in writing the book signed over his portion of the royalties to Shabazz. It was a way to get her up on her feet.
Actor and activist Ruby Dee and Juanita Poitier (wife of Sidney Poitier) helped raised $17,000. They bought a large two-family home in Mount Vernon, New York, from Congress member Bella Abzug for the family.
Shabazz began to accept speaking engagements at colleges and universities, speaking about the Black Nationalist philosophy of Malcolm X but also about her role as a wife and mother.
The trained nurse in late 1969 enrolled at Jersey City State College (now New Jersey City University) to complete a degree in education she left behind when she became a nurse. She completed her undergraduate studies in one year, and decided to earn a master’s degree in health administration. In 1972, Shabazz enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to pursue an Ed.D. in higher education administration and curriculum development. In July 1975, she defended her dissertation and earned her doctorate.
Shabazz joined the New York Alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta in April 1974. In January 1976, she became associate professor of health sciences with a concentration in nursing at New York’s Medgar Evers College. By 1980, Shabazz was promoted to Director of Institutional Advancement. In her new position, she became a booster and fund-raiser for the college. A year later, she was given tenure. In 1984, Shabazz was given a new title, Director of Institutional Advancement and Public Affairs; a position she held until her death.
Shabazz also engaged in volunteer work during the 1970s and 1980s and became active in the NAACP and the National Urban League. When Nelson and Winnie Mandela visited Harlem during 1990, Shabazz was asked to introduce the latter.
Shabazz who never remarried befriended Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of Medgar Evers, and Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. They had the common experience of losing their activist husbands at a young age and raising their children as single mothers. The press came to refer to the three, who made numerous joint public appearances, as the “Movement widows”.
With many holding Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam responsible for Malcolm’s murder, Shabazz harbored resentment toward the Nation of Islam and Farrakhan in particular.
Daughter, Qubilah Shabazz in January 1995 was charged with trying to hire an assassin to kill Farrakhan in retaliation for the murder of her father. She accepted a plea agreement with respect to the charges, in which she maintained her innocence but accepted responsibility for her actions. She had to submit herself to rehabilitation or a prison sentence.
For the duration of her treatment, Qubilah’s 10-year-old son, Malcolm was sent to live with Shabazz at her apartment in Yonkers, New York. The decision proved costly as her 12 year-old grandson set fire in Shabazz’s apartment on June 1, 1997. Shabazz never recovered from the burns which affected 80% of her body despite undergoing five skin-replacement operations. She died of her injuries on June 23, 1997. She was buried next to her husband, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. She was born Betty Dean Sanders on May 28, 1934 to Ollie Mae Sanders and Shelman Sandlin.
Malcolm Shabazz, the mentally disturbed grandson was sentenced to 18 months in juvenile detention for manslaughter and arson. He was killed in a bar fight in Mexico City in 2013 aged 28.
The six daughters of Malcolm X in 2018 announced a clothing line, called Malcolm X Legacy, that rebrands their father’s message for the pussy-hat era, in the form of sweatshirts, hats, and T-shirts bearing slogans such as “By Any Means Necessary” and “A Man Who Stands for Nothing Will Fall for Anything.”
The daughters see the legacy protection as a team effort. Ilyasah Al Shabazz is also a professor, an author, community organizer, social activist, and motivational speaker. She teaches a course on cultural pluralism at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She is the author of “Betty Before X,” a children’s book that features their mother, Betty Shabazz as a spunky girl hero.
Attallah Shabazz – Malcolm’s oldest daughter – is an artist, actress, theatrical director, producer, lecturer, and activist. She is also the former ambassador to Belize.
Malaak is a human rights activist. Malikah has feuded with her sisters. “One of the daughters, Malikah Shabazz, accuses her two sisters, Ilyasah and Malaak Shabazz, and their former lawyer…’of spending estate money on themselves while permitting property and other estate assets to languish and a tax bill to skyrocket,’” NBC reported.