by Earl Ofari Hutchinson
May 19 marked what would have been the 88th birthday of Malcolm X, an anniversary that passed mostly unnoticed with little in the way of civic celebrations, pageants or parades. Yet the date is still worth remembering. Malcolm’s name is still revered by legions both nationally and internationally, and for good reason. A tireless, uncompromising foe of imperial wars, racism, economic exploitation and a staunch supporter of African and Third World liberation movements, Malcolm X rekindled black pride. His legacy and place in history decades after his brutal murder, a crime still shrouded in controversy and debate, are more secure than ever.
However, Malcolm’s standing in history has not exempted him or his legacy from questions, doubts or tragedies — a point we were reminded of when his grandson and namesake, Malcolm Shabazz, was beaten to death in a bizarre incident in Mexico City on May 13, only six days before the anniversary of his grandfather’s birth. The murder tossed a sad glare back at Malcolm X, and it wasn’t the first time since his assassination in 1965 that the slain leader’s family members have suffered publicly through a tragedy.
Nor was it the first time the young Shabazz was at the center of his family’s sad train of events. Back in 1997, when he was just 12 years old, Shabazz was convicted and sentenced for a home arson attack that resulted in the death of his grandmother, Dr. Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s widow.
There has been much speculation that the troubles plaguing Shabazz in his childhood stemmed from a tormented relationship with his mother, Qubilah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s second daughter. By all accounts, her life was a roller coaster of woes that included failed relationships, alcohol and drug abuse, and a roving lifestyle. She grabbed headlines in 1995 when she was indicted for allegedly plotting the revenge murder of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, whom her mother Betty Shabazz had publicly accused of inciting the murder of her husband. Eventually, Betty made peace with Farrakhan, even appearing with him at a fundraiser at Harlem’s Apollo Theater after he publicly expressed remorse over Malcolm X’s murder. But she did not forgive him. What part Betty’s antipathy toward Farrakhan played in Qubilah allegedly wanting to kill Farrakhan is subject to debate, but certainly the dramatic events had to have an effect on her son, Malcolm Shabazz.
The turmoil that engulfed some of Malcolm’s family members exploded into the news once again during a well-publicized spat over possession and sale of Malcolm’s memorabilia. And later, there was the arrest of Malikah Shabazz, another of Malcolm’s daughters, followed by a guilty plea on credit card fraud charges.
Then the inevitable happened. Malcolm himself, decades after his murder, was subject to the seemingly requisite historical revisionist take on his life in the best selling book, “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” penned by the late Columbia University scholar and activist, Manning Marable.
In his exhaustive work, Marable tore apart what he considered myths and concoctions about Malcolm’s early and later life that had inflated him into a saintly superhero. Marable and his book were roundly attacked. But clearly, Malcolm’s life contained contradictions; like every other human being, he had real flaws.
Whether the bulk of the assertions in Marable’s version were true or not, however, they never succeeded in diminishing the towering contributions that Malcolm is today beloved for bringing to the freedom struggle. And for all the heart wrenching problems and lapses exhibited by some of Malcolm’s offspring, other family members have gone on to have successful careers in the arts and education, leading lives that add to the proud legacies of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz. The pain of losing a famous father at a young age at the hands of assassins, and the personal journey of overcoming that loss to attain success, was movingly captured by Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm’s third daughter, in her memoir Growing Up X: A Memoir by the Daughter of Malcolm X.
Sadly, the tragedies of Malcolm X and his family will be painfully remembered. But they can never trump the triumphs of Malcolm, or the legacy of his name.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new ebook is How the NRA Terrorizes Congress—The NRA’s Subversion of the Gun Control Debate (Amazon). He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.
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