- Ilyasah Shabazzprofessor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a community organizer, motivational speaker, activist and award-winning author. She is one of six daughters of Malcolm X.
The family of Malcolm X is demanding a new investigation into his 1965 assassination in light of the deathbed confession of a former New York police officer who said police and the FBI conspired to kill the Black leader. Ilyasah Shabazz, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and one of Malcolm’s six children, says the latest revelation is further evidence of how the authorities worked to infiltrate and undermine Black organizations during the civil rights movement. “All he wanted was for America to live up to her promise of liberty and justice for all,” she says of her father. “I’m happy that the truth can finally be uncovered.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
To talk more about the assassination of Malcolm X, we’re joined by his daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz. She joined Reggie Wood on Saturday when he released the deathbed confession of his cousin, the late undercover police officer Raymond Wood, who described being part of a police and FBI conspiracy that targeted Malcolm X, was there at his assassination.
Ilyasah Shabazz is professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, a community organizer, motivational speaker, activist and award-winning author. Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany Jackson have just co-written a new book for young adults titled The Awakening of Malcolm X.
Before we go back in time to the book and Malcolm X’s history, Ilyasah, can you respond to this bombshell deathbed revelation that Reggie just shared with us?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Wow! You know, I think it’s deplorable. But I think that it’s good that he came forward with this letter, because many people just did not understand how intricately involved people in powerful positions were to infiltrate organizations that set out to improve society.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, true that Reggie Wood — Raymond Wood not only infiltrated Malcolm X’s organization, but CORE, the Panther 21, all these different groupings. Now, you have dealt with this slow drip of revelations over the decades. I mean, you are Malcolm X’s daughter. Can you talk about the effect on your family and what you’re calling for now? Do you join Ben Crump in calling for a reopening of the investigation of your father’s assassination?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Absolutely. We want the truth uncovered. And if it’s the Manhattan district attorney, the United States Congress, we would like them to do a thorough investigation on the assassination of our father, Malcolm X. You know, it was quite challenging, you can imagine, for my mother, who was a young woman, pregnant with my youngest sisters, the twins, had four babies, to walk into the Audubon excited to see her husband because their home had been firebombed just a week prior on the evening of Valentine’s Day, and for her to be able to go and see her husband with her family, she must have walked into that Audubon Sunday afternoon really excited, and left, shattered.
And when I discovered this letter, when I discovered Reggie Wood with this information, you know, I thought of my mother. I thought of my father, just a young man. All he wanted was for America to live up to her promise of liberty and justice for all. And he worked quite diligently for 12 years looking for solutions to this ongoing problem. And he provided the biggest critique of America. And I’m happy that the truth can finally be uncovered. And so, whatever it takes, I and my five sisters are supportive of that effort.
AMY GOODMAN: You were there 56 years ago, horrifyingly. How old were you? Two years old, in the Audubon Ballroom, where you returned this past weekend. I mean, of course, you’ve been there many times. It’s now the Shabazz Center. Fifty-six years ago, when he was gunned down, you were there with your sisters and mom.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: That’s right. That’s right. And again, I always go back to my mother — it had to have been just so difficult for her — and how she safeguarded her husband’s legacy, because, look, what most people are discovering now is that all of what they learned about Malcolm X, it was absolutely inaccurate. This past summer, while young people were politicized because of this global pandemic, because of being forced to watch this horrific death of George Floyd, going out into the streets, protesting, 50 states in this country, 18 countries abroad, and we discovered that my father was quoted 53.7 thousand times per hour in social media. And this is the clearest indication that people wanted to know the truth about Malcolm X. They knew that Malcolm spoke truth and that he provided strategies and tactics that they could employ to meet these socioeconomic challenges head on. And so I take my hat off to these young people for being diligent, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to an excerpt of a speech your dad gave at the Audubon Ballroom in '64, about half a year before he was assassinated there. It's called “By Any Means Necessary.”
MALCOLM X: One of the first things that the independent African nations did was to form an organization called the Organization of African Unity. The purpose of our Organization of Afro-American Unity, which has the same aim and objective, to fight whoever gets in our way, to bring about the complete independence of people of African descent here in the Western Hemisphere, and first, here in the United States, and bring about the freedom of these people by any means necessary.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Malcolm X, months before he was assassinated. Ilyasah Shabazz, you have now written a book for young adults called The Awakening of Malcolm X, and it really focuses on his time in jail. Talk about why you chose this period. And what do you think is so critical for young people to take from it?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Well, I wanted to first make sure that I showed that Malcolm didn’t go to jail and miraculously become Malcolm X, that his parents instilled specific values. And it speaks to all the smart, forward-thinking adults that, you know, we have to provide guidance for our children. They need an education curriculum that teaches the truth. We can’t sit back and expect someone else to do these things for us.
If our young people understood that, say, in world history classes, as I teach my students, that Africa is the cradle of the most advanced, thriving civilization ever to exist in mankind, and if they also learned about the impressive kingdoms of Benin, Fouta Djallon, Mali, Egypt, to the same degree that we teach them of ancient Greece and Rome, then we might better appreciate the beauty and magnificence of nonwhite civilizations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. And we would have the opportunity to teach our children love, respect, instead of instilling these values of hate and discrimination. Rather, love and respect for ourselves and then for humanity. You know, I think all of these things are extremely important.
AMY GOODMAN: You write the book in the first person. What was it like to inhabit your father’s perspective in this way?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Well, talking about the values that were instilled in him by his parents, and Malcolm running from himself, running from his identity, running from the fact that his father was lynched. His father was the president of the chapter — the chapter president of an organization that was commanded by millions of followers in the 1920s, that he purchased land that was then reserved for whites only, and, you know, the KKK lynched him. They targeted his family. His mother, who was the recording secretary, instilling values of compassion, human compassion, literary. All of these things that we see in Malcolm later in his life was put into an institution. The family was separated. The land was taken.
And so, when Malcolm finds himself in jail, we find that Malcolm is still smart. He ends up being a star debater on the debate team. The prison debated against Ivy League schools, Harvard, MIT, Boston University. And Malcolm debated about capital punishment. And so, we see his compassion. We see his wit. We see his ability to inform and engage others. And so, what we find is that Malcolm studied the dictionary not so that he could learn how to read and write, but he studied the dictionary so he could learn the etymology, the root words, so he could be his best.
And when we look at today the criminal justice system, we know that there are over 3 million people behind bars, that the U.S. spent in 2012 —
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: — $80 billion taxpayer dollars on correction facilities, not education, not after-school programs. And so, the incarcerated population has increased by 700%, and we wanted to focus on the humanity of these people behind bars.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, you dedicate the book to the incarcerated. Ilyasah Shabazz, I want to thank you so much for being with us. The book is called The Awakening of Malcolm X. I’m Amy Goodman. Wear a mask. Stay safe.