On the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, we speak with the civil rights leader’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz about her family’s call for a federal probe into his murder, following the exoneration of two men who were wrongfully convicted. “We want to know who killed our father, and we want to make sure that it is properly recorded in history,” says Shabazz. “We want Congress to document the truth,” says Benjamin Crump, who represents the family of Malcolm X.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.
It was 57 years ago today, February 21st, 1965, when Malcolm X was assassinated on the stage at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City, not far from where we are. Malcolm’s family is now calling for a federal probe into his murder. In November, a New York judge exonerated two men who spent decades in prison after being wrongfully convicted in the assassination: 83-year-old Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam, who died in 2009. This came after the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Innocence Project conducted a nearly two-year investigation that uncovered key evidence, which was withheld at the trial of the two men. Speaking in November, then-Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance apologized in court to Aziz and the family of Islam. Vance also called out former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
CYRUS VANCE JR.: We have obtained dozens and dozens of reports from the FBI and the NYPD’s Bureau of Special Services and Investigations. These records include FBI reports of witnesses who failed to identify Mr. Islam and who implicated other subjects and suspects. And significantly, we now have reports revealing that on orders from Director J. Edgar Hoover himself, the FBI ordered multiple witnesses not to tell police or prosecutors that they were in fact FBI informants. Many of those documents were exculpatory. None of them were disclosed to the defense.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the former Manhattan DA Cy Vance. He was muffled because he was wearing a mask. Muhammad Aziz, who was jailed for almost two decades, was recently interviewed by ABC News.
BYRON PITTS: People knew why you were there, that you were one of the men —
MUHAMMAD ABDUL AZIZ: Yeah.
BYRON PITTS: — convicted of killing Malcolm. Were there threats because of that?
MUHAMMAD ABDUL AZIZ: To me?
BYRON PITTS: Yes, sir.
MUHAMMAD ABDUL AZIZ: No. No. The people know I didn’t do it. Nobody ever thought I did it. Just white people. Our people never thought I did it.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Ilyasah Shabazz, one of Malcolm X’s six daughters, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, a community organizer, motivational speaker, activist and award-winning author of many books. Still with us, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is working with Malcolm X’s family.
Ilyasah, first I want to say condolences on the recent death of your sister. Your family has gone through so much pain over the years. And now you’re calling for a federal probe into your dad’s assassination. It’s 57 years ago today. Talk about what you want to see.
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Well, you used a great word, “animus.” We do want a federal probe. You know, my father exposed police brutality across America to the world in the late ‘50s and ’60s. And, you know, I think that enough is enough. We want to know who killed our father, who ordered the assassination. And we want to set the record straight.
AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of these two men, Muhammad Abdul Aziz, who is still alive, and Khalil Islam, who died years ago, both serving decades in prison, falsely convicted of the assassination of your father?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: That’s right. You know, again, we want to know who killed our father, and we want to make sure that it is properly recorded in history.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Ben Crump, talk specifically about what you want Congress to do.
BENJAMIN CRUMP: Well, as Ilyasah said, we want Congress to help document the truth, just as they did with the JFK commission, the MLK commission and the RFK commission. We want them to have a congressional panel empowered to do an investigation, a complete investigation, and tell who is responsible for planning the conspiracy to assassinate Malcolm X. We understand that based on these recent exonerations, that you had not only the NYPD Bureau of Special Investigations involved, but you also had, with NYPD BOSSI, the FBI involved to the very top, to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
Finally, the family deserves the truth of who killed their father. The names need to be named. And the American society and the world deserve the truth, as well. And we are prepared, attorney Ray Hamlin and our legal team, to go through every legal avenue possible to get to the truth for Malcolm X’s family and to finally give them some measure of justice.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we end, I want to get your comments on Malcolm X himself speaking in 1964. He was speaking in the Audubon Ballroom. This was like six months before he was assassinated.
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. That’s our motto. The purpose of our organization is to start right here in Harlem, which has the largest concentration of people of African descent that exists anywhere on this Earth. There are more Africans here in Harlem than exist in any city on the African continent — because that’s what you and I are, Africans.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Malcolm X, six months before he was assassinated in the very same place, in the Audubon Ballroom. Ilyasah, you were just 2, but you were there with your mother and sisters when your father was gunned down. And every February 21st and May 19th, his birthday, at WBAI, where we began Democracy Now! and where I worked for decades, we would play your dad’s speeches and talk to your mother, Dr. Betty Shabazz, and she talked about how the sound of his voice on the radio would echo through the rooms. Can you end by talking about the significance of your mother and your father together in raising you and the message they felt was most important, and how they’d feel about what’s happening today?
ILYASAH SHABAZZ: Yes, I have to say, Amy, it warms my heart, and, you know, again, it’s the reason that no matter where I am, when you ask me to come on your show, I don’t think I’d ever say “no” to you.
You know, my father provided the biggest critique of America with his insistence that America lives up to her promise of liberty and justice for all. I’m grateful that my parents had the love and support that they had in one another. My mother safeguarded her husband’s legacy. Her home would be firebombed on February 14th. One week later, he would invite my mother and the babies to see him deliver his federation on the Organization of Afro-American Unity as an extension of the Organization of African Unity, for liberty and justice. And my mother would watch this horrific assassination, and my sisters and I. She was pregnant with twins. And she safeguarded her husband’s legacy, not so that he could be famous, but for the benefit of future generations.
He did extensive work, and we know the enormous threat that he posed. And I think when we address what really happened, then young people will be able to benefit from his work. He said that it would be this generation of young people who would recognize that those in power have misused it, and that they would demand change, and they would be willing to roll up their sleeves and do the necessary work. My father spoke truth. Truth is timeless. And so, we are very happy that we will soon get the truth on who organized his assassination.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Ilyasah Shabazz, one of Malcolm X’s six daughters, professor now at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, community organizer, activist, award-winning author of many books, and Ben Crump, civil rights attorney who’s working with Malcolm X’s family.
That does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.