Malcolm X's Final Words Before Being Murdered

Everyone who was present on the cold, sunny afternoon of February 21st, 1965, swore afterward that there was an inexplicable, uncanny sense of dread surrounding the day (per The New Yorker). Tensions were high, and the Audubon Ballroom's scarce security was already on heightened alert. Around 3 p.m. chaos erupted and shots rang out across a New York City ballroom, mortally wounding Malcolm X.

One of the Civil Rights Movement's most powerful and formidable forces, Malcolm X was slain in front of his wife and children. An autopsy report would later reveal that Malcolm X's assassins shot him 21 times (via Time). No stranger to controversy, Malcolm X had a target painted on his back throughout his later life. Furthermore, the powers that be, J Edgar Hoover and the FBI, were also keeping a close eye on all of his activities (per the New York Times).

Even Malcolm himself could read the writing on the wall, telling a journalist following a televised University of Oxford engagement in December 1964, "They're going to kill me soon." Although, he never clarified whether he was referring to the FBI or the Nation of Islam (via The Guardian). After all, his home in New York City was firebombed a week before by irate Nation of Islam enforcers. 

Malcolm X, never one to just lie down or step aside, gave a speech in Detroit a week before his assassination, telling the audience that he wanted his children to have a father who "will take a stand in the face of any kind of reaction from narrow-minded people rather than compromise" (per Black Past). This defiance and integrity in the face of persecution and intimidation, however, would prove fatal.

An Agitated Atmosphere

To this day, the events and circumstances leading up to Malcolm X's assassination remain murky and shrouded in conspiracy. Evidence brought to light in recent years highlights how the authorities mishandled the murder investigation remains controversial and many questions remain unsolved (via the New York Times). What we know for certain is that the atmosphere and attitudes of many of Malcolm X's followers were agitated in the hours leading up to this monumental event. Despite a typically overwhelming police presence at his prior public appearances, the security for the Audubon Ballroom was stretched rather thin.

Malcolm X personally insisted that there would be no frisking of the 400-person crowd when they entered, as he didn't want to alienate younger, non-Muslim members of the community from attending under fear of violence (per The New Yorker). When Malcolm X eventually proceeded to the podium, he greeted the crowd with the traditional Muslim greeting, "As-Salaam Alaikum", the Arabic salutation for "Peace be upon you." It is from here, that accounts of Malcolm X's last words slightly diverge.

A Final Plea for Peace

According to The New Yorker, a fight abruptly broke out between two men seated at the back of the hall, and one of them yelled, "Get your hands out of my pocket!" Suddenly, a man in the rear rows lit a makeshift smoke bomb as a diversionary distraction to draw Malcolm's few bodyguards to the back of the ballroom. This move exposed Malcolm X like a sitting duck to the three would-be assassins from the Nation of Islam who were sitting in the front row, waiting to strike.

Stepping out from behind the podium with his arms raised, Malcolm commanded order while exposing himself to the three assassins waiting below. Some sources state that Malcolm X's final words before being shot were "Brothers! Brothers, please! This is a house of peace!" (per History Daily). According to other eyewitnesses, however, he may have said, "Now, now, brothers, break it up, be cool, be calm," or "Let's cool it, brothers" (via Washington Post). Regardless of the exact wording, both accounts depict an orator attempting to exert control over a tumultuous crowd.

Once struck by his assassin's shotgun blasts, Malcolm X was attended to by a security guard who tried to resuscitate him with CPR, but it was too late. According to those in attendance, these would be the last words Malcolm X would ever utter before finally succumbing to his injuries (per The New Yorker).

Whatever Malcolm X said in his final moments, one cannot deny the strength and conviction of Malcolm X's words throughout the later stages of his life. These ideas resonated around the world with those committed to the struggle for emancipation and equality, and it is for these that he should be best remembered.