Malcolm X’s legacy survives 50 years after his assassination, says his daughter

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (FEBRUARY 21, 2015) (REUTERS) – At the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination, his daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, said his struggle for racial equality continues to resonate.

Shabazz, one of Malcolm X’s six daughters, helped organize a 50th memorial commemoration for her father on Saturday (February 21).

It was held in the same building, formerly known as the Audobon ballroom, were Malcolm X was assassinated. The ballroom is long gone and the building now houses a bank, a restaurant and Columbia University offices. It is also home to the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, set up by the activist’s late wife, Betty Shabazz, and their daughters.

Around 300 guests attended the ceremony. Before leading the gathering in holding a minute’s silence in memory of Malcolm X, Shabazz said that it was important that African-Americans continued to remember the legacy of their leaders and the groundbreaking work they did.

The struggle for racial equality that Malcolm X helped define in the 1960s has picked up fresh momentum in the months leading up to the 50th anniversary of his assassination due to a national debate over the treatment of African-Americans and other minorities by the U.S. criminal justice system. That debate heated up after last summer’s killings of unarmed black men by white police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.

Activists say the ideas of Malcolm X and his uncompromising message that helped embody the early years of the black power movement carries particular resonance at the core of the national debate of the treament of African-Americans, a half-century after his shooting death in New York on Feb. 21, 1965.

The galvanizing cases in Ferguson and New York City echo an incident in April 1957, when a black man named Johnson Hinton was beaten by police in New York’s Harlem neighborhood and a young Malcolm X famously came to his defense. The incident helped propel him to the national stage.

Dr. Ron Daniels was the keynote speaker at the commemoration ceremony. He spoke to the audience about Malcolm X’s impact on a whole new generation of civil rights activists.

“You get a whole generation of people dealing with black empowerment and coming into a new sense of self awareness and so forth, all attributable to Malcolm. And of course we’ve spoken to his emphasis on human rights, cause human rights he said is above civil rights. You’re not necessarily denigrating civil rights, that’s not the point. But if you’re in a society where the government is oppressing you, he said you can’t go to that court if that’s who’s criminalizing. You take the criminal to court,” Dr. Daniels said.

Malcolm X, born as Malcolm Little and also known as Malcolm Shabazz, was a powerful orator who rose to prominence as the national spokesman of the Nation of Islam, an African-American Muslim group that opposed integration with whites.

Later, he broke with the organization and moderated some of his earlier views on the benefits of racial separation.

He was killed at the Audobon Ballroom while preparing to deliver a speech. Three members of the Nation of Islam were convicted in the shooting.

Since his assassination Malcolm X’s wife and now his daughters, including Ilyasah, have worked to recast his image, who critics have said rejected non-violence as a strategy, in contrast with the approach championed by Martin Luther King Jr., the leader to whom Malcolm X is most often compared.

In an interview with Reuters, Ilyasah said that her father’s message carries special resonance in 2015 and that he was not a man of violence.

“And now with so many injustices happening, with people saying — “Yes, black lives matter too”, we get to revisit, oh well here was this man who was actually reacting to the violence that was perpetrated against his people. He wasn’t a man of violence, by far, he was a man of integrity, a man of courage, impeccable integrity. A man of compassion and so brilliant that he offered to seek, he was searching for a solution to the human condition that would oppress and just mistreat people so badly, because he believed in the one-ness of humanity,” she said.

The complexity of Malcolm’s views has become more apparent in recent years as researchers revisit his speeches. Meanwhile, many young African-Americans continue to be inspired by him.

Sharisse “She-Salt” Ashford is a 28-year-old singer, songwriter and a self-described black activist living in New York. She recited a poem at the commemoration ceremony and later spoke with Reuters.

“He (Malcolm X) said ‘So often times in life I learnt that if you want something, you had better make some noise.’ And so I think many of the activists, from ‘Black Lives Matter’ and just all across the world are making that noise, making that noise so that our voices are heard. So that people really begin to see our humanity. It’s very hard living in this country, when you have to work so hard for people to see your humanity. And I believe that was what Malcolm X was about. And I believe that’s exactly what the movements today are about as well,” Ashford said.

Kleaver Cruz, 26, also from New York, said that he admired what he termed as the X factor in Malcolm X’s ideology.

“One thing I like to think about Malcolm X is something that I call the X factor, which was his willingness to make mistakes and grow publicly and to be able to think out aloud about who he was and the direction that not only we were moving as a people, but also him personally. And I think that gives room for us, as young people to understand that one, we can band together in that way but to be honest about the context and the different realities that we’re existing in,” Cruz said.

Cruz added that he hoped more young African-Americans will remember and be inspired by the leader’s legacy.

Although Malcolm X lived with his family in the borough of Queens, many of the landmarks associated with his life are in Harlem, where he preached and lived for several years. Malcolm X Boulevard runs north to south through the heart of Harlem, long a center of black culture in America. The neighborhood is also home to the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque and the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem open-air market.