5. Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center – Death of an Icon


In 1965, the Malcolm X Center was still the Audubon Ballroom, owned by a Jewish Congregation and rented to Malcolm X’s group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), for weekly meetings. The Ballroom was already 50 years old at the time; built at the behest of William Fox (founder 20th century Fox), the architect flattered the producer by adding terracotta fox head sculptures to the pilasters between the windows.

Malcolm X had left the Nation of Islam in 1963 after personal differences with its leader, Elijah Muhammed. Friction between the Nation and the newly-formed OAAU was immediate and ongoing, and X faced threats and harassment by Nation of Islam members. The tragic finale came in 1965. Malcolm X had just got up to address the attendees at an OAAU meeting in the Audubon when a diversionary scuffle broke out in the front row.

“Now, brothers, be cool…” said Malcolm.

Three men pulled out their guns and shot him twenty-one times.

Three men were eventually charged for the murder, though whether they were the same three men who shot him has never been conclusively established. In the confusion after the shooting there was little in the way of definitive eye-witness reporting. The building is now part of Columbia University, who had begun demolition in 1992 but under pressure retained and restored the facade.

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