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The Gun That Killed: Malcolm X

On the 21st February 1965, Malcolm X, the leader of Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, was assassinated during a  Organization of Afro-American Unity meeting at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan.  

Malcolm X had been an civil rights activist and leader of the Black muslim community in New York since early 1950s becoming a prominent figure within the Nation of Islam. However, in March 1964 he left the Nation of Islam having become disillusioned with its leader Elijah Muhammad.  He converted to Sunni Islam and traveled throughout 1964, traveling to Mecca to complete his Hajj pilgrimage and on to a number of African countries and Britain.  

Having launched Muslim Mosque Inc., a rival to the Nation of Islam, and publicly criticised its leader Elijah Muhammad Malcolm X began receiving death threats with his home being destroyed in an firebombing attack on the 14th February 1965.  A week later he was to address a meeting of the Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom.  
The meeting was well attended with 400 people packing the hall.  Welcomes and introductory speeches were made then Malcolm X was introduced.  He stepped up to the podium greeting the audience with the traditional Muslim greeting ‘Salam Alaikum’.  As the audience responded a scuffle broke out several rows back to the centre-left of the room.  One eyewitness recalled that several chairs were knocked over and Malcolm X called on the commotion to “Cool it there!” moments later the first shots were fired. 

Life Magazine’s graphic spread covering the assassination of Malcolm X (source)

A man rushed forward towards the stage and fired a 12-gauge Sawn-off Shotgun hitting Malcolm X square in the chest.  Two other men then charged forward firing .45ACP and 9mm handguns.  Several others were wounded by gunfire before the attackers were set upon by the crowd.  Malcolm X had been hit over 20 times.

Three recovered '0’ buck shotgun shells (source)

The police autopsy reported that he had died from catastrophic damage to the heart and aorta.  Seven entry wounds were noted in his chest with a further 3 in his arms and four in his thighs and legs.  Six '0’ buck pellets, one .45ACP round and two 9mm rounds were removed from his body.  A photograph of the scene (see above) shows further bullet holes in the screen behind the stage.  No photographs of the actual weapons themselves are available.

Thomas Hagan/Talmadge Hayer was badly beaten by the crowd before being arrested by police (source)

Despite the efforts of those present Malcolm X’s wounds were too severe and on his arrival at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital he was pronounced dead at 3.30pm.  Three suspects were arrested at the scene: Thomas Hagan/ Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson. The three were members of the Nation of Islam but no direct link between the murder and the Nation was ever made.  During the trial Thomas Hagan confessed but all three were sentenced to life in prison.  Butler and Johnson were paroled in the 1980s while Hagan was released in 2010.   Malcolm X was buried on the 27th February, thousands paid their respects. 

Sources:

Image One Source
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  (NB. not the actual shotgun used)

Recalling The Assassination Of Malcolm X (source)

This article is part of the ‘The Gun That Killed…’ series, you can find earlier articles here