A former New York City police officer has, before his death, implicated the NYPD and FBI in the murder of civil rights leader Malcolm X on February 21, 1965.
A letter written by ex-undercover NYPD policeman Raymond Wood alleges his department and the FBI covered up details of the assassination, saying he was ordered to infiltrate the civil rights movement and had members of Malcolm X’s security detail arrested shortly before the killing.
On February 21, 1965, minister and civil rights activist Malcolm X, 39, was shot dead inside Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom in New York by assassins identified as members of the Nation of Islam. Three men were convicted of murder and imprisoned, and all were eventually paroled.
“I participated in actions that in hindsight were deplorable and detrimental to the advancement of my own Black people. My actions on behalf of the New York City Police Department were done under duress and fear,” said Reggie Wood, a relative who read Raymond’s letter aloud at a press conference on Saturday.
The letter said the arrests carried out in February 1965 by Wood meant Malcolm X did not have security at the entrance to the Audubon Ballroom where he was speaking that day.
It is unclear when Wood died, but he did not want the letter made public until after his death, saying he feared repercussions from authorities if he came forward with his allegations, according to Reggie Wood.
Ilyasah Shabazz, one of Malcolm X’s three daughters, said the new accusations should prompt further investigation.
“Any evidence that provides greater insight into the truth behind that terrible tragedy should be thoroughly investigated,” she said.
The NYPD said in a statement the Manhattan District Attorney initiated a review several months ago.
“The NYPD has provided all available records relevant to that case to the District Attorney. The department remains committed to assist with that review in any way,” it said.
The FBI did not issue a statement.
Malcolm X’s three daughters, alongside Wood’s family and civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, urged that the case be immediately re-opened.
“The question is, will they act to finally give restorative justice?” Crump said.
The director of communications for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office released a statement saying: “Our office’s review of this matter is active and ongoing.”
Three Nation of Islam members were convicted in Malcolm X’s murder but last year the Manhattan DA began a review of those convictions after meeting with representatives of the Innocence Project.
Every semester in which I teach a course on Muslims in the Civil Rights Movement at Southern Methodist University, I give my students a selection of quotes from both Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X and ask them to guess who said what. So for example, I will posit the following two quotes and ask for their proper ascription:
“Ignorance of each other is what has made unity impossible in the past. Therefore, we need enlightenment. We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity. Once we have more knowledge (light) about each other, we will stop condemning each other and a United front will be brought about.”
“The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.”
And every single time, they have been unable to identify the first quote as belonging to Malcolm, and the second to Martin. But it is not just a few students that have gotten it wrong. The American education system and most mainstream portrayals of Martin and Malcolm have been simplistic and sanitising.
Martin is the perfect hero who preached non-violence and love, and Malcolm the perfect villain who served as his violent counterpart, preaching hate and militancy. The result is not just a dishonest reading of history, but a dichotomy that allows for Dr King to be curated to make us more comfortable, and Malcolm X to be demonised as a demagogue from whom we must all flee. Reducing these men to such simplistic symbols allows us to filter political programmes according to how “King-like” they are. Hence, illegitimate forms of reconciliation are legitimised through King and legitimate forms of resistance are delegitimised through Malcolm X.