From what people remember, he fell like a tree. Malcolm X — all 6 feet, 4 inches of him — had taken a shotgun blast to the chest and a grouping of smaller-caliber bullets to the torso while onstage at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights on Feb. 21, 1965. After a ghastly moment of stasis, he careened backward. His head hit the floor with a crack.
A detail that witnesses often omit, in part because it seems more of an afterthought given the circumstances, is that Malcolm X never got to say what he’d gone to the Audubon Ballroom to say.
He’d arrived, by all accounts, grumpy — critical, irritable, hectoring. The week before, his Long Island home had been firebombed. The Nation of Islam, which owned the house, promptly evicted him from the cinders and, way down in the winter of 1965, his family was homeless. What’s more, Malcolm X, like the mythical Cassandra, sensed that death was near. He believed that his former brothers in the Nation were plotting to kill him. In the meantime, Malcolm X’s nascent organizations, called Muslim Mosque Incorporated and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, were too young to survive without him. And to add a rancid cherry to this rotten parfait, his guest speaker at the Audubon Ballroom had canceled.
Read more: Malcolm X’s Public Speaking Power | WNYC3