Malcolm X woke up on the morning of February 21, 1965 at the New York Hilton to a menacing voice over the phone: “Wake up, brother.” He was scheduled to speak later that afternoon at an OAAU rally along with guest speaker Reverend Milton Galamison. There were several oddities at the Audubon Ballroom that day, one of which was Malcolm’s request that morning that his wife and children attend the rally. Betty had been discouraged from engaging in either of Malcolm’s political groups since his return from Africa, and she was surprised at his late invitation. Malcolm also appeared hurried and agitated, lashing out at several of his staff as well as Sheikh Hassoun, a religious mentor he had met while abroad and employed as a spiritual teacher for the MMI. Finally, Malcolm had also ordered that his security not be armed or search people upon entering as they were accustomed to doing. Although members of the MMI were comfortable with such procedures from their time in the NOI, Malcolm feared that the more middle-class OAAU crowd would be put off by such personal encroachment.
As was customary, MMI member Benjamin 2X Karim opened the rally. “Few men will risk their lives for somebody else,” he said. Most would be “running away from death, even if they’re in the right” but Malcolm X was one who “cares nothing about the consequences [and] cares only for the people.” At 3 pm, Malcolm approached the stage briskly and sat before the crowd of four hundred, which included at least three undercover police officers. Karim quickly brought his address to a close and introduced Malcolm who began with the usual Muslim greeting “As-salaam alaikum.” A commotion then started several rows back with one man yelling “Get your hands out of my pockets.” A smoke bomb went off toward the back of the room, and a man in the front row stood and walked toward the stage. He pulled out a sawed-off shotgun and shot Malcolm at the rostrum in his side and chest. Two other men ran forward and fired shots from a Luger and a .45 and then ran up the rows of toppled chairs toward the main entrance. One of Malcolm’s guards, Reuben Francis, who had disobeyed orders by carrying arms, shot a fleeing man in the leg. The conspirator, Thomas Hagan, was pulled from a crowd beating him to death by a policeman outside. Meanwhile, a BOSS undercover agent, Gene Roberts, worked to resuscitate Malcolm on the stage while the crowd waited hopelessly for an ambulance to arrive. Eventually his supporters rushed him to nearby Columbia Presbyterian Hospital on a gurney where doctors worked for fifteen minutes to revive him. However, by 3:30 pm, a physician emerged and announced: “The gentleman you knew as Malcolm X is dead.”
In the following week there was a constant fear of retribution. Just nights after Malcolm’s assassination, Mosque No. 7 was burned to the ground after a firebomb was thrown through the fourth floor window. Elijah Muhammad was guarded by 24-hour security in his Chicago home and many of Malcolm’s close friends and followers went into hiding. The police had trouble prying any information from Hagan but had arrested two Mosque No. 7 members, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, by the first week of March. Both Butler and Johnson were wanted by New York law enforcement for their involvement in another murder in the Bronx, and Hagan was at first unwilling to clear their name. By the time he admitted that the two men were not involved, the court believed he was only sacrificing himself to secure acquittals for his accomplices. However, Hagan had not met either men before and the conspiracy involved not three, but five NOI members. Hagan would sign affidavits in 1977 and 1978 with new information on the four men who he had worked with, but the courts refused to retry the case. Butler and Johnson were both paroled in the mid-1980s and Hagan in March of 2010. As those in Harlem mourned the death of their charismatic leader, Malcolm’s brother Wilfred spoke that Sunday at Mosque No. 1 in Detroit where Malcolm had first joined the Nation. “No sense in getting emotional,” he told the assembly, “This is the kind of times we are living in. Once you are dead your troubles are over. It’s those living that’re in trouble.”