Early on the morning of February 14, 1965, several Molotov cocktails were thrown into the first floor of Malcolm X’s home where his pregnant wife and four daughters slept. Malcolm had fallen asleep in his study while preparing for his address in Detroit later that day and he rushed to help them escape the flames. The family watched in the bitter cold as their house burned and Malcolm and Betty decided to take the children to stay in hiding with family friend Thomas Wallace, brother of actress Ruby Dee. Much to his wife’s chagrin, Malcolm insisted that he would honor his speaking commitment in Michigan. Less than seven hours after ushering his family out of a burning home, Malcolm arrived in Detroit and checked into the Statler Hilton Hotel. His clothing reeked of smoke and he had not slept; friends worried and gave him a sedative but he was woken after a brief nap for an interview that afternoon.
That night Malcolm gave the keynote address at the Ford Auditorium at an awards ceremony sponsored by the Afro-American Broadcasting and Recording Company. Recognized at the event were Sidney Poiter, Marian Anderson and Jackie Gleason. Malcolm had been invited by his friend Milton Henry, who was a leader of the Freedom Now Party, and he gave a speech which mirrored those of his recent visit to Europe. His address again revealed the budding influence of cultural nationalism and he stressed the need for connections both culturally and politically with post-colonial Africa. Also, despite the likelihood that the NOI had just recently made an attempt on his life and endangered his family, he cast the organization in a favorable light: “[The NOI] made the whole civil rights movement become more militant, and more acceptable to the white power structure … We forced many of the civil rights leaders to be even more militant than they intended.”
While Malcolm spoke in Detroit, however, New York was rife with rumors about the source and intent of the firebombing. The NOI claimed that they would not have bombed a house that they were scheduled to repossess; they even boldly showed up at the property to assess the damages. Meanwhile, a bottle of gasoline had been found on one of the children’s dressers and insinuations were made that Malcolm had set the fire himself in a spiteful attempt to destroy the Nation’s property. For Malcolm, the entire scenario must have recalled painful memories from his childhood in Lansing. Like his father, Malcolm faced accusations of arson to his own home in the midst of an eviction battle. The primary difference, which he was quick to lament, was that unlike the Lansing fire which had surely been set by local whites, the firebombing was the work of his former mosque membership. Anticipating the tragedy of the following week, he stated: “The only thing I regret is that two black groups have to fight and kill each other off.”