Was the NYPD involved or did they merely know about the impending murder of Malcolm X and allow it to happen 50 years ago? Were some reporters, including famed scribe Jimmy Breslin, tipped off that something was about to go down?
The official story has been that Malcolm X was killed Feb. 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem because of a feud between him and his former allies in the Nation of Islam. Malcolm had a falling out with NOI leader and his former spiritual guide Elijah Muhammad, who he’d accused of fathering several children with teenage secretaries. The popular narrative was that Malcolm was killed by Muhammad loyalists after he was expelled from the NOI.
But many people, especially in the Black community, never believed that version of events as being the complete story. While there had been a clear rift between Malcolm and Muhammad, it was also a period when the FBI was conducting its Counter Intelligence Program, initially targeting suspected communists but later expanding it to disrupt groups such as the Black Panthers and other Black nationalist organizations.
Indeed, records revealed after Malcolm’s death show that the FBI had been actively monitoring him, as Malcolm’s files, available on the FBI’s website, confirm. Therefore, it isn’t beyond reason that the FBI, under the maniacal J. Edgar Hoover, could have played a role in the assassination by either fomenting, participating or at least turning a blind eye and allowing it to happen.
Could it be that the NYPD also came to know from the FBI, or from its own investigations, that Malcolm would be killed by opponents on that fateful February date? Could it be that the NYPD and the FBI worked together to allow Malcolm to be killed by not warning him or by not standing in the way? Could it be that both agencies even actively aided Malcolm’s killers? These intriguing questions came into sharp focus last week when Benjamin and I read the introduction of an upcoming book by Toby Rogers, “The Ganja Godfather: The Untold Story of NYC’s Weed Kingpin,” which chronicles the history of the mob in New York City.
In the book’s introduction, Rogers writes that when he interviewed Breslin 10 years ago on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, Breslin told him, “Well, I was supposed to receive a journalism award in Syracuse that evening, but I got a tip [from the NYPD] that I should go up to Harlem to see Malcolm X speak. I sat way in the back smoking a Pall Mall cigarette.”
Last Friday, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s murder, co-writer Benjamin and I interviewed Rogers separately about the assertion in his forthcoming book.
According to Rogers, after Malcolm was killed, Breslin, who at the time was a reporter for The New York Herald Tribune, wrote an article that initially reported the arrest of two suspects by police in the shooting. However, by the time the Herald Tribune’s second edition appeared, no reference was made of a second suspect. Three suspects were eventually tried and convicted of the killing of Malcolm X: Talmadge Hayer, Thomas Johnson and Norman Butler. However, Hayer was the only gunman officially arrested at the scene. Was there a second gunman? Perhaps a police informant who was later released?
In recent years, the mysterious gunman who reportedly disappeared was identified as William Bradley by the late Manning Marable in his 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.” Marable, citing his sources for the book, identified Bradley as the gunman who fired the fatal blast from a shotgun.
Bradley, who is now 76, denies being Malcolm’s killer. He now resides in Newark, N.J.
Another writer, Roland Sheppard, who was also present when Malcolm X was killed, wrote that he saw Bradley at the scene. Sheppard, whose articles are available on www.rolandsheppard.com, wrote that there was scant police presence outside the Audubon that day compared with when Malcolm had spoken at other events.
Weeks later, while he was being interviewed by police, Sheppard claimed he was shocked and even fearful when he ran into Bradley, who walked into his own office at the police precinct. Did this mean that someone affiliated with the NYPD, Bradley, actually carried out the assassination?
Last Friday, when I called Breslin’s Manhattan residence, I explained his wife, Ronnie Eldridge, the reason for my contacting him and she put him on the phone. “I don’t remember. I don’t remember,” Breslin said after I repeated the assertions in Rogers’ book.
Eldridge suggested that I follow up with an email detailing the questions. I did, once again using the quotes in Rogers’ book attributed to Breslin. Eldridge called me back and said, “He’s not questioning it, but he really doesn’t remember. We’re getting old. He’s 86. He really doesn’t have anything to add.”
Remarkably, Breslin didn’t deny or rule out Rogers’ claim that he may have been tipped off by the NYPD that something was going to happen at the Audubon. I also called the NYPD and was told to submit my questions in writing via email, which I did. There was no response.
Rodgers believes Breslin knows more. This is what he told Benjamin and me yesterday: “I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I’m willing to bet Breslin did know what was going to transpire that night as Malcolm walked across the stage of the Audubon Ballroom for the last time. When you combine the fact that Jimmy skipped the award show upstate and that he sat ‘way in the back’ of the ballroom, I find that quite telling. Do journalists normally try and steer clear of what they are covering? No. You try to get as close as you can to the action, unless, of course, you know that something is about to go off—a bomb, a shooting—then you stand ‘way in the back’ so you don’t get caught in the crossfire.”
Perhaps Breslin and other reporters who may have also been tipped off will eventually provide more answers to complete the remaining puzzles in the tragic assassination of Malcolm, one of the leading Black nationalist thinkers of the 20th century. They all owe it to his family for a more complete accounting of a tumultuous and painful period in U.S. history.