FEBRUARY 21, 1965

In this 1963 photo, civil rights leader Malcolm X speaks to reporters in Washington. Credit: Associated Press

Malcolm X, an African-American nationalist and Muslim leader, was assassinated as he began to address his newly formed Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City’s Washington Heights. He was 39 — the same age as Martin Luther King Jr. when he was killed. 

A week before his assassination, Malcolm X’s home was firebombed while he and his family slept. They managed to escape, standing outside in the 20-degree weather. “Had that fire gone through that window, it would have fallen on a 6-year-old girl, a 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old girl,” he told reporters. Asked if he was worried about his life, he replied, “I don’t worry, I’ll tell you. I’m a man who believed that I died 20 years ago, and I live like a man who is dead already. I have no fear whatsoever of anybody or anything.” 

As he walked to the podium, he declared, “Peace be unto you” in Arabic. When a commotion arose in the audience, Malcolm urged them to “be cool, be calm.” The disturbance distracted the bodyguards, and three men opened fire on Malcolm X, one of them with a sawed-off shotgun, hitting him with at least 16 bullets. His wife, Betty Shabazz, already pregnant with their twins, threw her body on her children. 

After the shooting stopped, she rushed the stage, screaming as she sank to her knees, “They killed him.” His legacy has continued to grow since his death. “Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression,” he once said. “Because power, real power, comes from our conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.”

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.