Malcolm X was one of the most influential figures in the civil rights movement in the country during the 1950s and early 1960s. Netflix’s ‘Blood Brothers: Malcolm X & Muhammad Ali’ chronicles his friendship with the iconic boxer and how their lives, in many ways, shaped the movement at the time. Malcolm’s wife, Betty Shabazz, was a constant presence in his life and became a civil rights advocate in her own right after his death. So, let’s find out more about Betty then, shall we?
Who Was Betty Shabazz?
Betty Shabazz was born Betty Dean Sanders in 1934 to a young, unmarried couple. She spent her early life in Detroit, and by the time she was about 11 years old, she was taken in by Lorenzo and Helen Malloy. The Malloys were an upper-middle-class family, and in their household, the discussion of race was not a common thing. Betty later went to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where she had her first real experience with Jim Crow-era racism, something that stayed with her.
Betty then moved to New York in 1953 to pursue becoming a nurse. There, she took up a colleague’s invitation to a Nation of Islam dinner party in Harlem, New York. This proved to be her first tryst with the group and how she met Malcolm X. She said of it later, “I really had a lot of pent-up anxiety about my experiences in the South, and Malcolm reassured me that it was understandable how I felt.” Soon, Betty converted to Islam and then married Malcolm in 1958. He proposed to her over a phone call, and they settled down in Queens, New York.
Malcolm, an important member of the Nation of Islam, was later suspended from the group in the early 1960s. The Nation of Islam at the time believed in separation and not in the integration of races, something which Malcolm started to disagree with over time. He became a Sunni Muslim and took up the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, thereby giving Betty her surname. Malcolm was assassinated in February 1965 at a ballroom in Manhattan, New York. Betty was present there, pregnant with their twins, who would be their fifth and sixth daughters.
After Malcolm’s death, Betty believed that Louis Farrakhan, Malcolm’s successor in the Nation of Islam, was involved with her husband’s assassination. Betty cared for their six daughters: Attallah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, Gamilah, and twins, Malikah and Malaak. She made some money from Malcolm’s autobiography and selling the rights to his movie. Later on, Betty acquired several college degrees and eventually worked in an administrative role at the Medgar Evers College in New York. She also fulfilled many speaking engagements, echoing some of Malcolm’s agenda and some of her own.
How Did Betty Shabazz Die?
When Betty’s daughter, Qubilah, was arrested in 1995 for conspiring to kill Louis Farrakhan, Betty took in her son, Malcolm. On June 1, 1997, the 12-year-old set fire to their apartment in Yonkers, New York. She had third-degree burns over 80% of her body and underwent multiple surgeries before succumbing to her death on June 23. The grandson later pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and second-degree arson. Betty was 61 years old at the time of her death. Her passing was met with a tremendous outpouring of grief, reiterating her importance in the civil rights movement.
Read More: Where is Ilyasah Al-Shabazz Now?