February 15, 2018 - Issue 729: The Day the Music Died: Malcolm X’s
Assassination, Feb. 21, 1965 By Roland Sheppard, BC Guest Commentator
February 15, 2018 - Issue 729
The Day the Music Died
Malcolm X’s Assassination
Feb. 21, 1965
By Roland Sheppard
"In that instant, as Malcolm died before my eyes, I
suddenly realized how big he was and I realized
that he was a giant in stature and in the world.
This vision of Malcolm X, being assassinated,
has haunted me ‘til this day."
(This commentary was first published by the San Francisco Bayview )
Malcolm X in 1964, flashing the infectious smile that drew people to him
the afternoon of Feb. 21, 1965, I went to the Audubon Ballroom to hear
Malcolm X speak. I also went to sell the newspaper, The Militant, a
radical newspaper that printed the truth about Malcolm X, published his
speeches and publicly defended him.
I got to the ballroom, things were radically different – there were no
cops. Normally, Malcolm’s meetings in Harlem were crawling with cops.
As I was selling papers, Malcolm X approached the Audubon Ballroom. I
offered to sell him the latest issue, but he told me, “Not today,
Roland. I am alone and in a hurry.”
while later as I entered the meeting room, again I did not see any
cops. I went in to sit down where I normally sat along with the rest of
the press in the front and the left side of the room. On the way to my
seat, Gene Roberts, who later surfaced as a police agent member of the
Black Panther Party, told me that I could not sit at my regular place
but that on that day I had to sit in the front row on the right side of
the hall, facing the stage.
I sat down, I glanced over to where I normally sat and saw a large
Black man with a navy blue-gray trench coat. When the meeting started,
all was quiet as the crowd listened to Benjamin X introducing Malcolm X.
Malcolm approached the podium, he gave the normal Muslim greeting for
peace. At that point a disturbance occurred in the room. Two men were
standing about halfway back in the room and to the right of Malcolm on
stage. One was shouting, “Get your hand out of my pocket!”
was trying to calm things down, when the men — one later identified as
Talmadge Hayer — started running down the right aisle shouting and
firing a pistol at Malcolm and ran out the exit doors by the stage, to
the right of Malcolm X
I heard gunshots fired from all over the place, and I instinctively hit
the floor. When I looked up, I saw Malcolm X standing up and glaring
down at one of his assassins. At that point, from the corner of my eye,
nearby to my left, I saw a flash from a gun as I watched Malcolm X fall
down and back about 10 feet.
that instant, as Malcolm died before my eyes, I suddenly realized how
big he was and I realized that he was a giant in stature and in the
world. This vision of Malcolm X, being assassinated, has haunted me
‘til this day.
fatal blast, which I later found out to be from a shotgun, came from
the area where I had seen the large Black man with a navy blue-gray
trench coat! When I left the hall, Malcolm’s bodyguards told me that
they had caught two of the assassins, one who was shot – Talmadge Hayer
– and one whom the police took away.
few weeks later, when I was questioned in the Harlem police station, I
was shown a series of photos of people whom I recognized as members of
the Nation of Islam or Malcolm’s organization. I also saw a picture of
the large Black man with a navy blue-gray trench coat that I had seen
at the Audubon Ballroom.
was thinking of how to respond to the cops and how to say that I did
not recognize the photos of Malcolm’s friends and supporters and the
members of the Nation of Islam. I then told the cops that I had to go
to the rest room.
I got to the men’s room door, I saw the same large Black man coming out
of the men’s room that I had seen in the Audubon Ballroom and in the
photos that had just been shown to me. Then he walked by me, past the
desks of the secretarial pool, and went to his office inside the police
that point I knew that he and the government either killed Malcolm X or
were part of the assassination plot. I became very nervous thinking
about what I was going to say to the cops when I got back and how I was
going to get out of the station alive.
then came up with, “I cannot recognize anyone, for all Black people
look the same.” The cops nodded in agreement and we were allowed to
leave the police station.
X was one of my heroes. He was the most honest mass leader that I have
ever known or seen. He was a great orator and his speeches seemed like
a conversation between himself and the audience.
speeches were like music to my ears and have inspired me for the rest
of my life in the fight for social justice. He was so human in his
orations. I still remember him when he made the “Harlem Hate Gang Scare”
speech at the Militant Labor Forum on May 29, 1964, and other speeches
in which he chuckled a “heh heh” when he was about to make a special
that forum, he said: “It’s impossible for a chicken to produce a duck
egg … The system of this country cannot produce freedom for an
Afro-American. It is impossible for this system, this economic system,
this political system, this social system, this system period. It is
impossible for it, as it now stands, to produce freedom right now for
the Black man in this country — it is impossible. And if ever a chicken
did produce a duck egg (heh heh), I’m certain you would say it was a
revolutionary chicken (heh heh).”
he and Martin Luther King had come to similar positions about
capitalism and the Vietnam War at the time of their death. That is why
this government assassinated them. No one has followed in their
the point of view of this government, the world leader in political
assassinations, the two assassinations worked. For to this day, no mass
leader has had the courage to pick up where they left off. They were
able to silence the art, science and truth of these two great orators.
To me, Feb. 21 is “the day the music died.” It was the saddest day of
that article is the picture shown here of William Bradley, who is the
man that I had seen in the Audubon Ballroom and in the photos that the
Harlem police showed me while I was being interrogated. Bradley was the
man I saw coming out of the men’s room, walking by me, past the desks
of the secretarial pool, and into his office inside the police station,
as I was going to the men’s room!
I wrote in my original 2009 essay (above): “At that point I knew that
he and the government either killed Malcolm X or were part of the
assassination plot.” And now I know his name.William
Bradley is the man that Talmadge Hayer identified as the one who shot
the shotgun. Zak Kondo also identified William Bradley as the assassin
with the shotgun.
his article, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad states: “Although his name has been
in the public domain now for well over three decades, ever since 1977
when Hayer filed his affidavit with famed lawyer William Kuntsler
naming his accomplishes, nevertheless a face has never been attached to
the name. Historian and member of the committee researching this story
Zak Kondo published a marvelous book two decades ago on the
assassination of Malcolm X, wherein he explored quite a bit of
biographical material on the five assassins. Spike Lee even named the
five killers in the credits of his movie. But in all of these years
none of them, including ‘Willie’ Bradley, has ever filed a libel suit.
And for good reason – they would lose.”
new improved video, “The Hunt for William Bradley,” by Karl Evanzz in
association of Shabazz Productions, identifies the man rescued from the
crowd by the police as William Bradley. The video is contained in a
collection of clips titled “Naked Lies: The Continuous War Against
Malcolm X.” Shabazz Productions had previously produced: Omar Shabazz “Inside Job: Betrayal of the Black Messiah."
Guest Commentator, Roland Sheppard is a writer and activist and former
BA of the Painters Union in San Francisco. Email him at [email protected] and visit his website, rolandsheppard.com.