This week in history: Malcolm X assassinated

Malcolm X was shot Feb. 21, 1965. The Chicago Daily News devoted most of its front page to coverage of his death.

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Malcolm X

Portrait of human rights activist Malcolm X reading stories about himself in a pile of newspapers, circa 1963.

Photo by Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A look back on the coverage of the Malcolm X assassination as told by the Chicago Daily News, sister publications of the Chicago Sun-Times:

Malcolm X may not have been a Chicagoan, but given his ties to Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, which was based on the South Side, he passed through the city often enough.

The fiery speaker and activist was assassinated by several rival Black Muslim members in a crowded ballroom during an Organization of Afro-American Unity rally in New York City on Feb. 21, 1965. The next day, the Chicago Daily News devoted most of its front page to coverage of his death.

The paper tapped Milt Freudenheim, a staff writer and national correspondent for the Daily News who likely lived in New York City, to write the main story.

It’s not clear how many times Freudenheim interviewed Malcolm, but his article hints at more than one meeting.

In the year before his death, Malcolm's rhetoric shifted from a militant, anti-white stance to one more focused on Black empowerment and self-reliance, Freudenheim said, and he’d broken with the Nation of Islam. He claimed the Black Muslims tried to kill him in retaliation for denouncing Muhammad and his top lieutenants, “charging them by name with personal and sexual corruption in violation of their creed of austerity” in Black publications around the country.

Since leaving the Nation of Islam, Malcolm had traveled to Mecca, Freudenheim reported, and later befriended a former Egyptian foreign minister who taught the activist a more traditional version of the religion. This softened some of Malcolm’s rhetoric, but he kept his bodyguards — and famously appeared in the September 1964 issue of Ebony holding an M1 carbine to illustrate his defiance against his enemies.

Just a week before the assassination, Malcolm accused the Black Muslims of bombing his home using “oil-soaked rags and bottles” in Queens, New York, Freudenheim said. “They countered that Malcolm did it himself as a publicity stunt.”

Malcolm’s assassination, coming just two years after President John F. Kennedy’s high-profile killing, shocked Daily News readers.

Later that night after Malcolm X’s murder in the afternoon, Freudenheim headed out to Harlem himself where he counted “13 policemen in one block along 125th St. near the Theresa Hotel where Malcolm’s headquarters was in a converted beauty shop.”

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