The attack occurred just one week before he would be assassinated

A week before his death, Malcolm X’s Queens, New York, home was firebombed in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 1965. Though blame has been pinned on the Nation of Islam, whom Malcolm X had famously separated from, the actual identity of the attacker has never been certain. There is evidence to suggest that whoever firebombed the house was also the same group behind Malcolm X’s eventual assassination one week later in Harlem.

Here is the original report from The New York Times, followed by researcher Karl Evanzz's take on what really happened.


Wife and 4 Daughters Also Escape as Flames Sweep Brick House in Queens

By M.S. Handler (New York)

" Malcolm X, the controversial Black Nationalist leader, and his family escaped injury early yesterday when a firebomb attack wrecked the small brick house in which they lived in East Elmhurst, Queens.

Two, or possibly three, bottles of gasoline with fuses were hurled through the windows of the living room. They exploded and set fire to the house, at 23-11 97th Street.

Malcolm X had returned from a visit to France and England Saturday afternoon. He and his wife and four daughters were sleeping in bedrooms down a hall about 10 feet from the living room. The Molotov Cocktails crashed through the windows and exploded at about 2:45 a.m.

Malcolm X said he was awakened by the first explosion. He rushed his wife and children through the kitchen food into a small paved areaway behind the house and out of the range of the fire.

The blaze was quickly extinguished by the Fire Department, which together with the Police Department bomb squad, opened an investigation. In the absence of firm clues, it was assumed that the firebombs were thrown from a passing automobile.

The house has been the subject of prolonged controversy between Malcolm X and the Chicago-based Black Muslim movement, of which he is the former New York representative. The Black Muslims hold title to the house. They demanded Malcolm vacate it when he broke with them to found his own organization.

A civil court ruling gave Malcolm until Jan. 31 to vacate, but he appealed for a stay. A decision on the appeal is scheduled for today.

Malcolm’s wife Betty, and his daughters--Attilah. 6; Qubilah 4; Ilyasah, 2; and 5-month-old Gamilah--were given shelter by neighbors yesterday. Later Malcolm and his wife returned to collect the few personal possessions that survived the fire. Then the Black Nationalist left for Detroit to keep a speaking engagement.

In a telephone interview, Malcolm said in Detroit that the attack could have come from several quarters--supporters of the Black Muslims or of the Ku Klux Klan, which he has been attacking in the South, or related groups. Malcolm recently visited Selma, where he attacked the Klan and other groups.

Malcolm said that he and his wife had been receiving anonymous telephoned threats daily for some time.

He said that he was awakened yesterday by an explosion and that, as best as could remember, there were two or possible three detonations.

The house is a modest one. It consists of a small living room, a dining room, two tiny bedrooms, a former utility room used for the baby’s crib, a bathroom and kitchen. There is a small room under the gabled roof. There is also a small garage behind the areaway.

Malcolm was the center of incidents in France and Britain before returning to New York last Saturday. The French immigration police refused him permission to land at the Paris airfield and sent him back to England.

In Britain, he was taken on a tour of Smethwick, an area that has had racial problems by the British Broadcasting Corporation. The B.B.C. was criticized by some for the tour."

The following excerpt appears in Karl Evanzz’s The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X (Basic Books, 1993; 291-292):

“ ... the New York Times reported that police had allegedly discovered an unlit Molotov Cocktail on a dresser in Malcolm X’s home. Arson investigators tried to give reporters the impression that Malcolm X might have started the fire, and had inadvertently left a Molotov Cocktail on a dresser. Malcolm X was understandably incensed. His wife had discovered the ‘whiskey bottle containing gasoline on a dresser,’ Malcolm X said disgustedly. She was the one who pointed it out to firemen, not vice versa.

‘We knew it didn’t belong there,’ he said, science they didn’t drink alcoholic beverages and would not have had ‘whiskey in our home.’

James 3X Shabazz, minister of the Harlem mosque, seconded the implied theory of the arson investigators. ‘Malcolm X might have firebombed the home” James 3X said before television cameras, in order ‘to get publicity.’

A few hours later, a black New York City fireman met secretly with Malcolm X and told him that several firefighters had seen ‘a man wearing a police uniform’ take the bottle of gasoline into the house after the bombing.

‘When they planted the gasoline, I knew it was no longer the Muslims,’ Ella Collins said. ‘Only police could have planted it, because as the fire died down the neighbors went into the house to get some clothes for the children from their rooms, some things that hadn’t burned. And none of them saw this jug of gasoline when they took things from the baby’s dresser. And then the police squad arrived and took over the house, and they produced the gasoline.’

Betty Shabazz concurs. ‘Only someone in the uniform of a fireman or policeman could have planted the bottle of gasoline on my baby’s dresser,’ she said. ‘It was to make it appear as if we had bombed our own home.’"

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his 1967 "Beyond Vietnam" speech at Riverside Church in New York City.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his 1967 "Beyond Vietnam" speech at Riverside Church in New York City.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968, a Harris Poll found he had a public disapproval rating of almost 75%. Now, on this national holiday to commemorate the civil rights leader's birthday, it's easy to focus on King's easily palatable quotes that preach unity and understanding. While this was a part of his platform, his more radical ideas are often ignored todaythe very same ideas that made him unpopular at the time and which many believe led to his assassination. In the last years of his life, King brought what we might now call "intersectionality" to the Civil Rights movement. He argued that racism, economic inequality, and militarism were linked, and that these "evil triplets" had poisoned the soul of the country. As an antidote, he supported unions, reparations, universal income, a jobs guarantee, and a Poor People's Campaign that cut across racial lines and was gearing up to occupy Washington at the time of his death. Perhaps most boldly of all, he publicly defied President Lyndon Johnson, his sometime ally in the civil rights movement. In a speech given at the Riverside Church in New York a year to the day before he was killed, Dr. King came out forcefully against the war in Vietnam, which he saw as the convergence of all the grotesque hypocrisies that sickened America: "We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor ... For those who ask the question, 'Aren’t you a civil rights leader?' and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: 'To save the soul of America.' We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself unless the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way, we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier: 'O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath— America will be!' ... To me, the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men—for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them?" On this MLK day, let's remember the "radical" King, the one who dared to join black, white, and brown together in common cause against tyrannies and injustices that affected them all.

This Christmas, we're looking back on the sermon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave on Christmas Eve more than 50 years ago. Delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, the speech asks us to reflect on the true meaning of "peace on earth, goodwill towards men."

"This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and goodwill toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have goodwill toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power."

Listen to the full speech here: