What Becomes a Legend Most?

Selling King's Papers; Reclaiming Malcolm X's

One of the trackers is Herb Boyd of The Black World Today and The Amsterdam News, who told a story dating to Malcolm's final days (I have added the dates). On February 13, 1965, Shabazz returned from London and an aborted trip to France, where authorities would not let him enter the country. Late that night the family home in Queens was firebombed, and yet within six hours Malcolm was at an event in Detroit, which Boyd attended. Boyd was stunned that Shabazz came, and remembered that his clothes smelled of smoke. He flew back home and the next day moved his family and remaining belongings out of the house.

X Files in Harlem

The story of another set of Malcolm X papers surfaced during the sale of a Harlem brownstone in March. Real estate broker Willie Kathryn Suggs told the Voice that in 1992, when she was showing a house for sale at 224 West 139th Street, she saw a group of boxes in the house. Looking closer, she saw Malcolm X's name on them.

"It was not our listing, so I ran outside to the house's broker," she said, "and he said, 'Yeah, this was Malcolm's house.' When asked what he was going to do with them, he said, 'Throw them out.' " She suggested calling the Schomburg or just rescuing them and he refused. " 'Nobody cares anymore,' he said. Of course, I had no legal right to do anything."

The house was sold to a New York City fireman, who later told Suggs a story about an unsuccessful attempt to return the boxes to Betty Shabazz. This year when he sold the house, Suggs represented him. At the March 4 closing, she found one last box. Inside were programs, dated two years after his death, that celebrated Malcolm X Day. They were imprinted with the name of a group he founded, the Organization of African American Unity, located at 224 West 139th Street. Suggs is returning the box to the Shabazz family. —T.D.

The Shabazz family took shelter with Thomas X Wallace, who had left the Nation of Islam when Malcolm did. On February 21, Malcolm X was killed. Three men associated with the NOI were arrested. Members of the NOI had been threatening Wallace, and had assaulted him once, so he may have removed Malcolm's papers from his home to protect them. And it is possible that at this juncture they were kept at the Hotel Theresa.

The Koran in the auction lot is one clue that the Butterfields material includes belongings that were moved after the firebombing. It is highly unlikely that days before his death Malcolm Shabazz would have replaced it. In any case, the papers were eventually returned to Betty Shabazz, and in 1999, according to Fleming, her daughters "thought they were safely stored where they should have been. It was not until the auction was announced that they became aware that the materials were not where they were supposed to be."

According to court documents, on May 17, 1999, Malikah Shabazz Brown rented locker #1614 at a Public Storage, Inc., facility at 1355 South Semoran Boulevard, in Casselberry, Florida, near Orlando. Brown took the materials to Florida, Fleming told the Voice, without the knowledge or consent of her sisters. Efforts by the Voice to reach Brown were unsuccessful. The date is intriguing because at that time Butterfields had set a May 27 date to sell a bloodstained, bullet-ridden diary that had been on Shabazz's person when he was killed. The New York Times reported on May 15, 1999, that the ownership of the diary was in dispute, that it appeared to have been stolen from an NYPD evidence envelope, and that Joseph Fleming was trying to block its sale. He succeeded and the family reclaimed the diary.

It's not clear how long Brown stayed in Florida, although a source close to Brown said it was only about two months. After that, she reportedly packed her belongings, picked up some boxes from a storage unit, and traveled back north.

By July 2001, the rent was approximately $600 in arrears, according to several sources. At that time, Public Storage seized the contents of the locker and arranged to put them up for sale on September 20. Under Florida law, according to Fleming, "a renter is to receive a 15-day notice between the first notification of impending sale and the sale date." But Brown's first notice was dated September 7, he said, which would have left only 13 days before the sale on September 20. On that day, the lot was sold to a man listed in court documents as James Calhoun. If the storage company's notification procedure turns out to have been faulty, then the sale of the Shabazz lot to Calhoun will be null and void. Fleming said that so far as he knows, Brown was not living in the state when the materials were seized by Public Storage or when they were sold.

Calhoun, a man who may have been adventurous enough to plunk down $600 for a lot of goods he knew nothing about, is still a mystery. It's more sensible to assume he was allowed to browse the goods before the auction or, more troublesome, that he was tipped off to their newsworthy provenance. Asked if he suspected that inside information did come to Calhoun, Fleming said, "I am suspicious about every element of this process."

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