News & Politics

Burying Malcolm X


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March 4, 1965, Vol. X, No. 20

Burying Malcolm X

By Marlene Nadle

It was a strange funeral on Saturday. At Faith Temple, Church of God in Christ, the altar was decorated with policemen. In a bronze coffin El-Hajj Malik Shabazz, wrapped in the white linen of Moslem ritual, rested beneath two giant murals of Jesus Christ.

The funeral of the man known as Malcolm X was a blend of Islamic faith and Christian custom. The priest wore the brown robes and white turban of the Middle East; the widow the black veiling and clothes of western tradition. Flowers are not part of a Moslem’s funeral. Yet Betty Shabazz sent flowers to her husband. Embossed on the five-by-two-foot bank of red carnations was the Star and Crescent of Islam.

Death for a Moslem is supposed to be a private matter. There is not supposed to be any public exhibition of the body, which must not be kept from the grave beyond two sunsets. Yet they kept Malcolm’s body for a full week, and 30,000 people visited Unity Funeral Home and another 3000 came to the church trying to hold onto the part of them that had died.

For Malcolm had been the spokesman for that part of all blacks that is in constant rage at their life in the land of the rich and the home of the righteous.

Eulogies for Malcolm were heard on every corner of Harlem. But the ones delivered at the funeral were out of order. Nothing is supposed to be done during an Islamic service to create emotion or a sense of bereavement. Nothing had to be done. Even before the service began, a strapping young man sat with his hand over his eyes feigning sleep to hide his tears. An old woman wearing a white crocheted scarf over a jockey cap sat with her mittens clutched in hands wrinkled and worn with scrubbing other people’s floors. Asked what she thought of Malcolm, she said, “I love him.”

At the front of the church Ossie Davis, in a voice that kept cracking, began the first part of the service. “Malcolm was our manhood,” he said. And the people in the pews shouted, “That’s right!”

“They will tell us to write him out of history. They will ask what Harlem finds to honor. And we will smile.

“They will tell us he was a fanatic. And we will ask, ‘Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm?’

“They will tell us that he was full of hate. And we will say, ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone’.”

The people in the pews shouted, “That’s right!”

…Close friends and Malcolm’s half-sister filed past the coffin. They struggled to maintain their dignity and restraint required by the occasion.

When Betty Shabazz, pregnant with her fifth child, stood before her husband, she bit her lip in a fight to control herself. Then she broke. Weeping, she pressed her lips against the glass shield that divided her from his body.

The crowd broke with her, and a moan went up. There was a shriek from a woman in the first row.

The coffin was carried down the left aisle. People reached out…

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Go here to see this article as it originally appeared in print.]


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