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Farrakhan helped build climate for Malcolm X's death, historian says

STANFORD -- The daughter of Malcolm X, who was charged Jan. 12 with trying to hire a hit man to kill Louis Farrakhan, minister of the Nation of Islam, came from a family that "resented Farrakhan and had good reason to because he was one of those in the Nation responsible for the climate of vilification that resulted in Malcolm X's assassination," Stanford historian Clayborne Carson said Friday, Jan. 13.

Carson, the author of the 1991 book Malcolm X: The FBI File, as well as other histories of the civil rights era, said the growing respect given to Farrakhan by some African Americans may have prompted members of Malcolm X's family within the last year to begin publicly accusing the Muslim minister of involvement in Malcolm's 1965 murder, Carson said.

On Jan. 12, federal authorities in Minneapolis arrested Quibilah Bahiya Shabazz for allegedly trying to hire a hit man to kill her father's former disciple-turned-rival. Her court-appointed public defender, Scott Tilsen, told reporters she had been "set up" by authorities and a childhood friend, the man who was supposed to assassinate Farrakhan. Shabazz was 4 years old when she watched her father die in a hail of gunfire in a Harlem ballroom.

Carson said he did not know Quibilah Shabazz personally but "I understand that the family has been upset that no one has really called Farrakhan to account for his responsibility" in Malcolm X's death.

Farrakhan "has become respected in large segments of the black community, and you even have the irony of him being invited to speak at Malcolm X commemoration events."

"But that's not to say that the family would take matters into their own hands,” Carson said. "You never know what the government might have had hanging over [the informant's] head. He may have entrapped her, knowing how much she resented Louis Farrakhan. After all, as a little girl, she had witnessed the assassination of her father."

Carson said that "for many young people, Louis Farrakhan is the modern-day Malcolm X, and many of his followers are incapable of distinguishing what he is saying now from what Malcolm X said after he left the Nation of Islam. That may be partly because Spike Lee's recent movie on Malcolm X did not focus on his political differences with the Nation of Islam and its then leader, Elijah Muhammad.”

During the last year of his life and after breaking with the Nation of Islam, "Malcolm was moving from militant rhetoric to militant politics," Carson said. "Muhammad did not want followers to vote or participate in politics in other ways, such as marching in civil rights demonstrations..

Malcolm X recruited Louis Farrakhan into the Nation of Islam in the 1950s, Carson said, and Farrakhan, then known as Louis X, was a protégé of Malcolm's until Malcolm broke with Muhammad. In the Muslim newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, Farrakhan condemned Malcolm for his efforts to establish ties with civil rights groups. He wrote also that "the die is set, and Malcolm shall not escape, especially after such evil foolish talk about his benefactor, Elijah Muhammad. Such a man as Malcolm is worthy of death."

"I think Malcolm himself knew that his former colleagues wanted to see him dead," Carson said. "The question is not whether they wanted to see him dead, but whether they actually ordered the assassination. Within the context of the Nation of Islam, there was no need to do it. If you label somebody as an enemy of your religion, then the strongest believers are going to believe that is an invitation to take matters into their own hands. It didn't have to come down as an order. Farrakhan would not have had to order the assassination. All he had to do was identify Malcolm as a traitor."

The Nation of Islam no longer totally rejects political involvement, he said, but the group is far from the political direction of Malcolm's final year. "When you strip away anti-white invective, what you really have from Farrakhan today is just an updating of Booker T. Washington. There is nothing that would not fit in with the Republican Party platform. It's pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps. He's considered a militant, because he says things that become controversial, but his program is anything but radical."

Carson, professor of history, is also the editor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project. Volume II of King's papers, Rediscovering Precious Values, was published in November by the University of California Press. The first volume covers King's youth and the second covers his graduate school years and his first year as a minister.



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