NEW YORK — Khalil Islam has always maintained his innocence in the
killing of black civil rights leader Malcolm X, despite a conviction
and 22 years in prison.
He said last Thursday — the 43rd anniversary of the assassination — that he should be cleared of the crime. Elsewhere, admirers of Malcolm X marked the occasion with a forum at the Audubon Ballroom, where he was gunned down on Feb. 21, 1965.
Islam told a gathering at a Harlem bookstore that he saw Malcolm X nearly every day on the streets of New York’s Harlem neighborhood, and if he had wanted to kill him, the opportunity was there.
“I need to be exonerated,” Islam, 73, told about 75 people at the Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe. “I had to walk 22 years in prison.”
Earlier Thursday, about 40 blocks north at the Audubon Ballroom, admirers marked the anniversary near an almost life-size statue of Malcolm X.
Former U.S. congresswoman Cynthia McKinney called for more details of the assassination investigation to be made public.
“We have to have the truth,” she said. “We must search for the truth.”
McKinney said she has pressed for the release of federal files that could shed light on what role the FBI’s COINTELPRO, or Counter Intelligence Program, might have played in the deaths of Malcolm X and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The FBI launched the program in 1956 and later used it against what it termed “black hate groups” and other activists, such as the Weathermen and the Socialist Workers Party. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s operation used fake documents and letters, infiltrators and informants against the Black Panthers as part of a plan to discredit and disrupt civil rights and anti-war groups.
James Small, a City University of New York professor on the panel, voiced his suspicions: “This was an outright government assassination.”
Malcolm X, a Nation of Islam member, split from the group about a year before his death. He was fatally shot while speaking after a disturbance broke out at the Audubon. Three former Nation of Islam members were convicted in the killing, but theories and murkiness surrounding it persist.
Islam was released from prison in 1987.
A video played at the bookstore showed a conversation between Islam and Abdullah H. Abdur Rassaq, a close friend of Malcolm X who does not believe Islam was responsible for the killing.
“This brother spent 22 years of his life in prison for something that happened in the Audubon Ballroom, and he wasn’t at the Audubon Ballroom,” Rassaq said.
The ballroom forum, aired on Sirius Satellite Radio, was organized by the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center and the Coalition on Political Assassinations. Malcolm X was also known as El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz; Betty Shabazz was his widow. She died from injuries sustained in a 1997 house fire.
The nonprofit center, which plans to open officially at the Audubon after it receives a certificate of occupancy from the city, honors the lives of Malcolm X and Shabazz by promoting civil and human rights.
Speakers at the forum included Baba Zak Kondo, who wrote the book “Unraveling the Assassination of Malcolm X,” and A. Peter Bailey, a charter member of the Organization of Afro American Unity, which Malcolm X founded soon after his 1964 pilgrimage to Mecca.