Malcolm X’s Wife – Betty Shabazz

Malcolm X's wife - Betty Shabazz

Betty Shabazz was a human rights activist and educator.

Betty Shabazz (also known as Betty Dean Sanders or Betty X) was the better half of Malcolm X. Shabazz was born on 28th May 1934.

She was brought up in Detroit, Michigan, in a foster home. Her real parents were Ollie Mae Sanders and Shelman Sandlin. After a series of abuses (probably from Ollie Mae), 11 year old Betty Shabazz was taken in by her foster parents Lorenzo and Helen Malloy. Betty’s fight against racial segregation often brought her, along with her family, face to face with several dangers.

However, none of those dangers dissuaded her from investing decades  of her life to train and educate young African Americans.  Below, we provide a brief biography about the life and story of Betty Shabazz- Malcolm X’s wife.

Foster Home and Early Education

Growing up, Betty had a very little encounter with racism as her foster parents shielded her from it. Her experience with the humiliating effects of racism came after high school, when she  moved to Alabama in order to gain an education degree at the Tuskegee Institute.

The racially segregated atmosphere in Alabama forced her to relocate to New York City to practice nursing. New York was not devoid of racism either; however,  it was a relatively much better place (race wise) than Alabama. In New York, she enrolled at the Brooklyn State College School of Nursing.

Betty Meets Malcom X

During her stay in New York,  she met her sweetheart, Malcolm X. Betty and Malcolm X became great friends and soon it blossomed into a marriage.  Betty and Malcolm got married on January 14, 1958.

As a certified nurse, Betty Shabazz soon learned that African American nurses were maltreated as compared to their white counterparts. By 1956, Betty Shabazz had identified herself with the activities of the Nation of Islam (NOI). Two years later, she and Malcolm X tied the knot. In 1964, the couple departed from the radical Islamic group- Nation of Islam. The couple became Sunni Muslims.

Betty Shabazz with Malcolm X

Betty Shabazz with her husband, Malcolm X.

Period of Mourning

In February 1965, Betty was with Malcolm when a violent group of people opened fire on him. Malcolm X fatally passed away that very day. Her husband was about to address a crowd of 400 people at the OAAU (The Organization of Afro-American Unity) at the Audubon Ballroom, Manhattan. Investigations and autopsy results revealed that he was shot 16 times by three assailants from the Nation of Islam. For their heinous crimes, the three perpetrators got life sentences in prison.

Betty was highly devastated by the passing of her husband and experienced nightmares after his death. Malcolm’s death resulted in a huge economic burden for Betty, now a single mom. She was left all by herself to cater to the needs of their six daughters: Attallah , Qubilah , Ilyasah , Gamila Lumumba, Malaak and Malikah. In early spring, 1965, Betty Shabazz  went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Hajj experience helped her to quickly recover from her mourning.

Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X, speaking to the press, after identifying the body of her husband.

Single Motherhood and her Professional Career

She prepared to meet the growing demands of her family by gaining a higher education; she obtained a master’s degree in health administration and a doctorate degree in Education from New Jersey City University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst respectively.

After securing her advanced degrees, Betty Shabazz was appointed an associate professor of health sciences at Medgar Evers College in New York in 1976. Four years later, she was  made the Director of Institutional Advancement at the university.

In 1975, Betty Shabazz got presidential appointments to work on the American Revolution Council, among other leadership achievements. She also worked with the U.S. Health Department.

She became friends with Coretta Scott (wife of Martin Luther King) and Mrlie Evers-Williams (the wife of Medgar Evers). Together, these three widows worked together on many great projects.

When one of her daughters, Qubilah Shabazz, got into trouble with the law, for trying to avenge her father’s death by plotting to kill Louis Farrakhan, Betty Shabazz took care of Qubilah’s son Malcolm, who was 10 years old at the time. Louis Farrakhan was a man who publicly called for harm on her husband, X.

Betty Shabazz who had always found it impossible to forgive Louis Farrakhan for the harsh words he earlier had for her late husband.  In the end, they both put their differences aside; Farrakhan even helped Shabazz to raise funds in supporting her daughter’s legal battle over charges involving a malicious intention to kill him.

How Betty Shabazz Died

After an illustrious career and struggles with Malcom X, Betty Shabazz died on June 23, 1997. Her 12-year-old grandson, Malcolm, set fire to her apartment making her suffer severe burns. She died after spending three weeks in a New York Hospital.

The young perpetrator (Malcolm) was kept in a child detention center for 18 months. He was charged for arson and manslaughter.

Betty Shabazz was buried close to her husband’s grave at Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York. High profile personalities including Luther King’s widow, Coretta Scott,  graced her funeral ceremony.

With so many accomplishments, Betty Shabazz’s memory is preserved in memorials across the United States. Famous among them has to be Columbia University’s Malcom X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center.

Frequently asked questions about Betty Shabazz

Frequently asked questions about Betty Shabazz

These questions and answers provide a concise overview of the life story of Betty Shabazz:

When and where was Betty born?

She was born as Betty Dean Sanders on May 28, 1934, in Pinehurst, Georgia.

How did she meet Malcolm X?

Betty met Malcolm X in 1956 at a dinner at the Nation of Islam temple in Harlem, where he was the minister. She later joined the Nation of Islam and changed her surname to “X”, a practice among Nation members to signify the loss of their African ancestral surnames.

Did they have children?

Yes, Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz had six daughters: Attallah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, Gamilah, Malikah, and Malaak.

How did she cope after the assassination of her husband?

After Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965, Betty Shabazz faced numerous challenges, raising her six daughters as a single mother. She went back to school and earned a Ph.D. in education administration. She later became an associate professor of health sciences at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York.

What were her contributions to civil rights and community work?

Beyond being a key figure in preserving the legacy of Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz was deeply involved in civil rights advocacy and community work. She often participated in events and initiatives that promoted racial equality and social justice.

When and how did she pass away?

Betty died on June 23, 1997, due to burns sustained in a fire set by her grandson in her Yonkers apartment. She was 63 years old.

How did she feel about the Nation of Islam after Malcolm X’s death?

After the assassination of Malcolm X, relations between Betty Shabazz and the Nation of Islam were strained, as she believed that leaders within the Nation had a role in her husband’s death. Over time, however, tensions eased, especially after the leadership of Louis Farrakhan made public reconciliations with the Shabazz family.

What is her educational background?

Betty earned a nursing degree from the Brooklyn State College School of Nursing. She later earned a master’s degree in public health administration from Jersey City State College and a Ph.D. in education administration from the University of Massachusetts.

How is she remembered today?

Betty Shabazz is remembered as a pillar of strength, resilience, and dignity. She is celebrated for her unwavering commitment to her family, her dedication to education, and her contributions to civil rights and social justice.

Here is a footage of the late Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s wife:

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