On this day in Black History, eighteen years ago in 1997, Betty Shabazz, the widow of famed civil rights icon Malcolm X, died at the age of 61.
On June 1, 1997, young grandson Malcolm set a fire in Shabazz’s apartment. Mrs. Shabazz suffered burns over 80 percent of her body, and remained in intensive care for three weeks, at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. She underwent five skin-replacement operations as doctors struggled to replace damaged skin and save her life. Dr. Betty Shabazz died of her injuries on June 23, 1997. Malcolm Shabazz was sentenced to 18 months in juvenile detention for manslaughter and arson
Born Betty Dean Sanders and also known as Betty X, but she will always be remembered as Betty Shabazz wife of wife of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X). Mrs. Shabazz was an educator and civil rights advocate. She grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where her foster parents largely sheltered her from racism.
More than 2,000 mourners attended a memorial service for Shabazz, at New York’s Riverside Church. Many prominent leaders were present, including Coretta Scott King and Myrlie Evers-Williams, poet Maya Angelou, actor-activists Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, New York Governor George Pataki, and four New York City mayors—Abraham Beame, Ed Koch, David Dinkins, and Rudy Giuliani. U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman delivered a tribute from President Bill Clinton. In a statement released after Shabazz’s death, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said, “She never stopped giving and she never became cynical. She leaves today the legacy of one who epitomized hope and healing.”
Betty Shabazz’s funeral service was held at the Islamic Cultural Center in New York City. Her public viewing was at the Unity Funeral Home in Harlem, the same place where Malcolm X’s viewing had taken place 32 years earlier. She was buried next to her husband, at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York
Today BW celebrates the life and legacy of Betty Shabazz!