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Betty Sanders

(born May 28, 1936,  Detroit, Mich., U.S.—died June 23, 1997, Yonkers Bronx, N.Y.)

American educator and civil rights activist, who is perhaps best known as the wife of slain black nationalist leader Malcolm X.

Dr. Shabazz was born Betty Dean Sanders to Ollie Mae Sanders and Shelman Sandlin. She was removed from her mother’s care after notice of abuse was being evident by the age of 11. She was raised in Detroit by adoptive parents Lorenzo and Helen Malloy. In a comfortable middle-class home and was very much active in the Methodist church. Upon high school graduation, she left Detroit to study elementary education at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama. There she experienced racism for the first time in her life, and after two years she left for New York City, where she became a registered nurse.

In 1956 Betty met Malcolm X at a Nation of Islam lecture in Harlem, and in 1958 she converted to Islam and married him. Malcolm X was a faithful devotee of the Nation of Islam and its leader Elijah Muhammad for years. However, when Malcolm learned that Elijah Muhammad had seduced and fathered children with several women in the black Muslims, he parted ways with the group in 1964 and ultimately became a follower of conventional Islam. This break from NOI led to Malcolm X and his family receiving death threats and having their home firebombed. On Feb. 21, 1965, Malcolm’s tormentors made good on their promise to end his life. As Malcolm X gave a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City that day, three members of the Nation of Islam shot him multiple times which rippled throughout his body. Betty Shabazz and her daughters witnessed the assassination. Shabazz used her nursing training to try to revive him but it was no avail. Malcolm X died at the age of 39 that very moment. The assassination of her husband (who by this time had changed their last name to Shabazz) in 1965 was witnessed by Shabazz, who was pregnant with twins at the time, and their four daughters. After his death, Shabazz dedicated herself to raising her children which was very hard for her and no one to help with all the finances and health care. She eventually supported her daughters through proceeds from sales of Alex Haley’s Autobiography of Malcolm X along with proceeds from the publication of her husband’s speeches. Shabazz also made a concerted effort to better herself. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Jersey City State College and a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts in 1975, teaching at Medgar Evers College before becoming an administrator. She also traveled widely and gave speeches about civil rights and race relations. Shabazz also befriended Coretta Scott King and Myrlie Evers, they became best of friends and supporters of each other these widows of civil rights leaders. In 1976 Shabazz began working at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, first as a professor, then as the director of its department of communications and public relations. She also lectured occasionally, addressing such topics as civil rights and racial tolerance. Shabazz died succumbing to the from severe burns of 80% of her body in a home fire set ALLEGEDLY by her 12-year-old grandson.

She was as strong woman of color with the perseverance to succeed and to overcome any mountain in her way. She had the faith of a mustard seed and a strong family. She loved her family. Today Dr. Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X are honored throughout the entire world. Her grandson is with her and her husband and they will be guiding the next generation with the other leaders.


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