Malcolm X's Daughter Disputes Claims in New Bio on Father

A controversial new biography about Malcolm X makes some provocative assertions about the late civil rights leader's sexuality and the circumstances surrounding his death. Earlier this month, host Michel Martin spoke to one of the lead researchers of the book. Today, Martin gets another perspective from Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X's third daughter. They discuss her reflections on her father's life and the allegations in the new biography about him.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

You might have heard about a controversial new biography of Malcolm X, "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention" was written by prominent African-American scholar, Manning Marable, who died on April 1st just days before the book was released. The book has gotten a lot of attention, in part, because of that unfortunate circumstance. But also because the book makes some provocative assertions about the activist's life and death, including some assertions about his early years, speculations about his personal relationships and the circumstances of his murder.

Earlier this month I spoke to one of the lead researchers of the biography, Zaheer Ali. Today, another perspective on the life of Malcolm X from Ilyasah Shabazz, the third daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. Ms. Shabazz works with the Malcolm X Foundation in New York. She produces a nationwide outreach program called Wake Up Tour which is meant to empower young people to make good decisions about their lives. And she's the author of her own memoir, "Growing Up X: A Memoir by the Daughter of Malcolm X," which was published in 2002.

And Ms. Shabazz joins us now from our bureau in New York. Welcome to the program. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. ILYASAH SHABAZZ (Author, "Growing Up X: A Memoir by the Daughter of Malcolm X"): Thank you.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask, first of all, if you've read Manning Marable's new book and do you plan to?

Ms. SHABAZZ: I actually skimmed through it. I was really surprised that his research would be so limited and some of the accusations - actually, I guess I would call them speculations - that he didn't really have much evidence. And I think to put some of the things that he put in the book, without having some really good accurate evidence, was pretty surprising to me.

MARTIN: Did he interview or any of your sisters? There are six of you, I should mention.

Ms. SHABAZZ: There are six of us. And there are also a lot of brothers and sisters of my father's, and I would say - you know, it took Dr. Marable 20 years to do this book - and I would say in the last 20 years, they were probably all of them were alive. So, we were really surprised that he didn't just interview the family.

MARTIN: And he did not, to your knowledge? You know he didn't interview you and you know he didn't interview any of your sisters. But to your knowledge, you don't think he interviewed any of the surviving siblings.

Ms. SHABAZZ: Well, with these statements - with these things that he just recently added, I would imagine - added to the book, because during the time that he and I were pretty close, you know, he even gave me a testimonial for my book. So that was back in the early 2000s that I was spending time with him, he was telling me about the book. He was showing me, you know, all of his files. And at that time he never even mentioned any of this sensational stuff. You know, about my mother not being loyal to her husband, which is absolutely, you know, not the case - especially while she was married to him.

And even that my father would have time to have all of the - you know, to do all the things that Dr. Marable says. And actually he doesn't even say them, he just speculates.

MARTIN: I'm still a little confused. Did he interview you or not?

Ms. SHABAZZ: Did he interview me? You know, we've had many discussions. To my recollection, I don't remember him saying, let me interview you for my book. But he did talk about a lot of the things that he found in the book. And the reason that he thought my father was so important to ensure that he focused, you know, his energy on doing this biography.

MARTIN: So - but he never discussed your parent's interpersonal relations. Is that the part that most concerns you about what you've heard so far? You say you haven't read the book in its entirety. But is that the part that you take issue with the most?

Ms. SHABAZZ: Right. I think the things that I take issue with are the fact that he said my father engaged in a bisexual relationship, a homo - you know, he had a gay lover who was an elder white businessman, I think, in his late 50s when my father was in his teens. And, you know, my father was an open book. And we actually have four of the missing chapters from the autobiography. And, you know, he is very clear in his activities, which nothing included being gay.

And certainly he didn't have anything against gay - he was for human rights, human justice, you know. So if he had a gay encounter, he likely would've talked about it. And what he did talk about was someone else's encounter.

MARTIN: Do you feel that "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," which was written with the help of Alex Haley, is an accurate portrayal?

Ms. SHABAZZ: I think it's more accurate than the book that Dr. Marable wrote. But I think we should also consider that unfortunately the publishing house violated the agreement with my father after my father was killed. And so, you know, fortunately, we have the outline that my father put together and then a letter that Alex Haley wrote to the publisher saying, you know, hey, wait a minute, this is not the - a book that Malcolm agreed to.

MARTIN: You know what? Forgive me, and I completely credit your perspective on this, but it is also the case that children often don't know the complete details of their parents' lives because it's not really their business.

Ms. SHABAZZ: It's not their business.

MARTIN: Particularly their interpersonal relationships. So is it possible that perhaps Dr. Marable had access to information that you did not? Or that was just uncomfortable for you to explore because...

Ms. SHABAZZ: Not at all. I mean, listen, I have a lot of friends who are gay. I have, you know, I hate to say, but some of my best friends are gay. OK? So, if my father experienced persons of the same sex before he became the icon Malcolm X, you know, then that would be his experience. But he would've spoken about it. And I think because there were so many other allegations, especially that my mother cheated on him with his best friend when he was in Africa. If we even consider that the FBI looked for a very long time for something to get on my father, something to discredit or to tarnish his image, then certainly they would've found the information.

And even Dr. Marable puts in his book that the FBI files indicated that Malcolm was a saint. And so I'm just certain that our government would have certainly found information over Dr. Marable and even if my mother was not being faithful to her husband, which how could she not be faithful? She had so many babies. You know, my father in 1952, just in his 20s, my father became the chief spokesman for the Nation of Islam.

From 1952 to 1959, there were four temples. My father was responsible and credited for having maximized this membership. From four temples to 50 temples, there was so much work involved. And Dr. Marable claims that my mother was hurt that my father wasn't spending enough time with her. And so she sought comfort in another man's arms. She had four babies. And if we can only consider the social climate of 1955 to 1965, the height of the civil rights movement, my father was working. He was a very compassionate man. He married a woman who understood him.

And we even have the letter that he wrote back to Alex Haley that has been published in the autobiography where they specifically cut off the part about his love and his respect for his wife.

So, you know, if my father had these, you know, relationship with a man, if my mother had extramarital affairs, you know, I don't have a problem with accepting that my parents aren't perfect. They are human beings. But that is not the case and I think it's unfortunate that you would have scholarly men put this kind of stuff in a book for sensationalism. And if you read the book, it seemed that a lot of these allegations contradict the good things that he did.

MARTIN: Well, do you think, though, that same (unintelligible_ I mean, I have no desire to hector you on this point, the only point I would make similarly is that I don't think he's implying that in the book or saying in the book that your father had, you know, homosexual relationships. I think he's saying that he had a, you know, fraught relationship with an older, you know, man, that he described in the third person in "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," which was really him. He doesn't say that there was sex involved per se, but that this was kind of an old - do you see my point?

Ms. SHABAZZ: No, I don't. Because I don't think you're hearing my point.

MARTIN: Yeah, I am. No, I'm hearing you.

Ms. SHABAZZ: What I am saying is that the autobiography was tampered with after my father was killed.

MARTIN: I see.

Ms. SHABAZZ: And the blessing is that we have my father's manuscript. We have the contract that shows that not only did they violate their agreement, but that they didn't publish the book that my father thought was being published.

MARTIN: Why would Dr. Marable want to portray your parents in a negative light?

Ms. SHABAZZ: Michel, I have - you can't ask me that.

MARTIN: I don't know. But you knew him and I don't.

Ms. SHABAZZ: Michel, I do not say that I knew him. I said I spent time with him. I have no idea why he would do that. And if you want to continue to talk to me about this book, that's not what you said that this was going to be the focus.

MARTIN: No, no, I understand. I just - I was - I just didn't know what you were going to say.

Ms. SHABAZZ: So I can't sit here and answer those questions for you. I have no idea why Dr. Marable would want to do that. I know that there are many people that unfortunately, you know, they participate in things that are unconstitutional. They just participate in all kinds of, you know, distasteful things. And, you know, so I can't answer that question, especially because he's not here to defend himself. I have no idea. You would have to ask, you know, someone who participated. I can tell you that Zaheer Ali didn't know that these kinds of things were going to be in that book.

MARTIN: The only question I would have for you about this, and I do want to hear more about you and what you're doing and what is important to you right now is Dr. Marable makes the point in the book that at least some people who he believes were responsible for your father's death have never been brought to justice. Do you share that point of view and what do you think should happen now?

Ms. SHABAZZ: I cannot tell you, Michel, OK? Because right now I'm a little annoyed by this discussion because this is not what I agreed to. I can tell you that if they did not find out who killed my father, then most certainly this person in New Jersey, I can't even think of his name right now, Mustafa Shabazz, if he's one of the persons that pulled the trigger, then absolutely. I think he should be, you know, brought to justice.

MARTIN: We actually had planned to continue our conversation and to discuss other issues of interest with Ms. Shabazz about her life and current work, but she decided to end the interview. We confess that we are puzzled by that. We think we were clear that we wanted to speak about the book as well as about her life and current work. We would still like to have that conversation and we have extended another invitation by email.

Once again, that was Ilyasah Shabazz. She is the third daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. Ms. Shabazz works with the Malcolm X Foundation in New York. She produces a nationwide effort called Wake-Up Tour that is supposed to empower young people to make good decisions for their futures. And she is the author of "Growing Up X: A Memoir by the Daughter of Malcolm X" that was published in 2002. We hope she'll join us again.

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