Betty Dean Sanders and also known as Betty X, was an American educator and civil rights advocate.
Betty Dean Sanders was born on May 28, 1934, to the teenaged Ollie Mae Sanders and Shelman Sandlin. While Betty spent most of her childhood in Detroit, she may have been born in Pinehurst, Georgia. At the age of 11, Betty began living with businessman Lorenzo Malloy and his wife, Helen. Helen Malloy was a local activist who organized boycotts of stores discriminating against African Americans.
After high school, Sanders studied at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The extreme racism she encountered in the Jim Crow South shocked and frustrated her. In 1953, she left Alabama to study at the Brooklyn State College School of Nursing in New York City. While less overt, the racism that she observed in New York deeply affected Betty.
NATION OF ISLAM
During her second year of nursing school, Sanders was invited by an older nurse’s aide to a dinner party at the National of Islam temple in Harlem. She enjoyed the evening but declined to join the organization at that time. During her next visit to the temple, Sanders met Malcolm X, who was her friend’s minister. Sanders began attending Malcolm X’s services. She converted in 1956, changing her surname to “X” to represent the loss of her African ancestry.
Betty X and Malcolm X were married on January 14, 1958, in Michigan. The couple eventually had six daughters. In 1964, Malcolm X announced that his family was leaving the Nation of Islam. He and Betty X, now known as Betty Shabazz, became Sunni Muslims.
ASSASSINATION OF MALCOLM X
On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated while giving a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. Shabazz was in the audience near the stage with her daughters. Angry onlookers caught and beat one of the assassins, who was arrested on the scene. Eyewitnesses identified two more suspects. All three men, who were members of the Nation of Islam, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Shabazz continued her volunteer activities. In 1975, President Ford invited her to serve on the American Revolution Bicentennial Council. Shabazz served on an advisory committee on family planning for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 1984, she hosted the New York convention of the National Council of Negro Women. Shabazz became active in the NAACP and the National Urban League When Nelson and Winnie Mandela visited Harlem during 1990, Shabazz was asked to introduce Winnie Mandela.
Shabazz befriended Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of Medgar Evers, and Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr. They had the common experience of losing their activist husbands at a young age and raising their children as single mothers. The press came to refer to the three, who made numerous joint public appearances, as the “Movement widows”. Evers-Williams and King were frequent guests at Medgar Evers College, and Shabazz occasionally visited the King Center in Atlanta
Shabazz never remarried. She raised her six daughters alone, aided by annual royalties from her husband’s book The Autobiography of Malcolm X and other publications. In late 1969, Shabazz completed an undergraduate degree at Jersey City State College, followed by a doctoral degree in higher-education administration at the University of Massachusetts. She then accepted a position as an associate professor of health sciences at New York’s Medgar Evers College. She worked as a university administrator and fund-raiser until her death.
For many years, Shabazz and her family suspected the Nation of Islam and its leader, Louis Farrakhan, of arranging the assassination of her husband.
In 1995, Shabazz’s daughter Qubilah was prosecuted for hiring an assassin to kill Farrakhan. Farrakhan reached out to the family to defend Qubilah, prompting a public reconciliation between Shabazz and Farrakhan.
While Qubilah attended a rehabilitation program, she sent her 10-year-old son, Malcolm, to stay with her mother in New York. On June 1, 1997, Malcolm set a fire in Shabazz’s apartment. Shabazz suffered severe burns and died on June 23, 1997. Malcolm Shabazz was sent to a juvenile detention for manslaughter and arson.
Betty Shabazz is buried beside her husband at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.
“Malcolm was a firm believer in the value and importance of our heritage. He believed that we have valuable and distinct cultural traditions which need to be institutionalized so that they can be passed on to our heirs.”
We can say ‘Peace on Earth,’ we can sing about it, preach about it or pray about it, but if we have not internalized the mythology to make it happen inside us, then it will not be.
I looked over and saw this man on the extreme right aisle sort of galloping to the podium. He was tall, he was thin, and the way he was galloping it looked as though he was going someplace much more important than the podium.