The fiery words of El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, known to the world as Malcolm X, inspired a generation of African Americans to shed the subservient demeanor demanded by slavery and embrace the power and solidarity that has historically defined us as a people.
Those fortunate enough to have witnessed Malcolm X speak often recall the transformative nature of his message and the sheer magnetism of the man himself. After his assassination in the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, New York, on February 21, 1965, the blood of a revolution spilled on the theater stage, and black people determined to keep his legacy alive created classes to dissect his work and movies to tell his story.
In the face of the mainstream media's blatant disregard for the impact Malcolm had on the American political landscape, it is especially disheartening to know that an internal family struggle could possibly keep manuscripts of the great leader, and his wife, Dr. Betty Shabazz, from ever surfacing.
Daughters of the iconic leader are battling in Westchester County Surrogate's Court for the rights to the estate left by their mother, after accusations of "irresponsibility, mental incapacity, and fiscal mismanagement of the estate" have shattered the family's already tumultuous relationship.
Though any will Dr. Shabazz may have left is feared lost in the rubble of the fatal fire set by her grandson, Malcolm, in 1997, the reported $1.4 million estate is a mere pittance compared to the earning potential of the extensive unpublished works, and the Shabazz children are determined to get their share.
Even if it is an embarrassment to their father's legacy.
Due to the ceaseless infighting, the New York Times reports that the sisters "all must sign off on any plan to sell and release the material, which includes four journals that Malcolm X kept during trips to Africa and the Middle East in 1964." Through Malikah Shabazz's attorney, she has accused her sisters, Ilyasah and Malaak Shabazz, executors of the estate, and their lawyer of misappropriating funds for their personal use and neglecting to pay the tax bill.
Dr. Shabazz "worked very hard to try to leave her daughters in a better position," attorney Lori Anne Douglass said. "They did not get their inheritance. This estate made money for years. What happened?"
The two sisters refuse to accept responsibility for their alleged deceit, and their attorney, L. Londell McMillan, accuses Douglass of "[poisoning] the well and attempted to prevent the matter from closing and Malikah from communicating and cooperating."
This battle has raged for almost a decade, first garnering media attention in 2002, after Malikah sold some of her father's possessions to a San Francisco auction house, Butterfields. She also fled to Florida with some of his letters, speeches and journals without permission, and after not paying a storage bill, Joseph Fleming, former attorney for Ilyasah and Malaak, claims the estate had to pay $300,000 to get the items back at auction.
According to the Times, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem paid more than $400,000 in 2003 to borrow the collection for 75 years, and the center is currently the only place where the works can be viewed.
The daughters of Malcolm X are not the first prominent family to haggle over the estate of their famous father. In 2008, Dr. Bernice King and Rev. Martin Luther King III took their brother, Dexter King, to court for allegedly mishandling their father's intellectual property and using the family's corporate funds for personal use. At issue was $32 million that the city of Atlanta paid for documents of the slain civil rights leader in 2006.
These are the direct descendants of Malcolm and Betty, Martin and Coretta, and one would think they would be more protective of our collective history - and each other. Instead, they choose to bicker over finances they didn't earn like stereotypical trust fund babies.
I shudder to think of the disappointment their parents would feel.
As the 46th anniversary of Malcolm's death approaches, egos and greed must be pushed aside. The Shabazz sisters owe it to the world, to themselves and (most importantly) to their parents to heal the wounds slowly destroying their family.
By any means necessary.
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