Dr. Betty Shabazz, also known as Betty X, was born Betty Sanders on May 28, 1934, in Detroit, Michigan.

After graduating from Northern High School in Detroit, Shabazz enrolled in Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, her father’s alma mater, but the white supremacy on blatant display in the Deep South compelled her to move to Brooklyn, New York, where she attended the Brooklyn State School of Nursing and earned her R.N. degree.

Shabazz met a young Minister Malcolm X in 1956. In an ESSENCE Magazine interview, she recalled thinking, “My God, this man is totally malnourished. He needs some liver, some spinach, some beets and broccoli.”

The couple married in 1958, and would have six children together: Attallah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, Gamilah, Malikah and Malaak.

After Malcolm was assassinated on Feb. 21, 1965, Shabazz was left to raise their children on her own, while dealing with the immense grief of losing her husband and trying to protect his legacy.

Shabazz embraced her independence more fully, and soon became a leader in her own right, a mantle she never wanted but one she felt was required. In 1974, she became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and as the Baltimore Sun reports: “[Shabazz] earned her doctorate in 1975 and became an associate professor of health sciences at Medgar Evers College in 1976. Throughout her life, Shabazz was an active volunteer with the NAACP and the National Urban League. She also served on an advisory committee on family planning for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”

Betty Shabbaz died in June 1997 from severe injuries sustained in a house fire started by her then 12-year-old grandson, Malcolm Shabazz. Malcolm—who was assassinated in Mexico City on May 9, 2013 at the age of 28—just wanted to go home to his mother, Qubilah, and always deeply regretted the fire that took his beloved grandmother’s life.

“I loved Mama Betty and Mama Betty loved me,” young Malcolm told his juvenile court attorney Percy Sutton.

Young Malcolm had been sent to live with his grandmother in 1995, after his mother was indicted on federal charges for hiring a hitman to kill NOI leader Louis Farrakhan.

Before Malcolm was assassinated, Farrakhan wrote in Muhammad Speaks: “The die is set and Malcolm shall not escape. Such a man as Malcolm is worthy of death.” Betty Shabazz was not hesitant about openly accusing Farrakhan of participating in her husband’s assassination; the NOI leader later admitted to creating the environment that led to it.

Shabazz and Farrakhan publicly reconciled after he claimed that he didn’t believe Qubilah conspired to kill him. Many observers at the time believed it was a trade-off—Farrakhan would help save her daughter from prison; and, in turn, she would agree to be seen with the man she believed to be responsible for her husband’s death.

Betty Shabazz was a warrior woman, a scholar, an activist, a sister and a mother.

Myrlie-Evers Williams, former chair of the NAACP and widow of assassinated civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, once said of Shabazz:

“We were very close. We could be crazy and talk and laugh…nothing like the public personas. Me and Betty loved to dance.

“All three of us, me, Betty, and Coretta [Scott-King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.]…it was like an exclusive club. We were a lot closer than the public knew.

“All I can say is I miss my sisters.”

Happy Birthday, Dr. Betty Shabazz.

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