Nearly five decades after the assassination of Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, a portion of the building is now dedicated to preserving the legacy of the African-American icon, reports Robin Elisabeth Kilmer for Manhattan Times. While the legacy of Malcolm X and the Ballroom, located at 3940 Broadway at 165th Street, are forever intertwined, the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center with its mostly volunteer staff – led by interim executive director Mark Harding – strives to establish its own identity, distinct from the Audubon. Last year, over 30,000 visited the Center, said Harding, 10,000 more than 2011. “We are a conduit for people who love Malcolm all over the world,” said Harding. “We’re the custodians of this place of martyrdom.”
As he spoke, Harding was busy preparing the Center for an evening screening and forum discussion, one of many that keeps the calendar packed. Before such events, he makes sure to bring out planks of wood from the Ballroom’s original stage. It was on this stage where Malcolm X gave many speeches, and where he was killed.
Upon Malcolm X’s return from his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, he formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). The organization began to hold weekly meetings at the Audubon Ballroom.
On Feb. 21st, 1965, Malcolm X was shot to death on the stage of the Ballroom while delivering a speech.
Oluwole Ifakunole grew up nearby and had parents who attended the Ballroom in the 1950s. During a visit to the Center, he commented on its significance: “So much of African-American history has been wiped out and taken away. Having some semblance of leaving an imprint is important.”
Though she died before the Center’s official inauguration in 2005, Dr. Betty Shabazz served as a key figure in transforming the Audubon into an education center and memorial for her husband. Her daughters Ilyasah and Malaak refer to the venue as “the house that Betty built.”
The sisters note that their mother’s influence is evident in every detail of the center—from the suit Malcolm sported on the first-floor statue, to the direction the crescent on his ring faces in a depiction of him on the floor-to-ceiling mural on the second floor of the Center.
Ilyasah drew the distinction between worshipping her father and learning about his work. Referring to her mother, she said, “It’s good that she was around to lay the foundation. And not so people could glorify him, but so that people could understand his works.” In the years since its founding, the Center has partnered with many community organizations far and wide, and forged an identity as a veritable center of civic, social and cultural life uptown.
The sisters said that the Center reflects their mother’s desires and serves as a place for the people. The sisters say that although there is work ahead, the Center’s mission is fully rooted in their mother’s vision for it to promote education and human rights, and as a space for all to be welcomed.
“We definitely want to have a place where people in the community can feel like it’s theirs,” added Ilyasah. “We want it to be a Mecca in Harlem where everyone can feel loved.” (By Voices of NY | Manhattan Times )