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‘Who Killed Malcolm X’ explores mystery of his murder

It's been 55 years since human-rights activist Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem in front of hundreds of witnesses. But new evidence suggests two of the three men convicted of the crime are actually innocent. A new Netflix documentary, “Who Killed Malcolm X,” explores the mysteries surrounding the murder. Ivette Feliciano sat down with a historian and one of the film's directors and has more.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This past Friday marked the 55th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights activist Malcolm X. The 39 year old was shot and killed while speaking at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. Three members of the Nation of Islam were later convicted of his murder, but there have long been doubts surrounding his death. A new documentary series on Netflix, "Who Killed Malcolm X?" reveals new findings and is raising new questions about his murder. NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano spoke with director and series producer Phil Bertelsmann and series historian Abdul Rahman-Muhammad.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Phil Bertelson, Abdul Rahman-Muhammed, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Phil Bertelson:

    Thank you for having us.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    So first off, before watching this series, I had no idea that there were so many questions surrounding Malcolm X's murder. Can you briefly outline some of the holes in the story of his killing and what prompted this series coming together? The production of this?

  • Abdul Rahman-Muhammad:

    Well, ever since 1966, when three men were convicted for the assassination of Malcolm X., scholars have always questioned the soundness, the validity of that verdict from the very beginning.

  • Phil Bertelson:

    There might well be one of the assassins still out there hiding in plain sight, gone unpunished, unquestioned and protected to a certain degree from, from prosecution.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    And, you know, you're an independent historian, but this happened decades ago and you've spent the better part of your life researching the truth behind Malcolm X's assassination.

  • Abdul Rahman-Muhammad:

    Yes, correct.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Many people told you to drop it.

  • Abdul Rahman-Muhammad:

    A lot of people told me to drop it.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    So why was that so central to you, specifically as an African-American Muslim?

  • Abdul Rahman-Muhammad:

    Well, because I felt a sense of responsibility. As I moved along I accumulated more and more facts and information regarding the case. And it became clear to me very early on that, you know, if I didn't continue, it wasn't gonna be done.

  • Abdul Rahman-Muhammad:

    Jay Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, was definitely afraid of someone like Malcolm X.

  • Abdul Rahman-Muhammad:

    You know, would have never been able to get to the bottom of the story because this type of case involves documentation and interviews. You had to go out into the field and talk to people. It's not something that you could solve merely by studying. You don't see declassified documents and things like that. Wiretaps. You had to go out and talk to people who were still alive, you know. And once that generation passed away, the story would have been lost forever.

  • Abdul Rahman-Muhammad:

    In the 1960s, the FBI launched one of the biggest counterintelligence operations in its entire history.

  • Malcolm X:

    Black people everywhere today are better with the hypocrisy practiced by whites.

  • Abdul Rahman-Muhammad:

    And they kept a very close watch on Brother Malcolm.

  • Malcolm X:

    And if something isn't done, then I'm afraid that you will have a racial explosion.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Did you get any pushback from folks in the African-American Muslim community or local and federal authorities? Are there people who didn't want this series made?

  • Phil Bertelson:

    For sure. I mean, the fact remains that some of the answers that we're seeking in this story are ones that people didn't want others to know. And so, to the extent that we had to push harder, be more persuasive in our argument in order to get those answers, you know, should say everything there is to be said about why this has been a widely held secret for generations now. And we go into the fact that it's not just one man who killed Malcolm X. But, you know, a kind of complicity on the part of governmental authorities and law enforcement as well. And those are entities that don't like to be exposed. So, you know, we had to try to put the pieces together and in order to, you know, have an argument as to who killed Malcolm X.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    And so what can audiences expect to learn from this series? Do you actually answer that question of who killed Malcolm X?

  • Abdul Rahman-Muhammad:

    Yes, we do. It's really pulled back the veil on this historic crime, that was really an open wound, really in not just the African-American community, but the world community. And, you know, the fundamental understanding of who pulled that shotgun, who were involved. Yes, we answer that question.

  • Phil Bertelson:

    I think we go beyond that question as well. I think we not only look at who killed Malcolm X, but who did it and who was Malcolm X is also a big part of the story. I think if you begin to ask yourself that question, who killed him? You want to know why. You know, what did he represent that made him such a threat that caused so many forces to align against him.

  • Interviewer (archive):

    You seem to be dissatisfied with everything. Just what do you want?

  • Malcolm X:

    I'm not dissatisfied with everything. I'm just telling you that the Negroes themselves would take whatever steps necessary to defend himself.

  • Phil Bertelson:

    He was a powerful, galvanizing figure for many. And he posed a threat to the status quo in such a way that people felt he had to be eliminated. So you learn a lot about Malcolm you may not have already known. And you also learn that two men, it's our belief, went to prison for 20 years for a crime they did not commit. This crime. And as a result of the work that we did in the series and the evidence that we show, the Manhattan D.A.'s office has decided to take a preliminary look at whether or not this case is worth reopening.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Phil Bertelson. Abdul Rahkman-Muhammed, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Phil Bertelson:

    Oh, thank you, so much.

  • Abdul Rahman-Muhammad:

    Thanks for having us, a pleasure.

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