Dr. Betty Shabazz (1934-1997) was an activist, educator, and the widow of civil rights leader Malcolm X. In public, she was committed to the Black and Muslim communities of New York City. In private, she raised her children to remember their father for the human he was, not just the historical figure. Here are 10 things to know about this leader.
Born Betty Sandlin in Pinehurst, Georgia, Dr. Shabazz was taken in by Lorenzo Don and Helen Lowe Malloy. She grew up as part of Detroit’s Black middle class.
Shabazz first learned about activism from her foster mother, an organizer for the National Housewives League. This group supported local Black businesses and led boycotts against businesses with discriminatory practices.
After graduating from high school, Shabazz attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. She was deeply affected by racism she experienced in the Jim Crow South, so she finished her education at the Brooklyn State College School of Nursing.
In 1956, Shabazz met Malcolm X at a Nation of Islam lecture in Harlem. After attending more lectures, she converted to Islam and joined the organization. Two years later, they were married.
Malcolm and Betty Shabazz had six daughters together. After his assassination in 1965, she raised their children herself. Ilyasah Shabazz said of her mother, “She only focused on building us up and not letting us see what could break us down.”
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In 1970, she earned a master’s degree in public health administration from Jersey City State College. Five years later she earned her doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Massachusetts.
Dr. Shabazz taught health sciences at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn in 1976. Eventually, she became its director of public relations.
After years of tension stemming from her husband’s murder, Shabazz and Minister Louis Farrakhan came together for a public rally at the Apollo Theater. The rally was held in support of her daughter Qubilah, who faced charges related to an assassination plot on Farrakhan.
Dr. Shabazz passed away in 1997 from injuries sustained in a fire set by her grandson. She was 63 years old.
Thousands of people from across the political spectrum came to pay their respects to Shabazz at her memorial service. She was remembered for her impact as an activist, educator, mother, and figure of strength. Rev. Jesse Jackson said in a statement, “She leaves today the legacy of one who epitomized hope and healing.”
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