Betty Shabazz, born Betty Dean Sanders on May 28, 1934, is best known as the wife of Malcolm X, the influential civil rights leader and prominent figure in the Nation of Islam.
However, her identity extended beyond just that association, as she was a passionate civil rights advocate, educator, and caring mother.
Born in Pinehurst, Georgia, Shabazz faced a tumultuous childhood. Orphaned at a young age, she was sent to live with foster parents in Detroit, Michigan.
Despite her challenging early life, she persisted in her education and went on to attend the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
Later, she moved to New York to study nursing at Brooklyn State College Hospital, where her journey with Malcolm X began.
She met Malcolm X at a dinner party in 1955, and they married the following year. Together, they had six daughters. Their life wasn’t easy, marked by constant threats from those opposing Malcolm X’s views. Betty Shabazz displayed extraordinary resilience, standing firmly beside her husband even in the face of severe adversity.
After the tragic assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, Shabazz faced immense grief. She was left to raise her six children alone and grappled with the public and personal implications of her husband’s death. Still, she demonstrated remarkable strength, going back to school and eventually earning a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts in 1975.
Betty Shabazz then embarked on a professional journey, joining the faculty at Medgar Evers College, part of the City University of New York, as an associate professor of health sciences. Over the years, she rose to become the Director of Institutional Advancement and Public Affairs.
Throughout her life, Shabazz continued to honor Malcolm X’s legacy, ensuring his message wasn’t forgotten. She played a pivotal role in establishing the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, located at the Audubon Ballroom, the site of Malcolm’s assassination.
However, her life wasn’t devoid of controversy. In the 1990s, there was publicized tension between Shabazz and Louis Farrakhan, a prominent leader in the Nation of Islam, whom she suspected of playing a role in Malcolm X’s assassination.
Tragedy struck again in 1997 when a fire, set by her grandson, severely injured her. Betty Shabazz succumbed to her injuries three weeks later on June 23, 1997.
In sum, Betty Shabazz was more than just Malcolm X’s wife. She was a beacon of strength, an advocate for civil rights, and an esteemed educator, leaving a profound impact on those she inspired.