Betty Shabazz Dies After Long Fight With Burns Widow Of Malcolm X Became Symbol Of Pride, Endurance Amid Adversity
Betty Shabazz, a civil rights activist and educator who carried the mantle of her slain husband, Malcolm X, died on Monday, three weeks after being severely burned in a fire allegedly set by her grandson.
Shabazz, whose ability to overcome adversity made her a symbol of strength and pride for generations of African-Americans, died at 2:47 p.m. at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx with her family at her side.
She was 61.
“Our mother has made a transition. … Her living life was very strong, and her fight here showed that endurance,” said Attallah Shabazz, surrounded by her five sisters.
Her voice cracking, she added, “Dr. Betty Shabazz has made a transition, but she is mighty where she is. She is boundless where she is. She is strong where she is.”
The mother of six had battled valiantly for her life after suffering third-degree burns over 80 percent of her body in a June 1 gas-fueled fire at her Yonkers apartment.
Her 12-year-old grandson Malcolm has been charged with setting the blaze.
Shabazz’s condition worsened last week after she underwent the fifth in a series of operations to remove charred tissue and replace it with artificial skin.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether authorities would upgrade the charges against Malcolm Shabazz. Because he is under 13, he cannot be charged as an adult and could not be jailed past his 18th birthday, if convicted.
Percy Sutton, the boy’s lawyer and a longtime Shabazz friend, said the family did not want additional charges brought against Malcolm.
“What difference will it make except an added burden on this family?” he said.
“I do not believe this is a child who needs that kind of detention.”
Authorities maintain that the youth confessed to setting the blaze so he could return to live with his mother, Qubilah Shabazz, in Texas.
The final tragedy to strike Shabazz, who witnessed her husband’s 1965 assassination, drew a stream of well-known visitors to her bedside - among them former Mayor David Dinkins, Coretta Scott King and poet Maya Angelou.
A series of blood drives and prayer vigils were held as Shabazz, a Medgar Evers College administrator and radio talk show host, underwent the operations. Her daughters, Attallah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, Gamilah, Malikan and Malaak, were constant presences at the hospital.
Shabazz remained in extremely critical condition, and doctors never gave her more than a 10 percent chance of survival.
As the keeper of Malcolm X’s flame, Shabazz spent her life protecting her husband’s image and legacy.
While some considered Malcolm X a strident, radical voice in the battle for equality, she stressed his philosophy of personal responsibility and self-discipline.