On 14 February 1965, Malcolm’s East Elmhurst home, still the subject of a bitter legal ownership battle with the Nation of Islam, was firebombed. Malcolm and his family were fortunate to escape physical injury, and no one was ever prosecuted in relation to the attack.
Malcolm’s security was increased after the attack and, the next night, he spoke of the firebombing to a gathering of Organisation for African American Unity members at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, New York, claiming a conspiracy between the Nation of Islam and the Ku Klux Klan was responsible for the attack. Privately, however, he confided to his biographer that he was beginning to doubt whether the attacks against him were Nation of Islam inspired. Despite the daily threats on his life, he maintained a hectic schedule of personal appearances, including a well-publicised appointment to deliver another speech to the OAAU at the Audubon Ballroom, on 21 February 1965. Despite his private doubts about the real source of his attacks, it was to prove a perfect setting for a Nation of Islam assassination conspiracy.
Of the four men involved in the successful assassination plot on Malcolm, only one was ever identified with any degree of certainty; Talmadge Hayer, also known as Thomas Hagen, a member of the Fruits of Islam, a paramilitary organisation charged with the protection of the Nation of Islam. In a sworn affidavit after the fact, Talmadge described how the conspirators had visited the Ballroom on the evening of 20 February, the night before Malcolm’s speech, where a public dance was in progress, to plan their assassination strategy. It was agreed that he would sit near the front of the auditorium with a .45 handgun, allow one of his co-conspirators to draw the attention of Malcolm’s bodyguards by standing and shouting, at which point he and two others would stand and fire at Malcolm.
Shortly after Malcolm had begun his speech to the assembled OAAU, the plan was put into action. There was a commotion in the audience and, whilst the focus of Malcolm’s bodyguards was directed at the source of the disturbance, a man with a sawn-off shotgun rushed forward and shot Malcolm in the chest. Almost simultaneously, Hayer and his accomplice leapt up, stormed the stage, and discharged their own weapons at Malcolm.
Malcolm received a total of 15 wounds from the three weapons. Malcolm’s supporters launched an immediate counter-attack on the assassins but three of them used the ensuing chaos to escape. Hayer was not so lucky, a bullet wound in the leg slowed him down considerably, and he was arrested by a police officer outside the Ballroom.
By the time an ambulance had been summoned, and had reached New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, Malcolm was pronounced dead on arrival.