The funeral of Malcolm X took place at the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, in Harlem, New York on 27 February 1965, and was attended by fifteen hundred mourners, many of whom assembled in the streets outside the church. At his graveside at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, in Westchester County, New York, friends took the shovels away from the waiting gravediggers and covered Malcolm’s coffin themselves.
In the murder investigation that followed, Hayer was the only certain suspect. Eyewitnesses claimed to have recognised two of the other assailants as Norman ‘3X’ Butler and Thomas ‘15X’ Johnson, both known agents of the Nation of Islam. This seemed unlikely, however, as both were well known to OAAU members, and they would certainly have been recognised as hostile members of the audience on that evening.
Hayer also denied that Butler and Johnson had been involved, instead identifying his co-conspirators as Leon David and Wilbur McKinley, in a sworn affidavit.
Despite this, the trials of Hayer, Butler and Johnson began on 12 January 1966, and they were all convicted of the murder of Malcolm X, in March 1966, and received life sentences.
As with other high profile assassinations, there were a number of conspiracy theories surrounding the case, the most popular involving a man named Gene Roberts, who was a Bureau of Secret Service agent, and a bodyguard of Malcolm’s at the time of his shooting. It is claimed that government agencies were uncomfortable with the international profile that Malcolm was building, and the potential racial tensions that were being fomented by his message, and that Roberts had been instructed by his superiors to engineer the assassination. Roberts was not called to testify at the trials of Hayer, Butler and Johnson.
A less plausible theory points to mob involvement: Malcolm’s philosophy of black empowerment, exhorting people to take direct control of their lives, had resulted in a marked reduction in crime, and drug taking, in black neighbourhoods. Malcolm was therefore the victim of a mob hit, in the interests of protecting the business of organised crime.
The release of the Spike Lee film, ‘Malcolm X’, in 1992, caused a huge resurgence of interest in the civil rights campaigner, and Denzel Washington earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal.