February 9, 2011
Children of Malcolm X locked in bitter dispute over his writings
by Dennis Johnson
A trove of unpublished writings by Malcolm X — including journals he kept in the year leading up to his assassination — is being kept from publication by a bitter, ten-year long court feud between his six daughters, according to a New York Times report by John Eligon. The story says the daughters “have traded accusations of irresponsibility, mental incapacity and fiscal mismanagement of the estate, which is worth about $1.4 million” — not including the value of the unpublished writings.
According to Eligon, it all began when Betty Shabazz, Malcolm’s widow, died in 1997 “three weeks after suffering extensive burns in a house fire set by one of her grandsons. No will was found, even though some believed that one had existed.”
The first public indication of problems with the estate began in 2002, after a collection of Malcolm X items turned up at Butterfields, the San Francisco auction house. Malikah Shabazz was accused of taking some of her father’s unpublished writings — including letters, speeches and journals — to Florida without permission. She allegedly placed the items in storage but allowed her bill to go unpaid, and her father’s work wound up at auction.
The estate had to pay more than $300,000 to get the items back ….
It gets worse: “The estate’s tax bill, meanwhile, more than doubled over the years because of penalties and interest. At more than $2 million, the bill is now greater than the tangible value of the estate ….”
The case drags on in Westchester County Surrogate’s Court.
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.