Harlem mourned for Malcolm X when he was assassinated in 1965.

Bidding Farewell

After Malcolm X’s assassination Harlem had 5 days to bid her “black shining prince” goodbye. Over 20,000 people passed by his body. During the funeral service it was Ossie Davis who found the words to capture African-American feeling.

Last glimpse

From Tuesday, 23rd February 1965, Malcolm X’s body lay in state at the Unity Funeral Home in Harlem. Numbers vary, but between 20,000 and 30,000 waited in the long queue for a last view of Malcolm X.

Actually it is very unusual for a deceased Muslim to be displayed publicly for several days. According to the Quran the sun should not set twice on a dead body. Thus Muslim burials take place within 24 hours. Also, death is something between God and the deceased and not something public.

However, Muslim clerics had a weaker influence than the wider African-American community. Until late Friday night, 26th February, mourners came to bid Malcolm X farewell.

The search

The funeral was set for Saturday, 27th February 1965. Malcolm’s relatives and followers searched frantically for a place to hold the funeral service. They called churches but their members declined the request. They were afraid of violence by the Nation of Islam. I think another reason might be that they didn’t want too close association with a controversial figure as Malcolm X.

Finally Bishop Alvin A. Childs opened the doors of his Faith Temple Church of God in Christ. Immediately after the announcement the church as well as Childs and his family received bomb threats. Later the church was renamed “Childs Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ” in honour of Bishop Childs.

I have wondered why Malcolm’s associates looked for a church, a Christian place. It might be for the sake of space and because black churches are in African-American and not white hands. Also, a church still is a place of worship and thus more appropriate than any secular hall. Before the funeral service though Muslim clergy ordered to remove or hide all signs of Christianity.

The final hours

During Friday night the coffin arrived at Faith Temple Church. Malcolm X’s body was dressed in white linen according to Muslim custom. The funeral service started at around 10 am and 1,000 people attended. Many civil rights leaders stayed away, however, John Lewis, James Farmer and Bayard Rustin were present.

Ossie Davis and his wife Ruby Dee led through the funeral. They read notes of condolences to the audience. Among the civil rights activists who sent notes were Martin Luther King, Jr. and Whitney Young.

After this guests and clergy spoke but it was Ossie Davis who said the words that last until today. In his eulogy he captured the feeling of loss as well as the ongoing meaning of Malcolm’s life to the black community. Maybe the eulogy contains the most beautiful and straight-to-the-heart words ever to express what Malcolm X means to many African-Americans.

The church today

When I visited Childs Memorial Temple Church in 2013 not much had changed compared to 1965. Sadly there is no plaque to remember Malcolm X’s funeral and you could easily walk past the church’s doors.

I was very lucky to have met Paul Smith, then a guide at the Audubon Ballroom, who took me to the church and rang the bell for us to visit the sanctuary. Surely I would have been too shy to ring if I were alone. A church member opened and turned on the lights for us. It seemed to be nothing special for him that people wished to see the place of Malcolm X’s funeral. My companions, both African-American, chatted and I felt kind of misplaced, a pilgrim on black history but as a white person. But it seemed my companions had less concern with it than I had. Of course all three of us agreed there should be a memorial tablet outside the church.

But sadly, the whole building will no longer be there. It is in bad shape and will be replaced by an apartment building. A mostly untouched and significant place of the African-American heritage is lost.

How to get there

Unity Funeral Chapel
Address: 2352 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10027
Closest Subway Station: 125 Street (lines A C B D)

Faith Temple Church of God in Christ
Address: 1763 Amsterdam Ave New York, NY 10031
Closest Subway Station: 145 St. (lines 1 or A C B D)

Faith Temple Church was a former movie theatre.


Malcolm X and Alex Haley: The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley, 1965
Manning Marable: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, 2011

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One thought on “Bidding Farewell

  1. I was 13 living in the Bronx when I heard of Malcolm X was killed. I was so sadden by the news. I am planning to go to visit his graveside this summer. God Bless you and may you are resting in peace. X

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