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Community Board 3 voted unanimously last Thursday to tag 97th Street between 23rd and 24th avenues with the moniker "Malcolm X Place," four days before the 40th anniversary of the leader's assassination in the Audubon Ballroom. City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona), who proposed the change, said a bill is already before the Council."While he remains one of the more controversial historical figures of his time, Malcolm X's profound impact on the civil rights movement is unquestioned," Monserrate said in a statement. "This renaming is a tribute to one of our greatest civil rights leaders as well as a permanent reminder of our community's strong ties to the history of this nation."The street renaming, which enjoys broad support from borough officials and community activists alike, would be the only visible East Elmhurst monument to the man who shaped and reshaped much of the civil rights era with his dogged message of racial equality by "any means necessary" and later belief in cooperation and racial harmony.Malcolm X and his family moved into the two-story detached home at 23-11 97th St. in 1960, at a time when the neighborhood was becoming a suburban haven for upwardly mobile, middle-class black families from across the city and across the nation. Before that, they lived in a three-room apartment elsewhere in East Elmhurst, according to University of Toledo researcher Abdul Alkalimat in his online research database, www.brothermalcolm.net."I knew Malcolm X at the time," said Borough President Helen Marshall, 75, who spent three years in Corona before moving to East Elmhurst in 1960 . Marshall, the first black borough president, was then an influential community leader in the schools integration movement. She recalled long debates with Malcolm X, with whom she said she found more in common after his 1964 pilgrimage to Mecca and new-found belief in racial harmony. "I talked to him for long periods of time - in fact, my neck would get stiff looking up at him because he was a very tall person," she said.Most neighbors said Malcolm X, wife Betty Shabazz, who died in a 1997 fire set by her grandson, and their children lived a quiet life on the tree-lined stretch of 97th close to LaGuardia Airport. But East Elmhurst old-timers vividly recall the high-profile split between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. And many others remember bolting out of their beds on a cold Valentine's Day morning in 1965 when a firebomb rocked the Shabazz family home."You heard this boom - I thought something at the airport blew up," said Jerry Henderson, 66, who at the time was living with her husband and family just down the block. "It was so powerful, it shook the house. You could hear the windows making noise and we jumped up.""We heard all the fire trucks. During that time you didn't think anybody was going to bother you," she added. "That's what we saw, the house was on fire."Malcolm X and his family were evicted four days later on Feb. 18, 1965. In his notes on African American greats in the borough, Queens historian Jeff Gotlieb indicates that Malcolm X's home had become the focus of an intense legal battle between the civil rights leader and members of the Nation of Islam, who maintained the lime-green home belonged to the organization.On Feb. 21, 1965, three days after his eviction, Malcolm X was shot dead by three gunmenshortly after he took the podium inside the Audubon Ballroom, which his daughters are converting into an educational center. At the time of his death, Malcolm X, who was born Malcolm Little, adopted the last name X to signify the tribal name lost under slavery and later changed his name to Malik El-Shabazz, was 39.Like other landmark homes in East Elmhurst, the 97th Street house, which neighbors said was later home to Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan and his family and today is the site of a day-care center, bears no mark indicative of its historical significance. And for some, the street renaming, which Monserrate expects to take place on May 19, Malcolm X's birthday, has been a long time in the making."I'm very excited about this change," said Jerii Durant. "I have lived in East Elmhurst for 52 years. I didn't know Malcolm X, but I knew where he lived and I knew what he did."Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.
©2005 Community Newspaper Group
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