The release of Thomas Hagan, Malcolm X's assassin

Thomas Hagan, who shot black activist Malcolm X in 1965, has been released from prison after 45 years behind bars. A quick guide to the assassin's release.

Malcolm X.
(Image credit: Wikimedia)

Thomas Hagan — the only man to admit shooting civil rights leader Malcolm X in 1965 — has been released on parole after serving 45 years of a 20-year to life sentence. Who is he, and why did New York officials set him free? (Watch a report about Thomas Hagan's release)

Who is Thomas Hagan?

Hagan, 69, is a former member of the Nation of Islam, who was known as Talmadge X Hayer at the time the murder occurred. He has confessed that he was one of the three men who killed Malcolm X, who was 39, as he began a speech in a Harlem ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965. Hagan served 23 years in prison, then 22 more in a work-release program. By the time of his release, he was spending five nights a week at home and just two in jail. In 1989 he fathered a child. He now volunteers at a Harlem mosque, and in 2008 he told the New York Post he works in a fast-food restaurant.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Why did he shoot Malcolm X?

In a 2008 court filing, Hagan said he "acted out of rage" over Malcolm X's split from the Nation of Islam, and his criticism of the organization's leader, Elijah Muhammad. Hagan says he was young and naive, and acted on impulse and loyalty to Elijah Muhammad. Some have speculated that people high in the organization sent the assassins, a charge the group and Hagan have always denied. Malcolm X had been organization's high-profile chief spokesman, and Hagan said the assassins targeted him because the split exposed him as a "hypocrite."

Was he the only assassin?

No — three men were convicted in the shooting, but Hagan was the only one to admit his role. Two others, Norman 3x Butler and Thomas 15x Johnson, always maintained their innocence, and were released on parole in 1980. Hagan has said Butler and Johnson were not involved in the killing.

Is everyone satisfied that Hagan has served his time?

No. James Small, executive director of the Organisation of Afro-American Unity, told the BBC that the state of New York had "murdered Malcolm again" by releasing Hagan. Small argued Malcom X's killer should have been executed or kept in jail until death. But Hagan has met a curfew and held a job, as the parole board demanded, and repeatedly expressed remorse for the shooting. "I have deep regrets about my participation," he told the state's parole board last month. "I've had a lot of time, a heck of a lot of time, to think about it."

Sources: BBC, New York Daily News, CNN, New York Times

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us