Betty Shabazz (May 28, 1934 – June 23, 1997), born Betty Dean Sanders and also known as Betty X, was an American educator and civil rights advocate. She was the wife of Malcolm X.
Shabazz grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where her foster parents largely sheltered her from racism. She attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where she had her first encounters with racism. Unhappy with the situation in Alabama, she moved to New York City, where she became a nurse. It was there that she met Malcolm X and, in 1956, joined the Nation of Islam. The couple married in 1958.
Along with her husband, Shabazz left the Nation of Islam in 1964. She witnessed his assassination the following year. Left with the responsibility of raising six daughters as a single mother, Shabazz pursued a higher education, and went to work at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York.
Following the arrest of her daughter Qubilah for allegedly conspiring to murder Louis Farrakhan, Shabazz took in her young grandson Malcolm. He set a fire in her apartment that caused severe burns to Shabazz. Shabazz died three weeks later as a result of her injuries.
More than 2,000 mourners attended a memorial service for Shabazz, at New York’s Riverside Church. Many prominent leaders were present, including Coretta Scott King and Myrlie Evers-Williams, poet Maya Angelou, actor-activists Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, New York Governor George Pataki, and four New York City mayors—Abraham Beame, Ed Koch, David Dinkins, and Rudy Giuliani. U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman delivered a tribute from President Bill Clinton. In a statement released after Shabazz’s death, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said, “She never stopped giving and she never became cynical. She leaves today the legacy of one who epitomized hope and healing.”
Shabazz’s funeral service was held at the Islamic Cultural Center in New York City. Her public viewing was at the Unity Funeral Home in Harlem, the same place where Malcolm X’s viewing had taken place 32 years earlier. Shabazz was buried next to her husband, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.
In late 1997, the Community Healthcare Network renamed one of its Brooklyn, New York, clinics the Dr. Betty Shabazz Health Center, in honor of Shabazz. The Betty Shabazz International Charter School was founded in Chicago, Illinois, in 1998 and named in her honor. In 2005, Columbia University announced the opening of the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center. The memorial is located in the Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X was assassinated. In March 2012, New York City co-named Broadway at the corner of West 165th Street, the corner in front of the Audubon Ballroom, Betty Shabazz Way.
Shabazz was the subject of the 2013 television movie Betty & Coretta, in which she was played by Mary J. Blige. She was portrayed by Angela Bassett in the 1992 film Malcolm X. Bassett also played the part of Shabazz in the 1995 film Panther. Yolanda King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, played Shabazz in the 1981 television movie Death of a Prophet, and Shabazz was portrayed by Victoria Dillard in the 2001 film Ali.