The man pictured above is Thomas Hagan, an iconic and equally infamous name of the 20th century. And chances are most people have not a clue who he is. Even those old enough to remember his act likely don’t remember his name. On February 21, 1965, Hagan – then known as Talmadge X – made history. He’s the man who looked Malcolm X in his eyes and proceeded to take his life and a big part of the Civil Rights Movement in the process. So, yes, Thomas Hagan is a killer. On April 28, however, after 16 unsuccessful parole attempts, Thomas Hagan will also be a free man.
By the time I entered this world in 1986, X had been dead for nearly 21 years and the movement a distant memory. This means my knowledge of the event came primarily through textbooks, a Spike Lee joint and the occasional documentary. But the man behind the trigger’s story is still virtually unknown. Here are three facts you may or may not know about Talmadge X.
1. Three men were convicted in the murder of Detroit Red. Hagan, however, was the one who accepted responsibility. The other two, Muhammad Abdul Aziz (formerly Norman 3X Butler) and Khalil Islam (formerly Thomas 3X Johnson), proclaimed their innocence from the beginning. Ironically, Aziz was later named chief of security by Louis Farrakhan at the Harlem mosque formerly led by Malcolm.
2. He turned 69 on March 16. He was 22 when he killed Malcolm.
3. Hagan has actually been on work release for more than 20 years, spends two days per week at Lincoln Correctional in Manhattan, has a family in Sunset Park, Brooklyn and works at a fast food restaurant. So, if you’re a Brooklynite, you may have actually had Malcolm X’s killer package your value your meal and didn’t even recognize. Small world, huh?
Most of the times when you think of great leaders and assassinations, their alleged hitmen never live long enough to see freedom again. John Wilkes Booth? He shot Lincoln and soon after that he was shot. Nathuram Godse? He was executed nearly two years after taking Ghandi’s life. Lee Harvey Oswald? He didn’t even last a week after JFK’s murder. James Earl Ray? Even though he denied ever killing MLK, he eventually died in prison. In an odd sense, I guess you can say Hagan beat the system. And according to him, he deserves it:
“I’ve been incarcerated for 40 years, and I’ve had a good record all around,” he told The Post. “I don’t see any reason for holding me.” [Via]
Even now, I’m struggling to figure out how I feel about it. One hand, the man did his time, paid his debt to society and has been, for lack of a better term, a “model citizen.” On the other, the man KILLED Malcolm X. It’s not about placing X’s life above anyone else who has ever been murdered. You’d think killing a man of his stature would result in life in prison, regardless if it was an inside job or not. Like, for real, this was Malcolm X we’re talking about. A beacon of power and progress. And his killer gets work release? And only spends 48 hours a week behind bars? Something just doesn’t add up.
At the end of the day, it’s water under the bridge I guess. One of my favorite quotes from Malcolm X is, “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” It’s just ironic Thomas Hagan is about to regain both.