Betty before X -- Women's History Month Review

Disclosure: Macmillan Publishing sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I am sure you have heard of Malcolm X, but have you heard of Betty? Betty Shabazz is most known as Malcolm X's wife, however she has a great story of her own. I am going to share with you a fictionalized biography of her life before Malcolm X written by her daughter, Ilyasah, but before I do, let's talk a bit about Betty.

Life Story

Betty Shabazz (Photo by Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images Source

Betty was born Betty Dean Sanders in Pinehurst, Georgia. Her mother as only sixteen years old when having Betty and her father was sent away to Philadelphia by his mother. His mother saw a bruise on Betty and took her away from her mother. Betty lived with her Aunt Fannie Mae for her early years. After Fannie Mae's death she moved to Detroit to live with her mother and her new family. Betty's stepfather had two sons of his own and her mother and stepfather had three more girls. At age 11 Betty began to live with the Malloys, a couple from church. She went to Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for a year and then transferred to Brooklyn State College School of Nursing in New York. It was in New York where she met Malcolm X. She converted to Islam in 1956 and changed her name to Betty X. The X as a last name symbolized the loss of their African ancestry. She married Malcolm on January 14, 1958. 

Betty and Malcolm had six daughters. Family was always important to Betty. After Malcolm's death in 1965 she raised their children by herself. Ruby Dee and Juanita Poitier established a committee to raise money and helped Betty buy a large two family home in Mount Vernon, New York from Congresswoman Bella Abzug as well as pay for the family's educational expenses. Betty also began speaking publicly. She spoke about some of Malcolm's philosophy but also about being a wife and a mother. She believed that the media had projected some images of her husband that were not true. 

In 1969 she  completed her undergraduate degree at Jersey City State College and went on to get her doctorate in higher-education administration at the University of Massachusetts. She became an associate professor at Medgar Evers College and eventually became a university administrator and fundraiser. 

She also volunteered and was an activist. President Gerald Ford invited her to serve on the American Revolution Bicentennial Council in 1975.  She served as on an advisory committee for planning the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 1984 she hosted the New York convention of the National Council of Negro Women. She was active in the NAACP and the National Urban League.  She was asked to introduce Winnie Mandela when the Mandelas visited Harlem in 1990. 

Betty also befriended Myrlie Evers-Williams and Coretta Scott King. The three women shared the experience of losing their activist husbands young and raising their children alone. 
Shabazz Gravesite
Gravesite By Tony the Misfit [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

She and her family suspected the Nation of Islam for the assassination of Malcolm X. Her daughter, Quibilah, was arrested for planning an assassination of its leader. While she was in a rehabilitation program her son, Malcolm, lived with Betty. On June 1, 1997, he set fire to Betty's apartment. Betty suffered serious burns and died on June 23. More than 2000 people attended her funeral including names like Maya Angelou, Ossie Davis, the New York Governor and New York City mayor. A tribute from President Bill Clinton was read at it. She is buried beside her husband in Hartsdale, New York. She has several memorials named after her.


Betty Before X:

Now let me share with you this amazing book. The book is Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz with Renee Watson. It is recommended for ages 10-14. It is the fictionalized biography of Betty before she meets Malcolm X. In the Author's Notes it is mentioned which characters are based on real people and which are added to help give the reader the feel of the time. First let me say this book is an easy read. It is entertaining and flows well. I found it very interesting and would find it so even not knowing anything about Malcolm X. He is not mentioned until the Author's Notes. In the Author's Notes Ilyasah shares a bit more about her mother's adult life, what Detroit, Michigan was like in the 1940s, about the various characters in the book and information about the real people and a timeline of Betty's life. 

Betty had a difficult childhood. She spent her first eleven years living with an aunt who truly loved her and taught her what it was like to be loved. However she was living in the South and experienced racism and witnessed a lynching. When her aunt passed away she was sent to Detroit to live with the mother who never wanted her. She did not understand why her mother treated her so differently than her (half)sisters. Eventually they fight and she runs away. She ends up at the home of the Malloys who are childless and leaders at their church. They take her in and Helen Malloy mentors her and allows her to grow. Helen is active in the Housewives' League. It is a group of women trying to teach black women to only buy from businesses that will hire black workers. Betty becomes active in their junior group. 

I love how Betty is so positive and faithful through all the struggles the world throws at her. Her childhood prepared her for her tough adult life. This amazing woman just kept on giving to others and truly sounds like someone to look up to and to share with children. I love that this book is written about her middle grades years so the readers can relate and see the many differences. It is a wonderful book about an amazing woman. I hope you will check it out. To learn more about Malcolm X be sure to see my review of Ilyasah's novel about him. 

Women's History Month Series on Multicultural Kid Blogs 

 Join us for our annual Women's History Month series, celebrating the contributions and accomplishments of women around the world! Don't miss our series from last year, 2016 and 2015, and find even more posts on our Women's History board on Pinterest: Follow Multicultural Kid Blogs's board Women's History on Pinterest.

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