When you reach the corner of Broadway and West 165th Street the magnificent restored façade of the Audubon Ballroom rises up before you. Opened in 1912 and named after the famed ornithological artist John James Audubon, its history mirrors that of the Washington Heights neighbourhood it sits in. The vast ballroom was built by William Fox (of 20th Century Fox) and in its time was a vaudeville house, a cinema, a trade union meeting place, a synagogue, and a private hire venue. It hosted events and celebrations by middle class whites, German Jewish refugees, trade unionists, poor black folk and, latterly, Dominican residents. By the 1960s the ballroom had begun to fall into decay. Later on it fell into the hands of the New York City authorities in lieu of unpaid taxes, was boarded up and left to rot before being acquired in the late 1980s by Columbia University, who own it today.
On Sunday 21st February, 1965, the Grand Ballroom was rented out for a rally by the Organization of African-American Unity (OAAU). Malcolm X, who had recently returned from England, was to speak. In England, he had delivered a lecture at the London School of Economics and visited Smethwick in the West Midlands, the location of a notorious racist campaign by Conservative MP Peter Griffiths, whose unofficial election slogan had been ‘if you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour’.