Fascinating musical byways abound in the last part of a doggedly researched trilogy charting the history of late 60s soul
On the evening of 25 February 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated on the stage of the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, New York. Amid the chaos, his personal bodyguard, Eugene Roberts, risked his life by leaping on stage while shots were still being fired to assist his fatally wounded boss. The two men had grown close in the preceding months, bonding over a shared love of jazz and soul music.
As Stuart Cosgrove notes in an early chapter of Harlem 69, Roberts had become “a familiar face among the first generation of recruits to the Harlem Black Panther party. His closeness to Malcolm X had virtually given him a free pass into the newly emergent movement.” Unbeknown to his radical compatriots, though, Roberts was an undercover agent for the New York police department’s bureau of specialist services, tasked with trailing the movements of local black radicals and taping their conversations. He later helped gather information about a possible bombing campaign against white-owned businesses, leading police to conduct a number of dawn raids in Harlem and the Bronx. In April 1969, 21 Black Panther members were charged with conspiracy to murder police officers and blow up several prominent New York buildings, including police stations and midtown department stores.