updated 2/22/2005 2:33:31 AM ET 2005-02-22T07:33:31

The Manhattan theater where Malcolm X was assassinated held a commemoration on Monday, the 40th anniversary of the civil rights leader’s death.

The Audubon Ballroom, where the activist was gunned down Feb. 21, 1965, is being turned into a history center that will re-examine his legacy by cataloging his life and work and showing how he championed human rights, his family said.

'He taught us how to think'
Dignitaries who attended the event Monday evening included Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

“Malcolm didn’t build buildings or pass legislation,” said the activist Sharpton. “He taught us how to think. And when he changed our minds, we could build buildings and we could pass legislation.”

The official opening of the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center is slated for May 19, on what would have been his 80th birthday.

The center will house documents about Malcolm X’s life, including memoirs, notes and speeches rescued by his family and held by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

The collection will “enlighten a lot of people,” said Malaak Shabazz, whose mother was pregnant with her and her twin sister, Malikah Shabazz, when their father was slain.

Complicated legacy
Malcolm X was one of the most charismatic and feared figures in the civil rights movement, a former convict who changed his name from Malcolm Little, and propelled the Nation of Islam from a 500-member sect in 1952 into a political and religious organization with 30,000 members by 1963.

After his split with the Nation of Islam in 1964 and an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, he began renouncing racial separatism. His new direction prompted anger among black Muslims and led to his murder during a speech at the ballroom.

Benjamin Karim, the activist’s chief aide, had vowed never again to set foot inside the Audubon Ballroom after his close friend was gunned down. But Monday, he changed his mind.

“I feel good about” the history center, he said. “In the minds of his people, he has been brought back to life.”

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