Abdulalim Abdullah Shabazz was born as Lonnie Cross in Bessemer, Alabama, on May 22, 1927, the fourth child in a family where he eventually had 10 brothers and sisters. His mother, Mary Roberson Cross, was educated through the seventh grade. She read the Bible with her children. His stepfather, Louis Cross, was a coal miner, but did not have the opportunity to learn to read and write. The young Shabazz would soon take his lessons from school home and teach his parents what he was learning. When he was eight years old, he showed his stepfather how to make a signature even with great calloused hands.
Shabazz enjoyed school, having had good teachers and being taught well in the public schools he attended in the small segregated town on Bessemer located 12 miles from Birmingham. As a twelve-year-old, he experienced fierce prejudice when three white men forced him off the sidewalk, calling him names. In 1941, at age 14, he moved to Washington, DC, to live with his maternal grandmother, Emma Roberson Alvis. There he attended Terrell Junior High School, and the prestigious Dunbar High School which has produced many outstanding graduates. Having graduated with honors in 1945, Shabazz matriculated at Lincoln University, a historically Black university, with a scholarship. But he was drafted in February 1946 and served in the U.S. Army Air Force until he returned to Lincoln in February 1947. There he majored in chemistry and mathematics and had minors in French and physics, earning an A.B. with honors in 1949. He earned a M.S. in mathematics with a minor in philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1951.
During the year 1952-1953, Shabazz worked as an Assistant Research Mathematician at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in Buffalo, New York. His Ph.D. in mathematical analysis was completed at Cornell University in 1955. While studying for his doctoral degree, he had minors in geometry and algebra. After graduation he worked in industry as a mathematician in the Metals Research Lab of the Electro Metallurgical Company in Niagara Falls, New York.
While he was at Cornell, Shabazz began his teaching career as a teaching fellow. During the academic year 1956-1957, he taught at the Tuskegee Institute taking a position as assistant professor of mathematics. He then moved to Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University after a merger in 1988 with Clark College) as associate professor and department chair where he remained from 1957 to 1963.
The relocation to Atlanta coincided with the Sputnik era when the National Science Foundation, among other agencies, determined to fund science and mathematics Education both for students and to bring teachers up to date. When he went to Atlanta University, the school had only two graduate students in mathematics. By the end of the year there were eight. When he left in 1963, Atlanta University had graduated 109 students with master's degrees in mathematics. Shabazz supervised 78 completed master's theses during this period. More than 30 percent of those students went on to receive doctoral degrees in mathematics or mathematics Education. Between 1976 and 1982, Shabazz was also an adjunct professor on the faculty of the Union Graduate School where he supervised four successful Ph.D. candidates. In 1992, one hundred of the African American holders of doctoral degrees could trace their academic lineage back to Shabazz or to his students.
In the early 1960s, he along with his African- and European-American students had been involved in uprisings to destroy Jim Crow segregation. Together they utilized public spaces that were deemed for whites only: the Atlanta Library and Rich's department store's restaurants and lunch counters. He invited Malcolm X to speak to the Mathematics Club and James Baldwin visited him and spoke to many Atlanta University Center students. Accused of causing student protests and unrest and labeled a Communist by the University president, he faced an atmosphere that resulted in a sense of persecution. He left Atlanta University in September 1963.
In the summer of 1963 he participated in the Space Mathematics Seminar for Advanced Mathematicians at Cornell.
In 1960 he had become a member of the Nation of Islam after hearing Elijah Muhammad speak in Atlanta. It was at this time that he changed his name, first to Lonnie X, then to Lonnie Shabazz, and then to Abdulalim Abdullah Shabazz (Abdulalim means "slave of the all-knowing God"). He has served as Muslim Imam (spiritual leader) of Muhammad's Mosque No. 4 in Washington, DC. In 1963, Shabazz reestablished the University of Islam there and was Director of Education until 1975. He developed elementary, high school and college Education programs for the Nation of Islam. From 1982 to 1986, Shabazz was a professor at Umm Al Qura University -- the University of Makkah (Mecca) in Saudi Arabia -- continuing his Arabic and Islamic studies.
During the summers of 1988 and 1989, he was a NASA-ASEE Summer Research Faculty Fellow at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
In 1986, he began teaching again at Clark Atlanta University where he remained until 1997, serving as chair from 1990 to 1995. After his chairmanship the atmosphere had changed dramatically. Students were failing in great numbers even the remedial courses. As chair, he had eliminated these courses and started students on more difficult work at all levels. Because of the concern for remediation prior to his chairmanship, no one received a B.S. or B.A. in mathematics in 1990, and only one master's degree was awarded that year. During the five years Shabazz was chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, 77 B.S. or B.A. degrees and 45 master's degrees were awarded. The high point was 1995 when 23 bachelor's and 23 master's degrees were awarded.
In August 1997, Shabazz resigned his position as professor of mathematics at Clark Atlanta University and returned to his alma mater, Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, as Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Chairman of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.
Shabazz speaks often about his philosophy of Education which stems from a belief that Education for all is possible. He emphasizes hard work and seeking excellence. As a result, he has received numerous awards including recognition by the Mathematical Sciences Education Board on May 4, 1990 as a professional who has been outstanding in making mathematics work for minorities. In 1992, he received the American Association for the Advancement of Science Mentor Award which honors those who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership in efforts to increase the participation in science and engineering of women, minorities, and individuals with physical disabilities. In April 1994, he was the National Association of Mathematicians' Distinguished Service Award for his years of mentoring and teaching excellence. He was named a giant in science by the Quality Education for Minorities MSE Network for his contributions to mathematics and his invaluable aid in increasing the participation of minorities in mathematics, science, and engineering.
A father of three grown children, two males and one female, Shabazz later adopted two young Ethiopian brothers, the first at the age of sixteen while living in Makkah in 1986 and the other at age fourteen in 1993. The elder received a B.S. and M.S. in mathematics in five years (1990-1995) at Clark Atlanta University and has been teaching at Morehouse College since August 1995. The younger brother began his sophomore year (Fall 1998) at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, pursuing a mathematics major and an interest in engineering.