Today’s post is on somebody who spent his formative years growing up in Michigan – and the things that happened to a very young Malcolm Little while he lived here would shape his personality, political views and world history – forever after.
Located on a long stretch of Logan Street (MLK Blv) is a cherished State of Michigan historical marker, which explains the significance of this particular neighborhood. In 1928, Earl Little moved his family to this place in Lansing – although the home would be burned to the ground within one year of their arrival, by the Black Legion. Mr. Little then moved his family just outside of East Lansing where he built them a new home. It was at this time that Earl Little was murdered by the Black Legion, first being struck in the head with a hammer, then thrown on the Michigan Avenue street car tracks on the border of Lansing and East Lansing – to then be struck by a train.
Okay, Lansing folks who named this street – it is hard for me to see beyond the pure irony of naming the road that runs along side the historically marked homesite of Malcolm X, “Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard” (in 1994). I would almost find that funny, if I did not suspect that it was done as a slam to the memory of Malcolm X.
I do believe Martin and Malcolm might agree with me on this.
A few blocks away they got it right – I suspect as an afterthought.
Malcolm attended two schools in Lansing; Pleasant Grove Elementary School, and West Junior High School.
It was here at West Junior High School that Malcolm (one of the top performing students in his school) told his favorite teacher that he aspired to become a lawyer when he grew up. He was told in the most harsh and inhuman manner possible, that this was an “unlikely” career choice for a black child. This event was branded onto Malcolm’s psyche, and he would often refer to it as part of his epiphany in understanding the true nature of racism in the U.S.A. (as told to Alex Haley)
It is understandable why Lansing and East Lansing struggle with any proper commemoration of Malcolm X – more so than the controversy that is contained in the man’s story, it is the actual shame within the history of these towns. The brutal treatment that Malcolm’s family received while living here led to the formation of one of the most powerful and reactionary Civil (and Human) Rights leaders in world history.
An honest view of this history is the only proper remedy.
After the murder of his father, the State deemed Malcolm’s mother unfit to “afford” her children, and they were all cast into foster homes, and she was put in Kalamazoo State Hospital. Malcolm would move to Mason, Michigan to live with various white foster parents- and then in 1941 he moved on to Boston……and then to prison.
He was known in his hustling days as “Detroit Red”. His nickname, due to his reddish hair, was simply “Red”, or “Big Red” – but there was another hustler by the name of “Chicago Red”, so the two were distinguished by regions. (Chicago Red went on later to be known as Red Foxx, the comedian and television star of the 1970’s)
After Malcolm converted to Islam, and met Betty Dean Sanders of Detroit, they decided to get married. Malcolm married Betty Shabazz here – at Lansing City Hall.
This tiny little house in northern Detroit was where Malcolm, Betty and their children stayed (with a married couple who were in the Nation of Islam) when Malcolm was in town working at Temple #1.
As Salaam Alaikum, Detroit Red.
(non religious Arabic greeting: “peace be unto you”).