Lansing area activists seek to honor Malcolm X’s family

FILE - In this June 29, 1963, file photo, Malcolm X addresses a rally in Harlem in New York. During the critical era of the 1950s and '60s, Martin Luther King Jr., who led the 250,000-strong March on Washington in 1963, and Malcolm X were colossal 20th century figures, representing two different tracks: mass non-violent protest and getting favorable outcomes "by any means necessary." (AP Photo/File) (Uncredited, AP1963)

LANSING, Mich. – Malcolm X is a well-known Civil Rights figure with roots in Lansing, yet many do not know about the icon and his family. Two East Lansing residents hope to change that.

His family lived in several Lansing neighborhoods. The city named a street after Malcolm X, and for more than two decades, a charter school carried his Muslim name, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz Academy.

So far, there’s been no commemoration of his parents, Earl and Louise Little, who moved the family to Lansing in 1928.

“I think it would get the city to appreciate Malcolm X and the Little (family) more,” Edmund Rushton told the Lansing State Journal. “It’s not to single anyone out or make them look bad. But Malcolm X is deeply, deeply tied to Lansing and people need to know. They need to know that there has been an effort in the past to hide this from people.”

Rushton is an MSU student and an activist in East Lansing. He is partnering with Krystal Davis-Dunn of the East Lansing Human Rights Commission to get both cities to recognize the Littles.

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Nebraska, lived in Lansing until 1940 when he was placed in foster homes in Mason. He joined the Nation of Islam while serving a prison sentence, around 1948. Malcolm X returned to Lansing in 1955 and started holding NOI meetings in Lansing.

Malcolm X wrote in his autobiography that Black people were not allowed in East Lansing and he never lived there, but he spoke at Michigan State University:

“My father prevailed on some friends to clothe and house us temporarily; then he moved us into another house on the outskirts of East Lansing,” an excerpt of his autobiography read. “In those days Negroes weren’t allowed after dark in East Lansing proper. There’s where Michigan State University is located; I related all of this to an audience of students when I spoke there in January, 1963 (and had the first reunion in a long while with my younger brother, Robert, who was there doing postgraduate studies in psychology).”

A recording on MSU’s website of Malcolm X’s speech at the university where he speaks about Nation of Islam and says that race problems persist because “all people, the Black people, of which there are 20 million in this country, always leave the solving of the problem to the white man.”

He was a supporter of Black separationists, who pursued equality by urging Black people to avoid integration. Instead, he advocated for separate countries or communities where Black culture, education and business could thrive.

The two activists hope both Lansing and East Lansing will adopt Sept. 28 as Earl and Louise Little Day, 90 years following Earl Little’s death at the corner of Detroit Street and Michigan Avenue in Lansing, according to Lansing State Journal archives.

Police ruled the 1931 death an accident, although historians and Malcolm X himself believed Earl was killed by the Black Legion, a violent white supremacist group that branched off from the Klu Klux Klan, according to a May 25, 1936 Lansing State Journal report.

Elaine Hardy, East Lansing’s diversity, equity and inclusion administrator, said the city is “always supportive of initiatives to acknowledge civil rights leaders from our community,” but more research will be needed to be done to clearly identify Earl and Louise Little’s connection to the city.

For Lansing, the connection is clearer.

The Little family lived in three homes in the area prior to Earl Little’s death, Malcolm X wrote in his autobiography.

— Corner of North Grand River and Alfred Avenues on the west side

— 401 Charles Street on the east side

— 4705 Logan Street (now-Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) on the south side, also colloquially called Jolly Corners

“By telling the story of the Black Legion and Earl Little’s death, (it) will highlight the atrocities of the era’s time and bring to light the similarities of how these things occur, so we don’t continue to perpetuate the same kind of destruction to Black and brown communities,” Davis-Dunn said.

Rushton spoke at Lansing City Council’s Jan.11 meeting in a plea to get the Littles formally recognized.

Following the meeting, Mayor Andy Schor released a statement saying he is proud that Malcolm X has history in the city and noting that the city renamed a portion of Main Street after Malcolm X in 2011.

Malcolm X’s childhood home on MLK Boulevard has a historical marker. The marker mentions, in brief, that Earl Little died “a violent death.” Pure Michigan, the state’s travel agency, designated the spot as a historical site.

As for Malcolm X’s parents, Schor wrote that he is not opposed to the idea of recognizing them.

“I can proclaim a day for a person or people, and I am certainly willing to work with advocates or the family to declare September 28th as Earl and Louise Little day,” the statement read in part.

But Rushton and Davis-Dunn feel more could be done for the icon’s parents. They expressed interest in coordinating an effort to commission a statue or additional historical markers throughout the city to acknowledge more of the Little family’s history.

“Markers like in Germany, where events happened, so people can remember what happened there,” Davis-Dunn said.“It’s a danger in not remembering our true history. American history has scripted the legacy of Blackness that only supports white standards of living.”

A broader effort is poised to uncover more African American heritage in the area, she added. Rushton said it would teach a part of American history that shows a parallel on what “the North looked like in Jim Crow Era” compared to the South.

“We’ve always looked at the bashful thought and theory on racial violence in the country,” he said. “Yet the one in our backyard is dead silent.”