Malcolm X and His Childhood in Lansing, 1928-1940
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, and lived in and around Lansing from 1928 to 1940.
An article in Michiganology relates his childhood story.
A few months before Malcolm was born, Omaha Klan members terrorized the Little household. Malcolm's father was a Baptist minister who very openly supported and spoke about civil rights. After the Klan stormed their house, Malcolm's father (Earl) decided to get outta there – so in 1926 almost a year after Malcolm was born, Earl moved the family briefly to Milwaukee before finally arriving in Lansing in 1928.
Their first home in Lansing was located in the Westmont neighborhood, near the intersection of Grand River Avenue and Waverly Road. Earl landed a job preaching in some of the local Baptist Churches in order to make a living. Residing in a mostly-Caucasian area, residents tried to coax Earl to move his family to a black neighborhood. He refused. This resulted in the subdivision owners taking Earl to court, saying that the land contract specifically only allowed Caucasians to set up their homes. The outcome? The court said Earl could own the land but not live on it. Deciding to move elsewhere, their home was suspiciously burned down before they had a chance to move.
Next Lansing stop was 401 Charles Street, East Lansing. They only lasted a year here – 1929 to 1930 – due to the stressful situation of living in this segregated area. Earl once again moved his family after building them a house at 4705 Logan Street (now Martin Luther King Blvd. - there is an Historical Marker at this site). While there, Malcolm was enrolled in Pleasant Grove Elementary School, corner of Pleasant Grove and Holmes. He began classes in January 1931.
Eight months later on September 28, Malcolm's dad was killed after getting hit by a streetcar. Authorities said it was suicide...even though there wasn't a reasonable explanation for it. The family believed there were others responsible.
Needing money, Malcolm's mom and older siblings began working, but that income plus welfare wasn't enough to feed and clothe eight children.
Malcolm started to steal – candy, snacks, fruit and other items from downtown shops. By 1939, the financial burden, stress of caring for eight children and Malcolm's brushes with the law was too much for his mother. She was diagnosed as legally insane, shipped off, and committed to the Kalamazoo State Asylum.
The siblings split off and were taken in by various families. Malcolm ended up living with the Gohanna family on Williams Street. The house is no longer there, but it was in the vicinity of the GM plant. This upheaval in family life caused unrest in Malcolm, who began misbehaving more and more in school. So much so, that he was expelled from West Junior High School and sent to a detention home at 304 Cherry Street in Mason.
He became a student at Mason High School, where he was accepted & liked by all the kids, and did so well in his studies that he was elected as seventh grade class president. He seemed to impress faculty members as well, or at least it seemed so. His English teacher asked him what career path he wanted to follow. When he answered “lawyer”, the teacher said, so many words, that 'a black man can't be a lawyer – be a carpenter instead'.
Ouch (with an obviously inappropriate remark like that, maybe the teacher should've changed his own career path). This incident changed Malcolm. In 1940, he dropped out of school after eighth grade and moved to Boston. This ended his Lansing life.
The influence his father left on him drew Malcolm to the Civil Rights Movement. He became a leader in the Movement and in the African-American community. His outspokenness and charismatic public persona even drew celebrities toward him, like Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Cassius Clay (later changing his name to Muhammad Ali). But Malcolm's post-Michigan, adult life is another story for another time.
Malcolm was assassinated in New York City on February 21, 1965 by three gunmen. He was 56 years old.
Malcolm X's Life In Lansing
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