Arche­ol­o­gists dig slain ac­tivist’s teen home

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Arche­ol­o­gists are ex­ca­vat­ing a boy­hood home of Mal­colm X in an ef­fort to un­cover more about the early life of the iconic black rights ac­tivist as well as the prop­erty’s long his­tory, which pos­si­bly in­cludes Na­tive Amer­i­can set­tle­ment.

The two-week dig be­gan on Tues­day out­side a two-and-a-half storey home in Bos­ton’s his­tor­i­cally black Roxbury neigh­bour­hood that was built in 1874.

City Ar­chae­ol­o­gist Joseph Ba­gley said his of­fice chose to dig up the site be­cause it’s likely that work will be needed soon to shore up the foun­da­tion of the va­cant struc­ture.

“This is kind of a now-or-never dig,” he said. “If we don’t do this, the site will be de­stroyed. We can’t af­ford to wait.”

Among Tues­day’s early finds was a large piece of fine porce­lain that Ba­gley says was likely part of a dish set owned by the fam­ily of Mal­colm X’s sis­ter, which still owns the house.

“We’re lit­er­ally just scratch­ing the sur­face,” Ba­gley said as he and vol­un­teers used a sifter to care­fully pore over mounds of rub­ble on a side yard.

Ba­gley says once the ini­tial rub­ble is cleared, a ground-pen­e­trat­ing radar sur­vey will be used to de­ter­mine the best lo­ca­tions to dig. Ma­jor ex­ca­va­tion work is ex­pected to dig up to four feet into the ground. The site will be open to the pub­lic through­out to ob­serve the work.

“We don’t ac­tu­ally go in look­ing for any­thing,” Ba­gley says. “It’s more like we’re look­ing for any­thing that might tell us some­thing about the peo­ple that lived here.”

Rod­nell Collins, a nephew of Mal­colm X who lived with him in the house, hopes the sur­vey can raise pub­lic aware­ness of his fam­ily’s deep roots in Bos­ton. He’s been work­ing for years to ren­o­vate the di­lap­i­dated struc­ture for pub­lic tours and other uses.

The for­mer Mal­colm Lit­tle was a teenager in the 1940s when he lived with his sis­ter Ella Lit­tle-Collins and her fam­ily at 72 Dale St.

The house was des­ig­nated a city land­mark in 1998 be­cause it’s the only known dwelling from the out­spo­ken ac­tivist’s for­ma­tive years in Bos­ton still stand­ing.

“No phys­i­cal move in my life has been more piv­otal or pro­found in its reper­cus­sions,” Mal­colm X wrote in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy about his time in Bos­ton.

“All praise is due to Al­lah that I went to Bos­ton when I did. If I hadn’t, I’d prob­a­bly still be a brain­washed black Chris­tian.”

Born in Omaha, Ne­braska, Lit­tle had bounced around from fos­ter homes fol­low­ing his fa­ther’s death and his mother’s in­sti­tu­tion­al­i­sa­tion for a ner­vous break­down.

Lit­tle-Collins even­tu­ally be­came his le­gal guardian. But Lit­tle re­belled against fam­ily life and landed in a Bos­ton prison for bur­glary charges in his early 20s.

There, he be­came a Na­tion of Is­lam fol­lower and dropped his sur­name in favour of X to rep­re­sent his fam­ily’s lost African an­ces­tral name.

A charis­matic speaker, Mal­colm X quickly be­came the Detroit-founded Na­tion of Is­lam’s prin­ci­pal spokesman dur­ing its rapid rise in the 50s and 60s.

He founded tem­ples and mosques up and down the east­ern US, pro­mot­ing a mes­sage of black na­tion­al­ism and de­nounc­ing white Amer­i­can cul­ture.

Mal­colm X’s fiery rhetoric came in stark con­trast to that of more non­vi­o­lence-minded civil rights con­tem­po­raries like Martin Luther King Jr.

But he even­tu­ally left the Na­tion of Is­lam, adopted a more con­cil­ia­tory tone and con­verted to Sunni Is­lam be­fore be­ing gunned down by Na­tion of Is­lam ad­her­ents at a speech in New York City in 1965 at the age of 39.

SITE: Rod­nell P Collins car­ries a painting of his un­cle, Mal­colm X at the ac­tivist’s for­mer home, while arche­ol­o­gists (in­set top left and right) get to work on the ex­ca­va­tion

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