Built in 1874, this modest structure is the last known surviving boyhood home of Malcolm X. He shared the house with his half sister, Ella Little-Collins, whose son is the current owner. Largely vacant for over 30 years, plans are in development to rehabilitate and reuse the deteriorating property. In partnership with Historic Boston, Rodnell Collins dreams of preserving Malcolm X’s legacy by transforming the house into living quarters for graduate students who are studying African American history, social justice, or civil rights.
Transforming the historic residence where Malcolm X spent his formative years into graduate student housing would provide an innovative model for sites across the country. The rehabilitation would not only restore an important part of American history, but transform an underutilized structure into an active and vibrant part of the surrounding community.
- Help Historic Boston raise $1.4 million to rehabilitate the residence.
- Focus national attention on Malcolm X’s time in the Boston area.
Ways To Help
Written by Rebecca Harris, Team Member
Often, the places we preserve are more significant for the people or events connected with them rather than for their architecture or design. The Malcolm X-Ella Little-Collins House is one of these places. But for the plaque outside explaining who lived in the house, the casual passerby would not likely give the vernacular brown house a second look. The power of the place, however, is its association with Malcolm X and his half-sister Ella Little-Collins. The house remains in the family, and is owned by Malcolm X’s nephew, who resides there with his family. A development partnership between the family and Historic Boston, Incorporated, is currently being negotiated.
The power of these connections to place can also produce surprising results and partnerships. Through the press coverage surrounding the house’s America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places listing last June, the Deen Intensive Foundation (DIF) reached out to us to see how they might help. DIF “is a North American initiative dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of the core sacred sciences of Islam from traditional sources.” They provide educational programming and are affiliated with Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California. Founded in 1996, Zaytuna is on track to become the first accredited Muslim college in the United States.
Given Malcolm X’s importance in the history of Muslims in America, DIF offered to use their network of donors and affiliates to raise money to support the rehabilitation of the Malcolm X-Ella Little-Collins House. What developed is a fundraising partnership between the Foundation and the National Trust. The Foundation has created videos and other social media fundraising materials to encourage their supporters to donate directly to the National Trust. DIF hopes to raise a significant amount of money to support the estimated $1.4 million rehabilitation project. The campaign is expected to launch this month, and based on the Foundation’s success with other fundraising efforts, we are optimistic about the outcome.
The Foundation had not previously been involved with a preservation project, but the connection of the house to Malcolm X and their Islamic faith was enough to engage them. Through the Foundation’s outreach, we will reach thousands of people across the country and around the world who may never have considered themselves preservationists. This power of place reminds us of the meaningful connections that preservation work has the potential to make, if we are open to them.
Written by Rebecca Harris, Team Member
May 19th marks Malcolm X's birthday. Born Malcolm Little in 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, he would have been 88 this year. Pictured here are Malcolm and his half sister, Ella Little-Collins, in 1941, at Ella's home on Dale Street in the Roxbury section of Boston. A designated City of Boston Landmark, the Malcolm X-Ella Little-Collins House is still owned by the Collins family. Malcolm spent several formative years here and considered this house "home" long after he moved to New York. Family photos like these provide wonderful insight into the personal lives of famous people. For architectural historians, they also reveal important clues to the house's physical history, which can be used in the building's rehabilitation. This week is the perfect time to learn about and honor the life of Malcolm X by reading books such as the Autobiography of Malcolm X, learning about the rehabilitation effort at the house, or by working to promote social justice in your community.
Written by Alicia Leuba, Project Manager
Two of the things I like most about my work with the National Trust are the people I meet and the stories I hear. My work on the Malcolm X House has provided me an opportunity to hear stories not only about Malcolm X as a boy and young man, but also of his older half sister Ella Little-Collins, as told by Rodnell Collins, Ella’s son and Malcolm X’s nephew.
I knew a bit about Malcolm X going into the project -- his role as a social justice and civil rights leader, his leadership in the Nation of Islam -- but nothing about Ella. By talking with Rodnell, I have learned about Malcolm’s life and his important relationship with his half sister, who is credited with playing an influential and supportive role throughout his life.
In his book, Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America, Bruce Perry relates a story about Malcolm X’s time while in a juvenile home in Michigan. He was achieving good grades in school and was president of his 8th grade class. He aspired to become a lawyer. When he told his teacher of his ambition, he was not prepared for the stinging, negative response he received, a response that Malcolm later described as a major turning point in his life.
During this time, Malcolm occasionally visited Ella in Roxbury, MA, a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Boston. Eventually, Ella gained guardianship of Malcolm, and he moved to Boston in 1941. Six months later she purchased the house we now refer to as the Malcolm X - Ella Little-Collins House at 72 Dale Street. This house became a touchstone for Malcolm through his rebellious and intellectually-defining years.
The house itself was built in 1874 and was modified significantly during Ella’s lifetime. Family was always a priority for Ella, and she often had various relatives living in different parts of the house. She divided rooms, added bathrooms, and did what she could to accommodate those who needed a home.
Ella kept the 72 Dale Street house until her death in 1996, when ownership was transferred to Rodnell. According to him, his mother never returned to the house after Malcolm X was shot in 1965, and the building was left vacant for nearly 30 years after her relatives left the property in the early 1980s.
Rodnell Collins grew up with his uncle Malcolm coming in and out of his life. From our conversations, we’ve learned that family and education continue to be key values for the Little-Collins family. Rodnell and his family wish to honor Ella Little-Collins’ and Malcolm X’s legacies by restoring the house.
Historic Boston, Inc. (HBI), a highly respected nonprofit preservation and real estate organization that rehabilitates historic and culturally significant properties in Boston, is working with the Collins family to help make this a reality. The National Trust is partnering with HBI to tell the story of the Malcolm X - Ella Little-Collins house. Through the 2012 11 Most Endangered Historic Places listing and other outlets, we will seek national recognition for it and provide support for its rehabilitation and reuse.
It's estimated it will cost over $1 million to make this project a success. In the end, we hope to revitalize this important structure in honor of its past, and as a way to contribute to the vitality of its surrounding neighborhood.
Written by Alicia Leuba, Project Manager
I’m Alicia Leuba, field director of the National Trust's Boston Office and project manager for our work on the Malcolm X-Ella Little-Collins House in Roxbury, MA. I will be providing regular updates as we work to revitalize the house as a nationally-recognized site associated with the life of Malcolm X and his family.
As a young adult, Malcolm lived with his older sister, Ella, and her husband in the modest Roxbury house, and often returned to it during his influential but brief lifetime. It was in Roxbury where Malcolm came of age, pushed the limits of the law, and where he was first introduced to Islamic thought.
We are delighted to be partnering with Historic Boston, Inc., a strong and innovative local preservation organization, to help bring national attention and awareness to the effort to preserve this important place. We kicked off the project with an energizing event and press conference in June, announcing that the Malcolm X- Ella Little-Collins House had been named to the National Trust’s annual list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Attended by over 150 people and school children, the event served as an opportunity to educate and engage the community about the significance of the house and the plans for its future.
If you want to read more about the history of the Malcolm X- Ella Little-Collins House, download this excellent study by the Boston Landmarks Commission.
R.H. on June 06, 2012
I learned about Malcolm X's House only within the last two years — it is one of Boston's hidden treasures. The house's history is important for its association with Malcolm X of course, but the more I learn, the more interested I become in the life of Malcolm’s sister, Ella Little-Collins. She had an immense influence on Malcolm X throughout his life and was a civil rights activist and educator in her own right. Preserving the house will honor the lives of both Malcolm X and Ella Little-Collins.
A. Wallace on June 06, 2012
Not many people in Boston or elsewhere seem to know about Malcolm X's time here. I’m glad to see that his life and his legacy will be protected through this work, and that the story of his experiences in Roxbury will get more attention.
S.K. on June 06, 2012
I've walked past this house many times, and while it has suffered from neglect since the death of Mrs. Ella Little-Collins, it is still an important reminder of her extended family's life in Boston, and is an important expression of urban social and demographic change in Boston from the 1940s until the 1980s. Malcolm X, brother of Mrs. Collins, lived in this house in the 1940s and visited regularly after his involvement with the Nation of Islam. I'm delighted to know that the house will soon benefit from good preservation planning and be rehabilitated.
Brent Leggs on June 06, 2012
When I moved to Boston to work for the National Trust, I realized this city held an amazing history. I soon realized great black male figures in history such as W. E. B. DuBois, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Frederick Douglass all lived in the greater Boston area. As I began to learn the different neighborhoods and what made them unique, I experienced a simple, two-story residence in Roxbury, where a bronze marker quietly states that Malcolm X lived there. I was instantly connected to this place. I understood why it must be saved. This landmark reminds me and all that experience it that people can transcend into greatness from humble beginnings. And social justice — and one man's altruism for it — can keep the founding principles of this nation present: "All men are created equal."