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.