Malcolm X- Ella Little Collins House
Backstory and Context
Born in Butler, Georgia, in 1913, Ella Collins was not only a self-made businesswoman, congresswoman, but also a leading civil rights activist in her time. She graduated from Fort Valley Institute, which is now the University of Georgia, and accepted Islam in the 1950s. Ella and her husband Kenneth Jack Collins were the legal guardians of Malcolm X/ El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz from the ages 14 to 21, in Massachusettes. Kenneth Collins grew and attended the same school as Malcolm and his siblings in Lansing, Michigan. Family and community were most important to Ella so she fought for civil rights and social justice. Ella supported black and ethnic studies programs in universities all across the United States. She founded the Sarah A. Little School of Preparatory Arts in Boston.
When Malcolm was assassinated, Ella stated that "the assassins took something from me, something I put a lot into." After his death, she became the president of the Organization of African American Unity in the hope of improving conditions for all people in the United States. Malcolm had also secured 35 scholarships from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt and from the University of Ghana to send students of knowledge overseas. Ella took on this duty after his death and continued her investment and support of students who wanted to go to school. She continued to support civil rights until 1988 when she had both legs amputated because of gangrene infection.
Malcolm X, born on May 19, 1925 in University Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, was the fourth of seven children of Louisa and Earl Little. His father was a twice married Baptist preacher who was also a local leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Malcolm would accompany his father to the meetings which always ended with "Up, you mighty race, you can accomplish what you will!" A streetcar accident killed his father and left Louisa to raise Malcolm and his siblings on her own. After moving several times and settling in Michigan, she finally had a nervous breakdown and was committed to the Kalamazzoo asylum in 1939 and remained there for the next 26 years. Malcolm had a hard time dealing with his childhood, so he acted out and was expelled from school in 1938. He transferred to the opposite side of Lansing and enrolled in West Junior High School. He boarded with a white couple and after finishing the seventh grade, he went to stay with his sister Ella. Malcolm's younger siblings were declared wards of the state and sent to foster homes. Malcolm was later sent to a juvenile home in Mason, Massachusettes.
Malcolm was the only black student at the school but he excelled academically, and was voted class president. When he talked about his dream of becoming a lawyer, his English teacher made a harsh remark that Malcolm would never forget. She said
"we all here like you, you know that. But you've got to be realistic about being a nigger. You need to think about something you can be. You're good with your hands...Why don't you plan on carpentry?"
This remark would profoundly change his life. Malcolm managed to get through the ninth grade before dropping out of school. Ella was concerned so she came to visit Malcolm two summers in a row. Eventually, he came to live with her and became his legal guardian. Although Malcolm was arrested for burglary and spent seven years of a ten year sentence in prison, he used that time to "become enlightened" and converted to Islam. Upon release, he was appointed as a minister and spokesman for the Nation of Islam(NOI). He believed that Little was a slave name, so he used X to symbolize his lost tribal name.
Malcolm used newspaper and media to spread the message of the NOI across the United States. He attracted a membership of 30,000 in an 11 year time span. Malcolm had become too radical in his beliefs and before being asked to leave the NOI, he left on his own and started the Organization of African Unity. He gained support but not from everyone. On February 21,1965, Malcolm was shot to death by Nation of Islam members while speaking at a rally for his organization in New York City.
Ella Little came to identify his body after the tragedy. ''He was at the point where he could become stronger than ever,'' Mrs. Collins said. ''I could see Malcolm becoming the greatest black man in the history of the world.'' She took charge of his organization after his death but later died in a nursing home.
"She was the first really proud black woman I had ever seen in my life,'' Malcolm X said in ''The Autobiography of Malcolm X.'' ''No physical move in my life has been more pivotal or profound in its repercussions.''