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Preserve the X: Letters from the Malcolm X Ella Collins House

By Rodnell Collins (Nephew of Malcolm X & Project Manager of the Malcolm X Ella Collins House)

See the entire original letter from Ella Collins to her Brother Malcolm on our social media @malcolmxhouseboston and read the transcription of the letter as you read further.


The frame structure at 72 Dale St. Roxbury Mass was constructed in 1860 as a single family residence on a 7,068 square-foot parcel. From 1860 to 1926 it passed through four owners three of whom were of Irish descent. In the mist of the Depression, Eliot savings bank foreclosed on the properties mortgage for breach of conditions. Ella Little Johnson purchased this property from the bank on August 12, 1941 for $4,100. Shortly there after the first story of the rear ell was converted into a separate apartment. From fall of 1941 to 1961, this house was densely occupied by the extended family of its owners; Ella Little and Kenneth Collins. The main house was vacated in the early 1960s although the rear ell remained tenanted until 1975. Vacant for approximately 35 years the house at 72 Dale St. currently suffers from deferred maintenance and interior vandalism.

Malcolm Little, shortly after his fathers death, moved to Boston to live with Ella. At the time Ella and her husband Kenneth Collins were starting their own family—with the birth of their son Rodnell in 1945— and felt it appropriate that Malcolm live on the third floor where he had access to his own bedroom, a kitchenette and den. Malcolm’s three aunts lived on the first floor of the Dale Street House; they were Emmie, Gracie, Sarah—his father Earl’s sisters from Georgia.

“To understand why I have acted the way I have you must examine my entire life”

-Malcolm X

Malcolm X's Statement calls for an exploration of history by using social, cultural and anthropological tools. The Malcolm X Ella Collins House aim’s to reveal the purpose of Malcom X’s legacy, by doing just that.


Through a decades long campaign for City, State and Federal designation, with the support of the City of Boston and (late) Mayor Thomas M. Menino, by way of rigorous anthropological study with Boston's Archaeological Department and the University of Massachusetts Fiske Center, and through archival excavation at Oxford University with broadcast support from BBC’s Radio One programming; the MXECH is working to ensure, that Malcolm X’s life and legacy does not as; Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson stated in his famed Life Magazine article; “pass into myth.” Ella Little Collins—Malcolm X's sister and a benefactor to her brother’s cause—wanted to make sure that Malcolm's life did not become mythological, and likewise pass on into legend. She chose to honor Malcolm’s request that his life, “be chronicled, not interpreted,” factually and truthfully, and in doing so passed on that work to be done through the MXECH.

Before raising her brother Malcolm and throughout his life, Ella Little Collins was an educator, who fully recognized the history of tyranny and horror suffered by Malcolm's family and so many in the Americas, but she also wanted ensure that, strength, love of life and perseverance could be passed along throughout the generations and vitalize Malcolm as it had sustained so many before him. Ella saw the potential that Malcolm had to be a symbol for humanity but she also insisted that symbolism not be without substance. So, it became Ella’s will to help Malcolm channel the strength of his ancestors and family members whose shoulders he stood upon.

Malcolm X’s time in Roxbury spanned his entire life; visiting, studying, and living in the neighborhood. Malcolm completed his ninth grade at the David A. Ellis School (later,

Malcolm's nephew, Rodnell Collins; son of Ella and Kenneth Collins, attended the same school. Rodnell’s teacher was Miss Agatha Gilford who later went on to become one of Boston's first African-American Council member).

In a1967 interview with news reporter Sarah Ann Shaw, Ella Little Collins mentions Malcolm’s coming to Boston at the age of 12 (Malcolm was born in 1925) During that time Malcolm returned to Mason Michigan. Ella wanted all her fathers children, her brothers and sisters in Michigan, to live with her in Boston. Eventually, another of Malcolm and Ella's siblings, Hilda Little, moved to Boston and lived at the now Malcolm X Ella Collins House with Earl Little’s Sisters; Sarah, Gracie and Emmie, on the first floor of the MXECH at 72 Dale Street.

While Malcolm would continually return to Boston until his assassination in 1965, he finally moved out of permanent residency with Ella in 1958; after which he took an apartment in NYC with a friend, John Ali. It was during this time that Malcolm met and married Betty. On many of Malcolm’s trips to NYC he slept in the back room of Micheaux bookstore on 125th St., New York

In one of several letters Ella sends to Malcolm during his returns to Mason Michigan during summer school vacation from Boston Ella writes, “I would like for you to come (back) under one condition; your mind be made up. If I should send your fare, could you pay all your bills, let me know real soon.”

Ella writes another important letter to Malcolm in 1940 regarding their grandfather:


June 19th 1940 11 a.m.


Dear Malcolm,

I am sorry I did not write before, but so much has happened since I heard from you.


Pa died on the 11th of May and I went south to his funeral. Wilfred was there too. I don’t Think you know who Pa is, he is Dad’s Father, our grandfather. He was 81 years old and was supposed to leave May 9th for Boston. He had his clothes all packed and got up and ate his breakfast and said he didn’t feel so good. He got up from the chair and started to the bed and died before he got there.


I brought over two aunts home with me, Dads two youngest sisters.


We are having plenty rain here over a week. Hilda and Earl (Jr.) send love and hope to see you soon.


I won’t say anything to Wilfred or anyone else about you coming to Boston. We will let that be a surprise.


I know you are a good boy and someday Wilfred will say so too. Now that you are older you know right from wrong and will do the right things.

Write to me real soon and let me know what day you want to leave for Boston. Lots of Love.


Your Sister

Ella.


(p.s.) Be sure to keep this photo because I want to have one enlarged from it.


Malcolm writes in his autobiography, “for the first time in my life a restlessness with being around white people began as soon as I got back home and entered eighth grade." (Malcolm finished ninth grade in Boston MA.) “I continued to think constantly about all that I had seen in Boston and about the way I felt. I know now that it was a sense of being a real part of a mass of my own kind for the first time.

When Malcolm was growing up in Boston Ella instructed him to take a look around Boston and see what whites had done in their own revolutionary struggle against tyranny. The history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and further the dat etched on Plymouth Rock did not elude Malcolm, prompting him to one day proclaim, "you didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on you.” Malcolm spent many summer on Ella and Kenneths farm in Duxbury Massachusetts, just a few miles from Plymouth Massachusetts.

The Malcolm X Ella Collins House abuts Malcolm X Park— over seventeen acres of green space and recreational facilities. Two of the facilities within the park were re-designed by the Olmsted Brothers in 1912; Frederick Law Olmstead was a major landscape architect in Boston during the 1800s to 1900.

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MXECH

The Malcolm X - Ella Collins House

Email: contact@malcolmxhouse.org

Phone: (617) 427-7817

NRHP #: 100005455

72 Dale St, Roxbury, Boston, MA

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