Digging Into Malcolm X’s Past: Boston Archaeologists Break Ground At Civil Rights Activist’s Former Home

Fifty-one years after the civil rights activist was assassinated, a team of archaeologists from Boston, Massachusetts, have begun digging into Malcolm X’s past at his former home in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.

The house where Malcolm X once lived with his half-sister, Ella Little Collins, now belongs to Rodnell Collins, nephew of the famed civil rights activist and former Nation of Islam leader. Collins plans to renovate the house in order to turn it into a museum of sorts, open for public tours, reports NBC News, but the renovations include having to fix the foundation of the house, which would mean mean digging up a large portion of the yard and running the risk of destroying any potential archaeological finds. Before renovations began, Boston archaeologist Joseph Bagley jumped at the chance to dig into Malcolm X’s past, convincing Collins to allow he and his team to do an archaeological survey prior to the start of the restoration.


Doing an archaeological survey on the former home of Malcolm X is not only a unique opportunity for Bagley and his team, but also for Collins, who lived in the home, located at 72 Dale street, as a child, with his mother and aunt Ella.

“These are the things I haven’t seen since I was a little boy.”

Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925, Malcolm X was moved from foster home to foster home after his mother was institutionalized, before ultimately ending up at the Boston-area home where his older half-sister lived, when he was 15-years-old. In his autobiography The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm wrote of his time spent at the house, expressing a deep love for the area.

“I didn’t know the world contained as many Negroes as I saw thronging downtown Roxbury at night, especially on Saturdays. Neon lights, nightclubs, pool halls, bars, the cars they drove! Restaurants made the streets smell—rich, greasy, down-home black cooking! Jukeboxes blared Erskine Hawkins, Duke Ellington, Cootie Williams, dozens of others.”

Just a few years after first moving into the home, Malcolm was arrested and imprisoned for larceny at 20-years-old. It was while in prison that he began studying the Nation of Islam, a path that would eventually lead him to become the civil rights activist we know of today. But to Collins, the famed leader was nothing more than uncle Malcolm — a man who loved learning, a who would have to listen to the preachings of Collins’ mother, just like his young nephew did.

Collins remembers once such incident. His mother always encouraged he and uncle Malcolm to be “constructive, not destructive,” a lesson that was driven home for young Rodnell one afternoon when his mother had caught him squishing ants on the sidewalk.

“She said, ‘Consider the ants as builders. They’re building, they’re being constructive. And you come along and you want to destroy something – and for what reason? What are you building?’ My mom was always telling me, ‘Be a builder, not a destroyer.’ “

After only hours of digging into the land around Malcolm X’s former home, Bagley said they were shocked to have already found some artifacts, including part of a ceramic dish that Collins remembered belonged to his aunt Ella; a toy car that a young Rodnell used to play with in the yard; and a lock plate.


According to Metro, the Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, said in a statement that the city is excited to “unearth an important piece of Boston’s history,” but more than that, the team hopes that they also find archaeological evidence of the 17th- and 18th-century Irish farming families who once lived in the house, and if they’re exceptionally lucky, perhaps even some Native American artifacts.

The team will be digging into Malcolm X’s past for the next two weeks, and will be posting live updates of their progress on the City of Boston Archaeology Instagram page.

[Photo by AP Photo/Bill Sikes]

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