LANSING, Mich. — A Black activist named Earl Little was killed at the corner of Detroit Street and Michigan Avenue 80 years ago. He left behind his wife, Louise, and their seven children.
Most Lansing residents know about one of their sons, Malcolm, who went on to become the civil rights icon Malcolm X, but not many know the history of his parents, who were radicals in their own right.
Two Lansing activists are trying to change that.
“Earl and Louise Little have kind of been sidelined in the pages of the United States history and our discourse on civil rights and it’s because their lives were destroyed in this community.,” said Edmund Rushton, one of the activists leading this charge.
Both Earl and Louise were organizers for Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, a Black nationalist organization that worked for racial uplift and self-sufficiency.
In 1931, Earl was hit by a streetcar in Lansing. Authorities ruled his death an accident, but some suspect white supremacists were responsible.
“Anything that was ‘other’ was a threat and needed to be eliminated. I think really that is the story of Earl and Louise Little,” said activist Krystal Davis-Dunn.
Earl’s death took a toll on his wife.
"Louise Little was attempting to provide for seven children on her own with a recently deceased husband and insurance companies that didn’t want to pay out the settlements,” said John Aerni-Flessner, an associate professor of African and World History at Michigan State University.
The sordid history of the Littles’ life in Michigan is what Rushton and Davis-Dunn want Lansing residents to reckon with.
“They don’t want to acknowledge those atrocities, those evils, that violence, and that destruction of that family that created Malcolm X,” Davis-Dunn said.
Some historians say the racism and brutality his parents endured shaped Malcolm’s leadership approach.
“His organizing tactics and his drive really come out of those roots with his parents,” said Aerni-Flessner. “The lives that they lived suggested that the Garvey influence was strong in the family.”
Plaques and murals commemorating Malcolm X are around the Lansing area, but Davis-Dunn and Rushton say Earl and Louise Little should be remembered too.
“Tell the true story of who Earl and Louise Little were,” said Davis-Dunn.
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