A Sister's Love: The Story Behind the Malcolm X – Ella Little-Collins House

Posted on: January 21st, 2013 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 5 Comments

Written by Alicia Leuba, Field Director, Boston Office

Built in 1874, this is the last known surviving boyhood home of Malcolm X.  Credit: Steve Dunwell
Built in 1874, this is the last known surviving boyhood home of Malcolm X.

Two of the things I like most about my work with the National Trust are the people I meet and the stories I hear. My work on the Malcolm X House has provided me an opportunity to hear stories not only about Malcolm X as a boy and young man, but also of his older half sister Ella Little-Collins, as told by Rodnell Collins, Ella’s son and Malcolm X’s nephew.

I knew a bit about Malcolm X going into the project -- his role as a social justice and civil rights leader, his leadership in the Nation of Islam -- but nothing about Ella. By talking with Rodnell, I have learned about Malcolm’s life and his important relationship with his half sister, who is credited with playing an influential and supportive role throughout his life.

In his book, Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America, Bruce Perry relates a story about Malcolm X’s time while in a juvenile home in Michigan. He was achieving good grades in school and was president of his 8th grade class. He aspired to become a lawyer. When he told his teacher of his ambition, he was not prepared for the stinging, negative response he received, a response that Malcolm later described as a major turning point in his life.

During this time, Malcolm occasionally visited Ella in Roxbury, MA, a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Boston. Eventually, Ella gained guardianship of Malcolm, and he moved to Boston in 1941. Six months later she purchased the house we now refer to as the Malcolm X - Ella Little-Collins House at 72 Dale Street. This house became a touchstone for Malcolm through his rebellious and intellectually-defining years.

The historic home has been largely vacant for over 30 years. Credit: Steve Dunwell
The historic home has been largely vacant for over 30 years.

The house itself was built in 1874 and was modified significantly during Ella’s lifetime. Family was always a priority for Ella, and she often had various relatives living in different parts of the house. She divided rooms, added bathrooms, and did what she could to accommodate those who needed a home.

Ella kept the 72 Dale Street house until her death in 1996, when ownership was transferred to Rodnell. According to him, his mother never returned to the house after Malcolm X was shot in 1965, and the building was left vacant for nearly 30 years after her relatives left the property in the early 1980s.

Rodnell Collins grew up with his uncle Malcolm coming in and out of his life. From our conversations, we’ve learned that family and education continue to be key values for the Little-Collins family. Rodnell and his family wish to honor Ella Little-Collins’ and Malcolm X’s legacies by restoring the house, possibly as living quarters for graduate students studying civil rights, social justice, or African-American history.

Historic Boston, Inc. (HBI), a highly respected nonprofit preservation and real estate organization that rehabilitates historic and culturally significant properties in Boston, is working with the Collins family to help make this a reality. The National Trust is partnering with HBI to tell the story of the Malcolm X - Ella Little-Collins house. Through the 2012 11 Most Endangered Historic Places listing and other outlets, we will seek national recognition for it and provide support for its rehabilitation and reuse.

It's estimated it will cost over $1 million to make this project a success. In the end, we hope to revitalize this important structure in honor of its past, and as a way to contribute to the vitality of its surrounding neighborhood.

To learn more about the Trust’s work to rehabilitate the Malcolm X house, or to contribute to this project, please visit SavingPlaces.org.

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5 Responses

  1. Coy M. LaSister

    January 24, 2013

    The preservation of the Malcolm X Home is a great effort by the National Trust. As an African American, I want to be part of this effort to preserve and restore this historic building and recruit other African Americans here in Florida and Harlem, NYC to join this campaign. Please contact me to explore ways we can jointly achieve the goal of preserving this historic month staring in Black History Month and throughout 2013. You can contact me also by 727-409-9835 or by e-mail. Looking forward to hearing from you! All the Best!

    Coy M. LaSister
    National Trust Member

  2. National Trust for Historic Preservation

    January 25, 2013

    Thanks as always for your interest and hard work in the field, Coy! I’m going to put you in touch with the National Treasure team for the Little-Collins house. Watch your inbox for a follow-up …

    Julia Rocchi
    Managing Editor

  3. samar beihaghi

    January 29, 2013

    hi i am a holding a masters degree (rehabilitation and restoration of historical monuments and cities)and i would like to continue my education in PHD and of cours i would like to work in this field in AUSTRALIA please help me.
    i thank you in advance and look forward to hearing from me.

  4. carey shea

    February 4, 2013

    This weekend I visited the Medgar Evers house in Jackson, MS. This modest home and its docent, Ms. Minnie Watson, bring to life an important and troubled time in American history. We have a small window of opportunity to save a handful of important places that help illustrate the most American of all American movements — The Civil Rights Movement. Bravo to the NTHP and HPI for recognizing the importance of the Malcolm X home.

  5. National Trust for Historic Preservation

    February 5, 2013

    Thanks for the kind words, Carey! We’re certainly trying to bring forth more stories from the Civil Right movements and agree with you on their importance. If you ever have any suggestions, we’d love to hear them!


    Julia Rocchi
    Managing Editor