Louise Little (activist)

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Louise and Earl Little in an undated photo

Louise Helen Norton Little (née Langdon; 1897–1991) was a Grenadian-American activist. Little was born in La Digue, St. Andrew, Grenada, to Edith Langdon. Edith was the daughter of Jupiter and Mary Jane Langdon, "liberated Africans" who were captured from what is now Nigeria, subsequently freed from the slave ship by the Royal Navy and then settled in the Grenadian village of La Digue.[1] When she was 11 years old, Edith, one of six children of the Langdons, was raped by a "significantly older" Scottish man named Edward Norton, resulting in Louise, her only child.[2]

Little was raised by her grandparents, Jupiter and Mary Jane, until his death in 1901 and hers in 1916.[3] She was educated in a local Anglican school, and was fluent in English, French and Grenadian Creole.[4] After her grandmother's death, she emigrated from Grenada in 1917 to Montreal, where her uncle Edgerton Langdon introduced her to Garveyism and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Through the UNIA in Montreal, she met Earl Little, a craftsman and lay minister from Reynolds, Georgia. The couple married on May 10, 1919.[5] The following year they moved to Philadelphia, and then to Omaha, Nebraska in 1921. While in Omaha, she became the secretary and "branch reporter" of the UNIA's local chapter, sending news of local UNIA activities, led by Earl, to Negro World; they inculcated self-reliance and black pride in their children.[6][7][8] Their son Malcolm, who became famous as Malcolm X, later said that white violence killed four of his father's brothers.[9] Another son, Wilfred, later remembered that Louise "received letters from the leaders of the movement thanking her for the work she had done and praising her for her devotion to the cause".[10] Earl and Louise had seven children together: Wilfred (1920–1998), Hilda (1921–2015), Philbert (1923–1993), Malcolm (1925–1965), Reginald (1927–2001), Wesley (1928–2009) and Yvonne (1929–2003).

Because of Ku Klux Klan threats‍—‌Earl's UNIA activities were said to be "spreading trouble"[11]‍—‌the family relocated in 1926 to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and shortly thereafter to Lansing, Michigan.[12] There the family was frequently harassed by the Black Legion, a white racist group. When the family home burned in 1929, Earl accused the Black Legion.[13]

In 1931, Earl died in what was officially ruled a streetcar accident, though Louise believed Earl had been murdered by the Black Legion. Rumors that white racists were responsible for Earl's death were widely circulated, and were very disturbing to Louise and their children.[14] After a dispute with creditors, Louise received a life insurance benefit (nominally $1,000‍—‌about $16,000 in 2018 dollars[A]) in payments of $18 per month;[15] the issuer of another, larger policy refused to pay, claiming her husband Earl had committed suicide.[16] To make ends meet Louise rented out part of her garden, and her sons hunted game.[17]

In 1937, a man Louise had been dating‍—‌marriage had seemed a possibility‍—‌vanished from her life when she became pregnant with his child, Robert (1938–1999).[18] In late 1938 she had a nervous breakdown and was committed to Kalamazoo State Hospital. The children were separated and sent to foster homes.

Little was institutionalized at the Kalamazoo Mental Hospital from 1939 through 1963. Malcolm‍—‌who had become a criminal, been convicted, imprisoned, and released, and rose to fame as Malcolm X, a leading minister of the Nation of Islam‍—‌joined his siblings in securing her release from the hospital. She lived with her surviving family and descendants for the rest of her life.

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2019.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Blain, Keisha N. (February 19, 2017). "On Louise Little, the Mother of Malcolm X: An Interview with Erik S. McDuffie". Black Perspectives. African American Intellectual History Society. Retrieved July 14, 2018.
  2. ^ McDuffie, Erik S. (Fall 2016). "The Diasporic Journeys of Louise Little: Grassroots Garveyism, the Midwest, and Community Feminism". Women, Gender, and Families of Color. 4 (2): 152. doi:10.5406/womgenfamcol.4.2.0139.
  3. ^ McDuffie, pp. 152–153.
  4. ^ Wurth, Julie (April 7, 2016). "Activist's mom 'stood her ground'". The News-Gazette. Retrieved July 14, 2018.
  5. ^ McDuffie, p. 155.
  6. ^ Marable, Manning (2011). Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. New York: Viking. pp. 20–30. ISBN 978-0-670-02220-5.
  7. ^ Perry, Bruce (1991). Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America. Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill. pp. 2–3. ISBN 978-0-88268-103-0.
  8. ^ Vincent, Ted (March–April 1989). "The Garveyite Parents of Malcolm X". The Black Scholar. 20 (2): 10–13. JSTOR 41067613.
  9. ^ Malcolm X; with the assistance of Alex Haley (1992) [1965]. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: One World. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-0-345-37671-8.
  10. ^ Carew, Jan (1994). Ghosts in Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England and the Caribbean. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books. p. 118. ISBN 978-1-55652-218-5.
  11. ^ DeCaro Jr., Louis A. (1996). On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X. New York: New York University Press. pp. 43–44. ISBN 978-0-8147-1864-3.
  12. ^ Natambu, Kofi (2002). The Life and Work of Malcolm X. Indianapolis: Alpha Books. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-02-864218-5.
  13. ^ Natambu, p. 4.
  14. ^ Marable, Malcolm X, p. 29.
  15. ^ Marable, Malcolm X, p. 32
  16. ^ Natambu, p. 10.
  17. ^ Marable, Malcolm X, p. 32.
  18. ^ Marable, Malcolm X, p. 35.

Further reading[edit]