Louise Little was hospitalized for 26 years at the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital, not for mental illness, but owing to “systemic racial injustice.”
Mothers are pillars, builders, molders, a strong foundation in a child’s life. Whether or not the times are changing with accompanying responsibilities in a home, one thing holds sure, a mother’s influence sure holds strong as mind readers, first friends, first teachers, caregivers, and role models.
No doubt, Malcolm X’s legacy as an iconic figure in the civil rights movement is engraved in life’s remembrance book, but a look at his background shows clearly where he gets his spirit from.
While the name Louis Little might not strike a chord by itself, the fact is Grenadian-born Little, Malcolm X’s mom established herself as a force in activism and inculcated these values unto her children making them read newspapers such as Negro World.
An educated woman of mixed heritage, born in 1894 out of rape, to a black mother and a white father, Little -“looked like a white woman”, Malcolm recalled in his autobiography. “She had straight black hair, and her accent did not sound like a Negro’s.” She spoke multiple languages, including English French and Patois.
A strong-willed, unapologetic Garveyite grassroots activist, Louise Little boldly revolted against racism and patriarchy. As an active voice for self-independence governance of blacks and pulling down strongholds of racism, she joined Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), launching protests. She was noted for her grassroots activism and was applauded “received letters from the leaders of the movement (UNIA), thanking her for the work she had done and praising her for her devotion to the cause”.
Born Louise Langdon Norton Little in Grenada, in 1917, she moved to Canada to live with an uncle. A year later in 1918, she met Earl Little, they tied the knot in 1919. The couple went on to have seven children – Malcolm X was their fourth child. She worked as a housewife and a secretary for a year in an affiliate of Marcus Garvey’s organization. With the death of her husband, Rev Earl Little, a Baptist minister and core figure of the militant Universal Negro Improvement Association, on September 28, 1931 – Malcolm X’s father Earl Little was run over by a streetcar in Lansing, believed by many to be an assassination by white supremacists, she became a 35-year-old widow with eight children. A proud woman by nature, the devastating blow during the Depression hit hard. The welfare system came into the picture, run by white racists, needless to say, more harm came her way. In 1938, after being abandoned by her boyfriend after impregnating her. she suffered a nervous breakdown, but it was ultimately her refusal as a proud independent strong woman to bow to white supremacists and patriarchy that led to her being “hospitalized” at Kalamazoo State Hospital, a psychiatric facility.
Her eight children, including Malcolm, then aged 11, were all sent to foster homes. After 26 whole years in the institution, in 1963, Malcolm X secured her release, Little died in 1989 at the age of 92.