My own thoughts are not much. The purpose of the trip is to find out more about someone else’s life, long-since lived but still resonating with more than a few of us, fortunately.
As I consider my ream of printed paper needed for hotels, hostels, car hire and so on, I realise that when she travelled to America from her own home, she would have needed to pack too and buy a ticket. Beyond that, there would only be needed a fistful of dollars and one’s wits. Probably not even a passport.
I wonder how she would have felt: excited, nervous, full of trepidation or hope. Perhaps all of that and more. Those are the things I shall be thinking of tomorrow. Travelling alone is an interesting business, so I was grateful when Finky Wink sent me this poem today. It says it all, really.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.
Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann c.1920
It’s been annoying me that Louise Little’s (Malcolm X’s mother) life is so sparsely documented.
But what can I expect, she was a woman, a black woman, and a woman locked away for insanity for over twenty years, when the limited evidence would point to some kind of post-natal psychosis that these days may have been treated and resolved far, far more quickly.
Her political activism is recorded as a supplement to that of her husband’s – Earl Little. Her resistance to the Klu Klux Klan a matter of a few words only. Earl was killed in 1931 and Louise brought up her children for nearly eight years until in 1938 she gave birth to an eighth child and was subsequently committed to a mental institution. She was about my age: 41. It is noted in some places that, before she was committed, Malcolm had already been removed from her care by the authorities, aged 13, on account of his stealing. He was placed with a white couple known to his mother who fostered him.
So Louise Little, born in Grenada to a black mother and a white father (the result of a possibly consensual relationship, but very possibly not), the second wife of Earl Little, mother to eight children the fourth being Malcolm X is reduced to a sentence or two in the Kingdom of Google.
This is how she was summarised after her husband’s death in one online document:
“Unable to cope with the financial and emotional demands of single parenthood, she was placed in a mental institution, and the children were sent to separate foster homes.”
Seven children, for seven years, plus an eighth child and no damn money and she was ‘unable to cope’? How diminished do you want her footnote in history to be?
To be continued… Any flesh on the bones welcomed. So far, these are the discrepancies I can find. Her father was Scottish, or English. She was committed for 24 years or for 26. Her husband was murdered or not. Her will was broken by the State, or she just plain lost the plot.
This is the record of her life:-
Louise Helen Norton, b. La Digue, St. Andrew, Grenada 1897, d. 1991.
What Louise might have said or thought, when her son Malcom was shot dead in 1965, twenty-six years before her own death, does not seem to merit any mention.
I caught an excerpt from a compelling new book on the radio this morning. Manning Marable’s ‘Malcolm X – A Life of Reinvention’ can be listened to again here. My ears pricked up when the announcer said that the author had died shortly after it was completed. Well, it must have taken some writing then I thought, but the truth is he died of sarcoidosis in April this year.
The book is an attempt to rewrite the legend of Malcolm X and I understand it has attracted some criticism on that account, being described as an ‘abomination’ and containing ‘serious errors’. And this is where it becomes fascinating. Marable, a Professor at Columbia University, is writing what he believes to be true about his subject. This may not tally with his subject’s truth in his autobiography, or that of all the subsequent biographers, but the veracity, or otherwise, is not what especially interests me. It is what Marable believed happened and the differences between his view and that of others that is engaging in itself.
In the first episode for example, Marable writes about Malcolm X’s mother, Louise Little. The mother of 7 children with Earl Little, Malcom’s father (Malcom was the fourth child), Louise’s story was terrible to hear as Marable writes it.
After Earl is killed, officially in a streetcar accident although rumour persisted that it was at the hands of racists, Louise survives with her 7 children in penury. She becomes pregnant and, after giving birth to her eighth child, loses her mind and is committed to a mental institution for 24 years.
Marable paints a pitiful scene: before Christmas she is found barefoot in the street, wandering, clutching her illegitimate baby to her breast…
And, with a little further research the different truths tumble out. Malcolm was ashamed of his mother’s mental illness and rarely visited her, Malcom and his siblings strived to finally gain her freedom after 24 years, Louise treated Malcolm differently because his skin was paler than his siblings (Louise’s father was a white man who raped her mother), Malcolm felt his mother had betrayed his dead father by becoming pregnant by another man. There’s plenty of room for reinvention there alright.
I wonder what Louise Little’s book would have said about it.