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.