Overlooked No More: Louise Little, Activist and Mother of Malcolm X

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By Jolie Solomon, The New York Times

She fought oppression in public and private spheres, and shaped her son’s education as he evolved into a powerful thinker and speaker.

Louise Little in an undated photo. Recent literature has reframed her as a formidable and nuanced protagonist as she struggled to raise her family amid racism and harassment. (via Ilyasah Shabazz)

Helen Louise Langdon was born on the Caribbean island of Grenada in 1894 or 1897. Her birth year is just one of many details that are hard to pin down. Larger questions about her life are also matters of dispute or interpretation in the now growing literature about her. Did a white man named Norton, her biological father, have a relationship with Louise’s mother, the much younger Edith, or did he rape her? How did Louise feel about her fair skin, which complicated her relationships with her husband, with Malcolm and with any community where she lived?

Malcolm saw his mother twice during her 25 years of institutionalization, the same years he was evolving into a powerful thinker and speaker as a prominent figure in the Nation of Islam. His renown very likely helped get Little released in 1963, after years of petitions by his siblings.

Malcolm wrote to his brother Philbert in 1949. Their mother had suffered at the hands of the state, Malcolm wrote, because the authorities knew that “she was not ‘deadening our minds.’”

He added, “My accomplishments are ours, and yours are mine, but all of our achievements are Mom’s, for she was a most Faithful Servant of the Truth years ago. I praise Allah for her.”

Read the full story here.

Learn more about the Civil Rights Movements in the time of Malcolm X here.

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