Malcolm X’s Roxbury home prepares for major restoration project in 2021

The Malcolm X House in Roxbury has been under repair for years. Photo by Hannah Green/BU News Service

By Hannah Green
BU News Service

BOSTON – 72 Dale Str. in Roxbury is known to Bostonians as the teenage home of Malcolm X, well-remembered as an international Black activist. But Rodnell Collins, Malcolm X’s nephew and owner of the family home, wants residents to remember another side of the famous figure.

“The whole family was raised in science and research,” Collins said. “That’s how I was raised, and so was Malcolm. Which is something a lot of people don’t know.”

Malcolm, born Malcolm Little, lived in Roxbury with his mother’s sister and her family in the 1940s. While in Boston, Malcolm was arrested on a burglary charge. During his time in Charlestown State Prison, he was introduced to the Nation of Islam and began his activism.

The family home, known as the Malcolm X – Ella Little-Collins House, will undergo major preservation and restoration in the coming years. Collins said they hope to create a center that fosters education and research. 

But before this project, Collins said the family wanted to ensure the history of the home was cataloged for future generations to study. In 2016, Boston’s City Archaeology Program and UMASS Boston’s Fiske Center for Archaeological Research conducted a survey of the house and the surrounding property.

The researchers cataloged more than 18,000 artifacts from the site, according to the city’s archaeological report

An interpretive sign stands outside the Malcolm X House in Roxbury. Photo by Hannah Green/BU News Service

Collins said the project unearthed items ranging from his family mementos, including pieces of Ella Collins’ pottery, to Native American artifacts.

“There were a lot of interesting people who lived here in Roxbury,” Collins said. “Right here on Dale Street.”

He said the project also unearthed the story of two civil war heroes who had “disappeared into history.” According to the city’s archeological report, Frederic W. Dorr bought the 72 Dale St. property in 1866. 

Dorr was a trained mapmaker; during the civil war, he rode on horseback behind enemy lines with his partner John Donn. The pair were responsible for drawing accurate maps of Confederate positions and locations at battlefields, including Yorktown and Chattanooga.

“The work that they did and their mapmaking, and getting that back to the War Department and President Lincoln, was significant in winning two battles of the American Civil War, which helped turn the tide,” Collins said.

Collins said that more than 2,000 Boston students visited the dig site to learn about the science behind the history.

“They were able to touch, to feel, and to get a few lessons on archaeology,” Collins said. “One young girl wouldn’t leave and spent four hours here.”

Collins said this is the impact and type of programming the family hopes to create moving forward. In 2021, the Collins family plan to kick off a fundraising campaign to restore the home.

Collins said they would need $7.5 million for phase one of the project, which includes preserving and restoring the exterior and landscaping. For the interior, the family needs to raise $4.5 million.

The ultimate goal is to house graduate students on the first floor and open the second floor, where Malcolm and the family lived, to the general public for educational tours. Collins said the family wants to maintain the integrity and history of the house.

“My parents did not want assembly without substance,” Collins said. “They wanted people to come and learn about science. It has to be informative – full stop.”

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