Letter to Lansing City Council

March 12, 2006 at 5:03 pm 5 comments

So far in my young life, I’ve gotten to rollerblade in 12 different states.  My Michigan skate was probably one of the most meaningful.  Last July rollerbladed on Vincent Court in Lansing, Michigan– the street where young Malcolm Little (aka Malcolm X) grew up on.  The Little house no longer stands and there is a historic marker in its place.  I was most struck, however, how the marker stands on the corner of Vincent Court and….. Martin Luther King, Blvd.  This bothered me a bit and a couple of  months later I drafted a letter to the Lansing City Council.  Well, this week I finally mailed that letter.

I find myself regularly surprised about how misconceptions about Malcolm X are resilient to this day.  The Autobiography of Malcolm X  has sold millions of copies; there was the successful, widely distributed Malcolm X movie in 1992.  Yet still, so many people know very little about him. 

Case in point, when I returned from Lansing, Michigan and I was first voicing my disappointment in the street names a friend asked me, “So… you want to them to name a street after a terrorist?”

Malcolm X is no more a terrorist than the likes of Patrick Henry, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.  Think about this:

One of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the great struggle for independence.

-Charles A. Beard, 1935

So although this letter is a work I’m self conscious about (heck it took eight months to even mail), I’m sharing it here.  Certainly there is someone who’d have more convincing arguments or better articulation than I.  I’m including the City Council’s address– please send them a better letter!

Lansing City Council
124 West Michigan Ave., 10th floor
Lansing, Michigan 48915

Dear Mr. Leeman and colleagues,
            … In July, I had the opportunity to visit your city on a business trip.  At the beginning of my trip, I was quite fond of Lansing.  I especially enjoyed all the parks and the beautiful River Walk.  I am sad to report, however, that my visit was quickly overshadowed when I went to visit the childhood home of Malcolm X.
I was aware ahead of time that the home was gone, so I knew to expect a historical marker.  What really took me aback was the cross street to Vincent Court.  I was surprised that your city has an entire street named after Martin Luther King, Jr. when you have a comparable, if not better, local figure to honor.  Standing on Martin Luther King Blvd, looking at a measly marker, I could not help but be struck by how Lansing was snubbing one of its own. 
            In his autobiography, Malcolm X described aspiring to be lawyer as a child.  When he shared that inclination, it was a Lansing school teacher who instructed Malcolm to “be realistic” and to aim to be a carpenter instead.  Although much less direct, the corner of Martin Luther King and Vincent Ct. is sending a similar message to the city’s youth.  That message, paraphrased, is this:
 “You can correct mistakes of your youth, become well educated and articulate.  You can speak for the oppressed.  You can fight for those who can’t.  You can dedicate every ounce of your being to a meaningful cause.  You can risk death and bodily harm for a better world.  You can enlighten, you can convince, you can inspire.  Yet still– Lansing is going to search a thousand miles away for a hero.”
            One of the things I most admire about Malcolm X was the fortitude he showed revising his views after visiting Mecca.  He knew his new beliefs would infuriate his colleagues.  He knew it would alienate some of his admirers.  He even knew the more accepting approach would be the death of him.  He forged ahead nonetheless, demonstrating it is never too late to change your mind and make amends.
            It isn’t too late for Lansing either.  You have the opportunity to exercise your own fortitude.  Do something more than a historical marker.  Do something more than a school mural.  

Embrace Malcolm X.  

Entry filed under: Lansing, Michigan, Malcolm X, Uncategorized.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Adam  |  May 26, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    I have been a long-time admirer of Malcolm X, since I was a child in fact. I listened to all his audio lectures and watched all the movies and documentaries made about him.

    I have had the autobiography of Malcolm X for several years now. However, believe it or not, I regarded it as more of a showpiece and never read more than a few lines from it here and there. Just looking at the picture on the cover made me happy and made me proud.

    Today, I decided to read this book from the beginning. This entire morning has been a moving experience for me. I have never really lived through the conditions that Malcolm has lived through, but I somehow see myself relating to each line that is contained within the book. I am especially moved by his childhood story. I suddenly had the urge to go to Lansing, to see what it’s like.. I have this great connection with historical sites… anyway, I know that’s kind of impossible right now, but I at least wanted to see some pictures of it. And that’s how I came across your website, and your letter.

    And I cannot agree with you more.

  • 2. tgaw  |  May 26, 2006 at 2:22 pm

    Thank you for writing! Even though the house isn’t there, I did find being in the neighborhood a moving experience. A number of the houses are pretty aged and the street had a historic feel and energy. If you are in the vicinity of Lansing, I believe Vincent Court is still worth a visit.

    I did have another disappointment while I was there though. At first I was lost and I passed by some neighborhood kids coming out of their driveway riding bikes, so I asked them where Malcolm X used to live.

    “We don’t know,” they said and pedaled away.

    It turned out I was just on the wrong side of Vincent Court and I was directly across the street from the historical marker. So…. worse case, those kids lived right across the street from the historical marker and had no idea it was even there and were unaware of the significance of their street. Maybe it was a different case– maybe they were just trying not to talk to a stranger?

    Well, thanks again for taking the time to post.


  • 3. Adam  |  May 26, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    Thanks for the response. I’d love to go to Lansing, but I’m rather far away in Canada 🙂

  • 4. tgaw  |  May 26, 2006 at 10:48 pm

    D’oh– that could make the trip difficult! 🙂

    I hope you enjoy the rest of the “Autobiography of Malcolm X”

    If you are interested in similiar writings of the period two other books I found thought-provoking are “Revolutionary Suicide” by Huey P. Newton and “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin.

  • 5. paul_knightly  |  January 26, 2007 at 2:27 am

    is it ok if i post here?


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