BOSTON — Archeologists are digging at a boyhood home of Malcolm X in an effort to uncover more about the slain black rights activist's early life as well as the property's long history, which possibly includes Native American settlement.
The two-week archaeological dig began Tuesday outside a two-and-a-half story home in Boston's historically black Roxbury neighborhood that was built in 1874.
City Archaeologist Joseph Bagley said his office chose to dig up the site because it's likely that work will be needed soon to shore up the foundation of the vacant and run down structure.
"This is kind of a now-or-never dig," he said. "If we don't do this, the site will be destroyed. We can't afford to wait."
Among Tuesday's early finds was a large piece of fine porcelain that Bagley says was likely part of a dish set owned by the family of Malcolm X's sister, which still owns the house.
"We're literally just scratching the surface," Bagley said as he and volunteers used a sifter to carefully pore over mounds of rubble on a side yard.
Bagley says once the initial rubble is cleared, a ground-penetrating radar survey will be used to determine the best locations to dig. Major excavation work is expected to dig up to four feet into the ground. The site will be open to the public throughout to observe the work.
"We don't actually go in looking for anything," Bagley says. "It's more like we're looking for anything that might tell us something about the people that lived here."
Rodnell Collins, a nephew of Malcolm X who lived with him in the house, hopes the survey can raise public awareness of his family's deep roots in Boston. He's been working for years to renovate the dilapidated structure for public tours and other uses.
The former Malcolm Little was a teenager in the 1940s when he lived with his sister Ella Little-Collins and her family at 72 Dale St.
The house was designated a city landmark in 1998 because it's the only known dwelling from the outspoken activist's formative years in Boston still standing.
"No physical move in my life has been more pivotal or profound in its repercussions," Malcolm X wrote in his autobiography about his time in Boston. "All praise is due to Allah that I went to Boston when I did. If I hadn't, I'd probably still be a brainwashed black Christian."
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Little had bounced around from foster homes following his father's death and his mother's institutionalization for a nervous breakdown.
Little-Collins eventually became his legal guardian. But Little rebelled against family life and landed in a Boston prison for burglary charges in his early 20s.
There, he became a Nation of Islam follower and dropped his surname in favor of "X'' to represent his family's lost African ancestral name.
A charismatic speaker, Malcolm X quickly became the Detroit-founded Nation of Islam's principal spokesman during its rapid rise in the 50s and 60s.
He founded temples and mosques up and down the eastern seaboard, promoting a message of black nationalism and denouncing white American culture.
Malcolm X's fiery rhetoric came in stark contrast to that of more non-violence-minded civil rights contemporaries like Martin Luther King, Jr.
But he eventually left the Nation of Islam, adopted a more conciliatory tone and converted to Sunni Islam before being gunned down by Nation of Islam adherents at a speech in New York City in 1965 at the age of 39.