Aaron Sims, of Inkster, led an effort in July to clean up the property believed to have been the residence of Malcolm X. (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)
Inkster— Boarded up and burned out, the house where political activist Malcolm X lived in Inkster may have new life now that a group of residents is interested in restoring the home and making it a historic landmark.
They are spearheading an effort to rehab the home in a bid for a historical marker similar to the one at his childhood home in Lansing. They also want to hold tours.
Their efforts are drawing the attention of state and local leaders, who want to hear more about plans for the home. It’s also a bright spot for some residents, who are weary of a city where crime, blight and a fleeing population are more likely to draw headlines. Restoring a piece of Inkster’s history could change that, resident Dawon Lynn said.
“We want to promote it so people can see we have something positive here,” Lynn said. “There’s really been nothing positive going on in the city, so we want to let people know Malcolm did stay here and give the kids walking to school something they can be proud of.”
Lynn has reached out to Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, and hopes the family will contribute memorabilia such as family photos, papers and other artifacts from the slain activist, born Malcolm Little.
He took the last name of X to demonstrate his name was stolen when his African ancestors were enslaved.A one-time member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X preached black empowerment but was often viewed negatively by those who felt he sowed racism and violence before resigning from the organization in the final years of his life.
After converting to Islam while in prison for larceny, he is widely credited for the spread of the religion among African-Americans.
For now, the padlocked home at 4336 Williams St. sits in shambles, surrounded by three other dilapidated, vacant houses.
Aaron Sims, who operates a nonprofit organization, Project: We Hope, Dream and Believe, led an effort in July to clean up the property and a house next door. He appealed for help by posting a picture of the house on Facebook surrounded by weeds and rubbish with the caption: “Can we cut Malcolm X’s grass.”
The post drew a swift response from the community. Dozens of volunteers and nearby residents cut the lawn, cleared overgrown tree branches and picked up debris, including syringes and liquor bottles littering the yard.
“When you don’t share information about who lived there, people just treat it like a regular abandoned house,” said Sims, a fourth-generation Inkster resident. “I don’t think the owners knew too much of the history and neither do the kids in the community.”
The weeds have since grown back, vodka bottles litter the lawn again and the garbage collected nearly three months ago sits at the curb.
“I think it’s just more sad that no one had taken the initiative. There are a lot of historic areas in Inkster that are worthy of being restored,” Sims said, citing the homes of members of the popular Motown girl quartet the Marvelettes.
Sims spoke with the property’s former owner who told him it is now owned by the city. He plans to go to City Hall to learn if it’s on the auction block or demolition list.
Inkster Councilwoman Kim Howard has expressed interest in the project. Howard invited Sims to lay out his plans at the council meeting Oct. 21. State Rep. David Knezek, whose district includes Inkster, has also shown interest, Sims said.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Howard said. “That would be a gem just like Motown is to Detroit from a historical aspect.”
Sims said he will ask the city to donate the property to his nonprofit and plans to launch an online fundraising campaign. He said he’s unsure how much it will cost to rehab the home. Sims added he has started an application for historic designation.
Malcolm X converted to the Islamic faith in a Massachusetts prison, where his interest was sparked by letters about the Nation of Islam from his siblings, according to Stanford history professor Clayborne Carson.
“There were people in his family that were aware of the Nation of Islam, and Detroit and Boston were both places were it had some strength,” said Carson, author of “Malcolm X: The FBI File.”
After he was released in 1952, FBI records show Malcolm X lived at the Williams Street address with his brother and worked at the Cut Rate Department Store in Inkster.
His rapid ascension in the organization and being a self-proclaimed communist ultimately lead to the FBI starting a file on Malcolm X, Carson said.
In 1963, the New York Times named him the second most sought after speaker in the United States.
He was assassinated in New York City in 1965.
“We just wanted to see what we could do to bring more people together, bring integrity and awareness back to the city that is sad and depressed, and take that dark cloud off of us,” Lynn said.