Malcolm X Slept Here

 

Declassified FBI document

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A lot of famous people have lived in Philadelphia, and we generally like to brag about it. If the person is deemed important enough, the State of Pennsylvania puts up a dark blue historical marker on the spot as a stamp of official recognition. There are lacunae in our collective memory, though, places that are strangely blank, and Malcolm X’s brief residence in Philadelphia is one of them.

Malcolm moved to Philadelphia in early March of 1954, fresh off his success organizing Temple 11 in Boston. His brief was to energize Temple 12, located at 1643 North Bailey Street, now home to the Holy Ghost Crusade Church. The FBI already had Malcolm under surveillance, and noted his arrival in Philadelphia. One file states that he quickly registered as a longshoreman on the waterfront.

Malcolm shared a rented flat at 1522 North 26th Street with Joseph X Gravitt, according to these FBI documents and Manning Marable’s recent biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. However Sean Patrick Griffin says Malcolm lived a few blocks away at 2516 West Nicholas Street in Black Brothers Inc., his account of Philadelphia’s Black Mafia. The 26th Street building has been demolished, but the Nicholas Street house still stands.

The Nation of Islam dispatched Malcolm to turn around New York City’s Temple 7 in June of 1954, but he remained minister of Temple 12 for another three months. He would return frequently to Philadelphia in the coming years, and made his final appearance on a public stage with Elijah Muhammed at a rally here in 1963.

Malcolm’s stay in Philadelphia was short and lacked drama, which is probably a good part of why it remains little known here. Yet Malcolm’s lingering reputation as a racist has something to do with it, too. The general public tends to take pride in less politically divisive figures–witness the dearth of tributes to Thomas Paine in Philadelphia, which was so memorably hammered home by the late Steven Wells in Philly Weekly. This ambivalence may be on its last legs, though. Malcolm’s reputation has risen spectacularly since his murder, and it is now politically acceptable to name public facilities after him, at least in some parts of the country. Black Oak Park in West Philadelphia was renamed after Malcolm 1995, and he’s depicted in a 2005 mural at Ridge Avenue and West Susquehanna Street. Perhaps it’s time to recognize him more specifically as an actor in the story of our city.


View Larger Map

Peter Woodall is the co-editor of Hidden City Daily. He is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, and a former newspaper reporter with the Biloxi Sun Herald and the Sacramento Bee. He worked as a producer for Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane and wrote a column about neighborhood bars for PhiladelphiaWeekly.com.



Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Reaching For The Heavens At Cret's Tower Of Chimes

Reaching For The Heavens At Cret’s Tower Of Chimes

May 26, 2017  |  Vantage

Turn a corner in Philadelphia and you will eventually run into a building or bridge designed by Paul Phillipe Cret. Celebrated for his broad, arched infrastructure and Neoclassical landmarks, not much is discussed of his cemetery architecture. Contributor Brian Horne takes a trip out to Montgomery County where a 172-foot tower designed by Cret sends a memorial park reaching towards the sky > more

Rediscovering The Dead Fleet Of The Delaware River

Rediscovering The Dead Fleet Of The Delaware River

May 23, 2017  |  Vantage

The ships of the "Dead Fleet" at Pier 78 rise at low tide from their watery graves in the Delaware River. It's a curious sight, recalling a time when the riverbanks thrummed with a booming maritime industry. Philadelphia shipping historian Robert McNulty takes us on a salty voyage to uncover the backstory of South Philadelphia's ghost ship graveyard > more

Building A Better Future With Bright Common

Building A Better Future With Bright Common

May 19, 2017  |  Vantage

Hidden City editor Michael Bixler catches up with sustainable architect Jeremy Avellino to talk climate change, deep energy retrofits, and the power of passive house building. > more

Restoration Project Gives New Life To Ben Franklin's Grave

Restoration Project Gives New Life To Ben Franklin’s Grave

May 17, 2017  |  News

Benjamin Franklin's tombstone gets some desperately needed TLC. Tyler Horst has the story > more

Summoning The Spirit Of A Victorian Masterpiece

Summoning The Spirit Of A Victorian Masterpiece

May 15, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

Gone, but not forgotten. The Shadow channels the ghost of the Henry J. Morton Guild House, a beautiful Victorian hall designed by famed Philadelphia architects Wilson Brothers & Company > more

The Making (And Marketing) Of The Modern Gayborhood

The Making (And Marketing) Of The Modern Gayborhood

May 12, 2017  |  Vantage

Contributor Kelson Northeimer takes a look at the history of the Gayborhood and its cultural transformation through lifestyle marketing and gentrification > more