Monday 16 July 2018

Dig at Malcolm X home turns up evidence of 1700s settlement

The house where African-American leader Malcolm X spent part of his childhood in Boston (AP)
The house where African-American leader Malcolm X spent part of his childhood in Boston (AP)

An archaeological dig at the boyhood home of Malcolm X in Boston has turned up some surprising findings, but not related to the early life of the civil rights activist.

City archaeologist Joseph Bagley said this week that researchers digging outside the two-storey home have found kitchenware, ceramics and other evidence of a settlement dating to the 1700s that they had not expected to find.

"We've come on to a whole layer, roughly two feet down and across the whole site, that's absolutely filled with stuff from the period," he said.

"So we have this whole new research question, which is: What the heck was going on here in the 18th century?"

The two-week dig, which began on March 29, was meant to shine a light on Malcolm X's formative years in Boston, as well as the home's previous owners, an Irish immigrant family who lived there through the Great Depression.

Mr Bagley said city records show the house was built in 1874 on what had then been farmland.

But the dig's initial findings suggest there was probably another house on or near the site, dating to colonial times.

"This happens a lot in city digs. You look for one thing and you probably find it, but then you also come across a couple of other questions that you have to figure out," Mr Bagley said. "It's just part of the process."

The dig has turned up its share of evidence from Malcolm X's time in Boston.

Mr Bagley said the mishmash of broken dishes, bits of jewellery and toys unearthed so far probably come from when the home was badly vandalised in the 1970s and many items were thrown haphazardly into the garden.

Researchers have also found a small stone piece that may date to Native American tribes that once inhabited the city. But it is too early to tell how old the fragment is, and whether it is Native American in origin. A closer examination will be undertaken.

The Dale Street home is the last surviving residence from the former Malcolm Little's time as a teenager and young adult living in Boston's historically black Roxbury neighbourhood during the 1940s.

Little, who dropped his last name in favour of X when he joined the Nation of Islam as an adult, was raised by his sister, Ella Little-Collins, after his father died and his mother was committed to a mental institution.

The house is still owned by the Collins family, which hopes to renovate the vacant, badly deteriorated structure for public tours and other uses.

The dig was halted last week after bad weather forced a stoppage and is set to resume on May 16.

Press Association

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