Monday, July 28, 2014

Was Ella Collins Really Malcolm X's Sister?

(Malcolm X’s father)
Born July 29, 1891
Killed: September 28, 1931

Addendum appended: September 22, 2014

© 2014, Karl Evanzz


Evelyn Mulray: "She's my daughter".

[Gittes slaps Evelyn]

Jake Gittes: "I said I want the truth!"

Evelyn Mulray: "She's my sister..."

[Gittes slaps her again]

 Evelyn Mulray: "She's my daughter..."

 [Gittes slaps her harder]

Evelyn Mulray: "My sister, my daughter".

[Gittes slaps her repeatedly]

Jake Gittes: "I said I want the truth!"

Evelyn Mulray: "She's my sister AND my daughter!"

-- From “CHINATOWN” (1974)


   Genealogical records indicate that Malcolm X, the charismatic and controversial Pan-Africanist martyred in 1965, was misinformed about his kinship to Ella Collins, the woman uniformly cited as his half-sister.
   Born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm X was the fourth child of Early Little and Louise Norton. A Southern Baptist minister and Pan-Africanist himself, Early Little married Norton, a West Indian, in Montreal, Canada, in 1919, according to official government documents. They were there to attend a convention for Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), of which they soon became regional representatives.
  A decade before marrying Norton and while still living in his native Georgia, Early Little allegedly sired three children by Daisy Mason, a woman uniformly identified by biographers as his first wife.
   A recent review by this writer, however, revealed that there is no record of the marriage in the vital records of Georgia or in the counties of Talbot and Taylor. Early Little was born to John and Ella Little in Taylor County in July 1891. Daisy Mason was born to John and Mary Mason in nearby Talbot County in 1892.
  Additionally, no records maintained by the Mason and Little families – such as a family bible – exist to serve as secondary authentication.
   In the Decennial Census of 1910, Early Little, 19,  is listed as “single” and living at the home of his parents in Taylor County (Carsonville).

 Similarly, Daisy Mason, 18, is listed as “single” and living at home with her parents in Talbot County (Harts).

The 1920 census for Talbot County reveals that Early Little Jr., age 10, lived with his maternal grandfather, John Mason, described as widowed. Other occupants of the house include two sons: Jack Mason, 19 and Clidie L. Mason, 16. A daughter, Ella Mason Powell, 18, also lives at the residence along with Henry, her 20-year-old husband. Early’s estimated year of birth is 1910.

   The Decennial Census of 1930 for Taylor County shows that Mary Little, 13, lived with her paternal grandparents. This document does not show it, but others confirm that Early Little Sr. and Daisy Mason are her parents. Other occupants in the household of John and Ella Little include Sara, 30, Gracie, 29, and Emma, a 19-year-old granddaughter.


  There is no census listing for a child named Ella Little in either the Mason family or the Little family from 1910 to 1930.
   These two discrepancies and other significant errors are further proof that the late Manning Marable, author of Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, was untruthful about examining readily available primary records.
   Instead, Marable lifted his contention that Malcolm X’s father was a bigamist from two earlier biographies.
  The first author to accuse Early Little of bigamy was Bruce Perry in his largely discredited Malcolm: The Man Who Changed Black America. Perry’s biography, released in 1991, was favorably received by the mainstream media even though it is one of the most xenophobic and homophobic biographies in recent history. In addition to couching Malcolm X’s life in what most critics called “psychobabble,” Perry used anonymous sources and sources of dubious credibility to disparage the Little family. In the opening pages of his book, Perry states:

   Earl didn’t tell Louisa [Louise Norton of Grenada] he had walked out on his first wife and his three children. Passing himself off as a widower, he married his West Indian girlfriend shortly after they met.” (page 3)

   In the source notes, Perry cites an interview with Mary Little and one John H. Johnson, identified as a nephew of Daisy Mason. In an appendix, he lists Ella Collins (who, Perry writes, later ceased cooperating with him) and her son, Rodnell Collins, as interview subjects.
  Probative, perhaps, of  Perry’s mindset is that he requested Taylor County to check for any possible criminal arrest records regarding Malcolm X’s father, but he neglected to check the county’s vital records for marriage and divorce confirmation, raising the specter of slanted research.
   Marable used Perry’s biography as the main textbook for a course he taught at Columbia University on Malcolm X. In the first chapter of Reinvention, Marable writes: “In 1909, he [Early Little] married a local African-American woman, Daisy Mason, and in quick succession had three children: Ella, Mary, and Earl Jr.” (p. 15)
    Notably, Marable does not provide a single source authenticating a legal marriage, nor does he indicate whether he actually checked with the state or local counties to determine whether a marriage license or divorce decree existed. In addition, he gets the birth sequence wrong.
   The most logical explanation for the gaffe is that Marable copied the information from Seventh Child: A Family Memoir of Malcolm X, by Rodnell Collins (1998). The Collins book is riddled with errors and family gutter gossip. There are no footnotes, no lists of interview subjects, no genealogical lists or charts, and a negligible two-page bibliography.
   According to Collins, a “Hatfield-McCoy” type of feud “began after Earl Senior married Daisy Mason in 1909." (p. 33)  In the second chapter, Collins claims that “Earl Senior also fathered three other children by his first wife, Daisy Mason: Ma [Ella Little] (1914); Aunt Mary (1915) and Earl Junior (1917).” (p. 14)
   Note that Marable gives the same year of the marriage (1909) as Collins. Also note that Collins is completely wrong about the birth order, yet Marable uses the same sequence.  According to census data, Early Little Jr. was first child, born in 1909 or  1910 (the exact year birth is often estimated in census reports), followed by Mary Little in 1917. Again, there is no record of any child named Ella Little in the family tree.
  Collins states that Earl [sic] Little Jr. was the youngest of Early Little’s children on one page (page 14), but states two chapters later that “Earl Junior . . . was the oldest of Earl Senior’s ten children.” (page 38). Seventh Child is plagued by such errors and numerous embellishments.
  Nearly everything written about Early Jr., for example, is exaggerated. There are no photographs of him in the book, nor is there any proof of his alleged local fame as an entertainer. There are no photos, documents,  or reliable interviewees supporting his alleged tryst with the legendary Billie Holiday.

  While Collins asserts that Early Jr. was a profound influence on Malcolm Little, there is scarcely a mention of the half-brother in The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
   The clearest proof that Marable, Collins and Perry failed to check with the Georgia’s office of vital records and county offices is a reply this writer received from the Taylor County Probate Court in response to an inquiry dated March 25, 2013, about the alleged marriage of Little and Mason.
   Two weeks later, the county clerk wrote: “A thorough search was made and noting was found.”

(Signatures Obscured)

  In response to written queries, officials in both the Talbot County Probate Court and the Taylor County Probate Court replied that Georgia did not begin keeping records of births until 1927, but some counties began record-keeping in 1917. Despite the lack of state records, Ella Little would have been listed in census reports along with her alleged siblings.
   Asked by telephone and by email whether there were any family bibles or other papers documenting the marriage, Collins declined to respond. He also declined to respond when asked for anything documenting Ella Collins as the child of Malcolm X’s father.
  In interviews, A. Peter Bailey, an established biographer and journalist known by this writer since the early 1990s, said that he was not asked as co-author to vet any claims made by Collins in Seventh Child. He emphasized that he was hired for the sole purpose of whipping the manuscript into publishing form.
  When asked whether he accessed any family bibles or other documents during the writing process, Bailey replied, “No, nothing.”
   So the question remains: How did Malcolm X come to believe that he and Ella Collins shared the same lineage?
   The answer may lie in the confusion and chaos that engulfed six-year-old Malcolm Little’s family after his father’s death in 1931, followed by the mandatory institutionalization of his mother in 1939.
  Louise Little fell upon hard times after Early Little Sr.’s death. She struggled to care for her eight children, an ordeal made nearly impossible because the nation was still feeling the aftershocks of the Great Depression. She had numerous stressful encounters with social workers and Caucasian neighbors after her husband’s suspicious death.
  Her oldest child, Wilfred, was born in 1920, followed by Hilda in 1922 and Philbert in 1923. Malcolm’s birth in 1925 was followed by Reginald in 1927, Yvonne in 1929, Wesley in 1931, and Robert in 1938.
   After their mother suffered a psychotic break and had to be institutionalized, Wilfred and Hilda tried assuming custody of their younger siblings, but the Herculean task was too great. State social workers intervened and won approval for a plan placing the children in whatever foster homes available.
  When an understandably rebellious Malcolm had trouble adjusting to foster care, Ella Collins entered the picture. She lived in Boston, as did her mother and other relatives who fled North during the Great Migration. (Mary and Early Little Jr. moved to Boston in the 1920s to live temporarily with their mother.)
  Describing herself to social workers as Malcolm’s sister, Collins was swiftly granted custody. The 15-year-old moved to Boston in 1940 to live with her.
  By the time Malcolm arrived, Early Little Jr. was in prison, according to declassified FBI files and census reports. He was incarcerated in the Massachusetts Reformatory when the 1930 Decennial Census was taken. He had given his year of birth as 1913, resulting in him being sent to a juvenile facility (Line 95).

 He was in the New Bedford House of Corrections and County Jail when the 1940 census was taken (Line 43).

   Far from living the glamorous life as Malcolm had been led to believe, both Ella Collins and Early Little Jr. subsidized their employment income with the gains from petty crimes. A lack of finesse resulted in extensive criminal records for both of them.
   Before long, Malcolm was indoctrinated into their lifestyle, one that led to a string of arrests and, ultimately, state prison.

 Malcolm X spoke very highly of Collins in his autobiography. Since there was never any reason to question his familial relationship to Collins and because pertinent segments of the book have withstood contradiction, most biographers have assumed that Collins was indeed his half-sister.
   Genealogical records indicate, however, that Collins was not the daughter of Early Little and Daisy Mason. Rather, she was Mason’s younger sister.
  The Decennial Census of 1910 for Talbot County, Georgia, identifies Daisy L. Mason as the 18-year-old daughter of John and Mary Mason.  It also lists Ella Mason as Daisy’s eight-year-old sister, whose estimated birth year is 1902.

   Secondary genealogical documents further establish that Perry, Collins and Marable were mistaken about Early Little abandoning Daisy Mason when he moved North. In Seventh Child, Collins repeatedly asserts that Early Little married Louise Norton while he was still married to Daisy Mason. Based on Perry’s source notes, then, the bigamy allegation originated with Ella and Rodnell Collins and Mary Little.

   When he [Early Little Sr.] left Reynolds, Georgia, he left her [Daisy Mason] behind with three children (Ma, Mary, and Earl Junior) and no money. Under Georgia law he never officially divorced her before marrying Louise Norton. (p. 20).

   The bigamy claim is repeated on pages 23, 34, and elsewhere in the book.
   Marable interviewed Rodnell Collins and used Perry’s book as his guide, so there is little surprise when he writes on page 16: “He [Early Little] did not bother to get a legal divorce [from Daisy Mason].”
   All three biographers denigrate Malcolm X’s father with these specious allegations without proffering a scintilla of documentation.
  There is ambiguity in the 1920 Decennial Census for a Daisy Mason, an African American born in Georgia around 1892. The closest possibility is the 1920 Census for Lincoln County, Georgia, which lists a “Daisy Masin” (a typo by Family Search has "Misin") as a boarder in the home of George and Kathern Bennett. All are African American, and Masin is 28 years old, which makes her the same age as Daisy Mason.  Lincoln County is about 160 miles from Taylor County.

 In Seventh Child, Collins suggests that Malcolm X’s father was forced to leave his home in Georgia suddenly, arguing that he faced danger from Daisy Mason’s family for leaving  her to raise three children without him. (p 33-34).

   Earl Senior didn’t stop until he reached Philadelphia, where he met and married Louise Norton without officially divorcing Daisy Mason Little back in Reynolds. (p 34)

  It is true that the 1920 Census for Philadelphia shows Early and Louise Little living in Philadelphia as husband and wife.

   However, other records indicate not only that Early Little joined the Great Migration with Daisy Mason by his side, but that they were the parents of only two children.
  Early Little Sr. registered pursuant to the Selective Service Act of 1917 on June 5, 1917, in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. His draft card is important for a number of reasons.
  First, it proves that Bruce Perry distorted claims about Malcolm’s father being clumsy. According to Perry, Early Little lost sight in one of his eyes while building a home in Lansing, Michigan. The draft card shows, however, that he lost the eye much earlier, calling into question the veracity of the people interviewed by Perry on the subject.
    Early Little Sr., who describes himself as a married minister of the “Southern Baptist church,” cites partial blindness as a reason why he should be exempt from the draft.
  The draft card supports other records showing that Early Little left Georgia with Daisy Mason. This explains why one child was left with the Littles and the other with the Masons. (Historical footnote: the torn corners indicated that the registrant was African American)

    Merely stating that they were married does not make it legal, of course. Many people in common law relationships with children indicated that they were married in order to receive a “Class II” temporary exemption from conscription during the Great War.

    Married men with young children were given exemption consideration under Class II. Another case is point is Berl Champion of Georgia, who sought an exemption due to marriage and supporting five children under the age of 12.


   Note on the card that Early Little Sr. states that he has only “two children.” If Early Little Jr. was born in 1909 or 1910, Ella in 1913 or 1914, and Mary in 1917, Daisy would have been pregnant or would have given birth by June when the card was filled out.
  Collins has repeatedly declined to provide Mary Little’s month of birth or any other genealogical information. Nonetheless, it would appear that Early Little Sr. would have listed three children rather than two, particularly if his goal was an exemption.
    Moreover, the unfounded charge that Early Little Sr. abandoned Daisy Mason is refuted by Seventh Child and ancillary genealogical records.
 Ella Little allegedly left Georgia and headed to New York City in the early 1930s (page 50). After deciding that the city was too fast-paced for such a country girl, Ella moved to Everett, Massachusetts, where her mother and Early Little Jr. resided.
   Collins gets the time sequence wrong, but he inadvertently corroborates that Daisy Mason and Early Little came north together. For in addition to the draft card, the Everett City Directory for 1920 shows that Early Little Sr. lived there. Perry, Collins, and Marable ignored this information. It shows that Early Little was employed in Everett as an “elevator man” as late as 1919. The fact that both Daisy Mason and Early Little Jr. were in Everett by 1919 explains why their two children – not three – were left with grandparents in Georgia.


    In moot court, a law student might argue that the odd listing for Daisy “Masin” in the 1920 census suggests that Daisy Mason was working her way back home after her relationship with Little soured. It is the only census listing in Georgia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania for a black female with a phonetically correct name and the exact age of Daisy Mason.
  The 1920 Census for Talbot County shows that Early C. Little is the 10-year-old grandson of John and Mary Mason, the parents of Daisy Mason. Also listed is their daughter, Ella Mason Powell and her husband, Henry.

 The 1930 Census for Taylor County shows that Mary Little is the 13-year-old granddaughter of John and Ella Little, the parents of Early Little.

Collins writes in Seventh Child:

  When Grandma Daisy left Georgia, Pa John and Grandma Ella [Little] assumed responsibility for Ma, Earl Junior, and Mary a decision that was made by Pa John, not Earl Senior, after consulting with Grandma Daisy’s father, Reverend [John] Mason. Pa John decided that his daughters, Sarah and Gracie, would have the chief responsibility of looking after Ma and Aunt Mary. (page 35) (emphasis provided)
   This is contradicted by census records. More important, records show no existence of Ella Little or any grandchild between the ages of 6 and 8, again suggesting that Ella Collins was in fact Ella Mason. She was Daisy Mason’s sister, not her daughter.
   Based on this evidence, Malcolm X was not related to Ella Collins. There was never an “Ella Little” sired by Early Little Sr., and Ella Collins was born in 1902 and not 1913 or 1914 as has been publicly written for nearly a half-century.
  African American historians and some critics (including me) observed from the outset that Reinvention, despite the lavish praise and its Pulitzer Prize, contained no new information of a factual nature. It is bulked up with innuendos and gossip. Its chief selling point was a false claim that Marable had uncovered “circumstantial” evidence that Malcolm X had a homosexual affair when he was a young man.
   This claim was nothing new. Marable lifted this directly from Bruce Perry, something every mainstream reviewer ignored. One of Perry’s sources for the allegation was Rodnell Collins, who repeated it to me in the early 1990s and who mentions it again in his memoir.
   When I interviewed Collins in 2011 about the alleged homosexual relationship, he said that he had no firsthand knowledge of it and was merely repeating something that he heard from his mother. Collins wrote on page 76 that:

     Besides, she heard other interesting things about Miss Massey from Uncle Malcolm himself. According to Ma, during her prison visits, Malcolm, for the first time, filled her in on some aspects of his street life in Boston and Harlem, including a business deal he and Malcolm Jarvis had with an elderly, wealthy white millionaire named Paul Lennon, who would pay them to rub powder over his body. (emphasis added)

    Essentially, then, Ella Collins never says that Malcolm had a homosexual relationship with Lennon. It merely shows that a kinky old man paid Malcolm Little and his sidekick Malcolm Jarvis to rub powder on him. Anyone who has read the Autobiography or the books of Iceberg Slim knows that some men will pay for all types of fetishes that do not involve sexual contact. Malcolm X mentions, for instance, the case of a Caucasian male who paid to sit outside the door of a rented room and listen to a black couple make love.
  Collins is also mistaken about Lennon being a millionaire.
  Author and reporter Wil Haygood, who wrote an exuberant review of Reinvention for the Washington Post, declined an opportunity from this writer to cite five factual statements from the book that could not be found in previous works. The same request was made by email to Zaheer Ali, one of Marable’s chief researchers. He declined to respond.

   Nearly 95 percent of the verifiable data in Reinvention can be traced to seven earlier works, to wit: The Autobiography of Malcolm X; The Death and Life of Malcolm X, by Peter Goldman; Malcolm: The Man Who Changed Black America, by Perry; The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X, by Karl Evanzz; Conspiracys, by Zak Kondo; Seventh Child, by Rodnell Collins and A. Peter Bailey; and The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad, by Karl Evanzz.
   On April 12, 2012, Zaheer Ali made an interesting comment in this regard on Twitter.


  No one associated with Reinvention has offered a breakdown of what was primary research and what was lifted from others (secondary). What is interesting, however, is that a detailed timeline that was posted on “The Malcolm X Project” at Columbia University’s website was – to quote Father Divine – “invisibilized” some time before publication and has not resurfaced.
   A more accurate title for Reinvention is Rewrite. As I said in my review, it is a thinly disguised compilation of previous books. It is an affront to true scholarship and to the Pulitzer Prize.

PAPER TIGER: Manning Marable's Poison Pen 

BOOK REVIEW by Karl Evanzz

Author's Addendum: Part of the enlightenment process involves self-correction. In that spirit, I have added this note. The fact that I could not find Ella Little in the 1930 along with Early Little's other two children does not negate her being his child, of course, any more than my unsuccessful search for Daisy Mason or Daisy Little. Perhaps Ella and Daisy Mason Little were traveling at the time the census was taken and missed being counted.
  Moreover, I have always been struck by the strong physical resemblance between Ella Little and her putative father. Equally important, the news story about the death of Early Little in 1931 describes him as the father of 10 children, which would account for Ella Little being one of them. 
 This means that either the article is mistaken about the number of children, which is unlikely in this case, or that Ella Little was in fact one of his children. Perhaps at some future date someone will figure out the riddle of Ella Little and the 1930 census. Thank you.


  1. This was outright excellent. Very well written. Really wish you had something open for mentorship. The writing was very fluid and the research was very well done. I really like your books, and this was good to read as well. Thanks for sharing. I'm glad that there is beginning to be a uprising of writers discrediting Manning and that garbage he put out. What may seem like a minor contribution now will play a major role going down the stretch in history. Just from me (23) being a Malcolmite and reading your books its done a lot for me and my understanding in terms of what really happen in the life of Malcolm X and all of the things that were going on around him. I think that your works will stand the test of time especially given the huge volume of citation and research put in them. It's a very unique writing style. I guess the style and the content, is a win win to me. Being relatively young I just feel like more people should be exposed to your writings on Malcolm. I thought that I pretty much knew all there was to know about Malcolm at one point but then I read The Plot , I learned even more and then I read the Messenger and was even more impressed by the documentation and the style. In my opinion, if colleges were serious about examining Malcolm, The Judas Factor and the Messenger would be required reading. There are honestly no books on Malcolm, The Nation, or Elijah I know of with better citation. I guess also respect you because I write as well, and maybe its because I'm lazy but I just haven't reached the point of being able to cite quite that much . Thanks again

  2. "A more accurate title for 'Reinvention' is 'Rewrite' pretty much sums it up. This was definitely not Marable's best work which was unfortunate. It was controversial and generated high sales for him, but it did a disservice to the craft of scholarly work.

  3. I put the wrong link.

  4. Excellent article, Karl Evanzz. Another fine contribution to our understanding of Malcolm X *and* those who would distort him for their own purposes.

    --Minister Faust