The Diasporic Journeys of Louise Little: Grassroots Garveyism, the Midwest, and Community Feminism
Abstract

This article demonstrates the importance of women in leading Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) at the grassroots level, the ways Garveyite women forged “community feminism,” and the understudied importance of the U.S. Midwest and Canada as key sites of diasporic protest through the life, activism, and legacy of Malcolm X’s mother, Louise Langdon Norton Little. Born in Grenada in 1900, Little stands as a major figure in twentieth-century black nationalism, Pan-Africanism, and the African Diaspora. Passionately committed to black self-determination and fiercely proud of African-descended people, she emerged as an important grassroots leader in the UNIA, which claimed six million members in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Central America, Africa, and Europe during the 1920s. She joined the UNIA in Montreal, Canada, after she emigrated there after World War I in search of a better life. In the coming years, Little served as an officer in the UNIA division in Omaha, Nebraska, and avidly discussed politics with Garvey when he visited the Littles’ home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1922. However, The Autobiography of Malcolm X portrays Louise Little one-dimensionally as a wretched figure, while historian Manning Marable’s biography on Malcolm X minimizes her active role in developing his political consciousness and in leading broader black freedom struggles. These prevailing narratives affirm literary scholar Carole Boyce Davies’s observation about the ways black women have been erased from scholarly analysis of the black radical tradition. Tracing the history of Louise Little provides a lens for appreciating the importance of women in leading Pan-Africanist movements, the making of community feminism at the grassroots level, and the importance of the U.S. Midwest and Canada as sites of diasporic protest.


pdf