attracted more than two dozen people, but they were filled with energy and enthusiasm fueled by Earl’s leadership. Malcolm remembered this vividly, writing, “The meetings always closed with my father saying several times and the people chanting after him, ‘Up, you mighty race, you can accomplish what you will!’”
As he had in Omaha, however, Earl found recruitment in Lansing difficult. Although as early as 1850 several black families had lived in the area, even by 1910 blacks totaled only 354—about 1.1 percent of the town—of whom about one-fifth had migrated from Canada; the majority had been born in the upper South—states such as Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee. The migration of millions of African Americans from the Deep South (beginning about 1915) drew a steady stream of poor blacks into Michigan’s state capital, so that by 1930 1,409 lived there. It did not take long for class divisions to emerge. The earliest wave of migrants had possessed relatively high levels of education and vocational training. By the 1890s, the majority owned their own homes and some their own businesses, mostly in racially mixed neighborhoods. A small number were employed as stone and brick masons, teamsters, painters, carpenters, and plasterers. At the turn of the century, only 10 percent of the men had been classified as “unskilled and semiskilled.” By contrast, most of those who arrived after 1915 often had no trade to speak of, and the sense of invasion brought about by their sheer numbers provoked new laws that drew sharper racial divisions. With the emergence of segregation laws in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, restrictive racial covenants on the mortgages of private houses were widely adopted in many states, including Michigan. Such codes had the effect of forcing a second wave of black emigrants to occupy a poor neighborhood in west central Lansing. Although blacks were allowed to vote, their civil and legal rights were restricted in other ways. With only slight exaggeration, Wilfred Little later described blacks’ lives in Michigan in the 1920s and 1930s as “the same as being in Mississippi. . . . When you went into the courts and when you had to deal with the police, it was the same as being down South.”
When local Negroes resisted racial discrimination, whites would blackball them. Because Earl Little persisted in trying to get blacks to organize themselves, he was considered just such a troublemaker. Yet Earl blamed his difficulties in securing regular employment on Lansing’s black middle class, who looked askance at Garveyites. He frequently gave guest sermons in black churches, the paltry offerings he received meaning financial survival for the family. Yet Malcolm was taught to have little but scorn for the solid citizens who sat listening to his father. Lansing’s black leaders were deluding themselves, he was convinced, about their real place within society. “I don’t know a town with a higher percentage of complacent and misguided so-called ‘middle class’ Negroes—the typical status-symboloriented, integration-seeking type,” than in Lansing. Yet this black bourgeoisie lacked the resources of a true upper class. “The real elite,” Malcolm later wrote in his Autobiography , “‘big shots,’ the ‘voices of the race,’ were the waiters at the Lansing Country Club and the shoeshine boys at the state capitol.” He was not being sarcastic: such men had indeed been his peers.
By the late 1920s, Garvey’s once-massive movement had disintegrated in many of America’s largest cities. In 1927, the UNIA's Liberty Hall headquarters in Harlem was sold at auction. That November, President Coolidge commuted Garvey’s prison sentence, with the stipulation that he be deported and permanently barred from reentry. Garvey duly arrived in Jamaica on December 10, where he immediately went to work consolidating the remnants of his organization. The following year, he and