Last week we nominated for listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places the house in which Malcolm X lived in 1954.
Some background. In 1954, Elijah Muhammad sent Malcolm X to Philadelphia to expand Temple No. 12 of the Nation of Islam. During his stay in the City of Brotherly Love, Minister Malcolm X lived in the Sharswood neighborhood at 2503 W. Oxford Street.
The nomination for listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places is sponsored by All That Philly Jazz, a public history project that I launched in 2013. The young Malcolm was known as “Detroit Red,” a fixture on the jazz scene in Harlem. The house at 2503 W. Oxford Street was located a short walk from Philly’s storied Golden Strip.
But that is not why the Malcolm X House is historically significant. 2503 W. Oxford Street is a place where history happened. Minister Malcolm X was a master teacher whose charismatic leadership laid the foundation for the growth of Islam among African Americans across the country. Today, there are 200,000 Muslims in Philadelphia, 85 percent of whom are black. According to the Pew Research Center, African Americans make up 23 percent of the U.S. Muslim population.
2503 W. Oxford Street is part of the story of the Great Migration. Architectural historian Oscar Beisert, co-sponsor of the nomination said:
Built in 1883, the house at 2503 W. Oxford Street has been chiefly owned by three families. Between 1920 and 1930 the demographics had changed to the point where African Americans were able to purchase property in the neighborhood. By 1940, the neighborhood of W. Oxford Street had become almost entirely African American.
2503 W. Oxford Street was purchased by Ida Mae Vacca in 1956. She lived there continuously until her death in 2012. Her descendant, Robin Cooper, recalled:
Ida was the kind of woman who said everything matter-of-factly. This was how the Malcolm X conversation occurred, in a very matter-of-fact way. An inquisitive child, I wanted to know how long she lived in such a ‘big’ house as the house was big in my little eyes. While talking about her house, she indicated that someone famous lived there before she moved there. I questioned her and she stated that Malcolm X used to reside there.
We anticipate the nomination of the Malcolm X House will be considered by the Historic Designation Committee of the Philadelphia Historical Commission on June 15, 2016. For updates, follow All That Philly Jazz on Twitter.
For more information, email Faye Anderson.