Playwright details Malcolm X’s time in Boston as a teenager

BOSTON — Everybody knows him as Malcolm X, but did you know the civil rights leader went by “Detroit Red” in his teenage years? And they were spent right here in Boston.

Playwright Will Power spent months researching Malcolm X’s time in Boston and talking to people who knew him.

“They were like, ‘Yeah, I knew Malcolm! He used to be talking smack, you know?' It was like you knew your friend or something,” Power said.

Power spent months in Roxbury researching the brief but formative years Malcolm X spent in Boston and in a house on Dale Street for his play “Detroit Red.”

“He came here when he was 14 to 15 to stay with his sister Ella and they started calling him Detroit Red because ‘Lansing Red’ didn’t have the same ring,” Power said.

Born in Omaha, then-Malcolm Little’s family moved from Milwaukee to Lansing in the late 1920s.

Boxed in by race and class in 1940s Boston, Power said his play--Detroit Red-- depicts a brutally honest and relatable portrayal of the future activist as he navigates street life and the criminal underworld and struggling to find who he is.

“I feel like it’s important to show their greatness, but also show their mistakes and their faults and that’s why,” Power said.

“When you’re watching the play, we know what he’s gonna be, but he doesn’t know,” he said.

“What was it like to step into these very big shoes? Oh! It’s not intimidating. It’s not intimidating to me because what’s actually great is we have no video of him at this age, so no one can actually tell me he was or wasn’t like this,” Power said.

Eric Berryman, who plays Detroit Red, felt very connected to him.

“Having a desire to be one thing and people expecting you to be something else,” Berryman said. "You know he wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid, and a white teacher told him to look at something a little more in your realm of possibility."

“We know that Boston’s black history is very rich, but it’s not always well known,” Power said. “What is it like to bring something like this, for folks to see and hear a tangible representation of Boston’s black history? It’s really a blessing to be a part of this, to teach and learn in Boston.”

“He was not afraid to change and his ability to transform, even towards the end of his life, is very inspirational and it should inspire us all,” Power said.