Malcolm X was sent to a Detention Home in 1939, in Mason, Michigan after he was expelled from his middle school, West Junior High School, because he put a thumbtack on his teacher’s chair. The detention home was run by a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Swerlin. The point of the detention home was to “reform” girls and boys who were troublesome. At the detention home, Malcolm was treated well, but this was where he began to expand his views on race and how whites really viewed African Americans.
During Malcolm X’s time at the detention home, the Swerlin’s and their white guests (mostly politicians) treated him well, but they never treated him like he was a human being. In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm described the Swerlins treating him like a “pet canary (27)” and continued by saying, “…it just never dawned upon them that I could understand, that I wasn’t a pet, but a human being…having the same sensitivity, intellect, and understanding that they would have been ready and willing to recognize in a white boy in my position (28).” Malcolm X did not know that his views at this time in his life would have such a great impact on his future as a civil rights leader and activist. Malcolm wanted African Americans to stop letting the white man treat African Americans like they were not humans and that African Americans did not deserve to have the same rights as whites. This thought was expanded and emphasized once Malcolm was a national leader because he first handily witnessed how whites viewed African Americans when he was living in the detention home and interacting with the Swerlins.
[Updated Aug 18, 2017 by John Aerni-Flessner]
The Juvenile Detention Home operated by Mrs. Swerlin was located at 304 E. Cherry Street in Mason.