Just 15 years ago, he was rejected!
Malcolm X was just named the first Black Hall of Fame honoree in Nebraska 57 years after his assassination, ABC News reports.
Malcolm X was the son of civil rights activists, born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, Earl Little, was a Baptist minister and the chapter president of The Universal Negro Improvement Association. His mother, Louise Little, was the National recording secretary for the Marcus Garvey Movement. When Garvey was wrongfully arrested, it was the Universal Negro Improvement Association that would appeal to President Herbert Hoover on behalf of Garvey. That activism put a target on the family’s back, and the Littles were forced to relocate twice before Malcolm was even four years old due to the constant death threats they received from a white supremacist organization known as the Black Legion.
In 1929, the Little’s Lansing, Michigan home was burned to the ground. In 1931, Earl was found dead on the town’s trolley tracks, local police ruling both tragedies as accidents although the family believed it was the actions of the Black Legion. The tragic tailspin of events was too much for Louise to handle; she was committed to a mental institution and the children were subsequently placed in foster care. Eventually, Malcolm moved to Boston with friends, participating in all types of seedy behaviors, and in 1946 he was arrested and convicted on burglary charges, serving seven of his 10-year sentence. While in prison, his brother Reginald inspired his interest in the Nation of Islam (NOI) and Malcolm began to study the teachings of the NOI leader, Elijah Muhammad. By the time he was paroled in 1952, he was a devout follower of the NOI, changing his surname to X, a symbol of his lost tribal name.
Malcolm arose as a fierce leader and was subsequently appointed as minister and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam, increasing the organization’s membership from 500 to 30,000 between 1952 and 1963. He traveled the globe preaching the fundamental theology of Black empowerment through political, economic, and social success. He used the media as a tool to inform Black people and implore them to become aware and take action against the racism and white supremacist delusion that was rampant during those times. A rift between Malcolm and the NOI would eventually occur, the civil rights crusader separating himself from the organization. After his pilgrimage to Mecca, he embraced Sunni Islam, taking on the Muslim name el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, renouncing the separatist theology of the NOI, and returning to the states with a new theology and praxis on racial integration.
Despite Malcolm’s positive outlook, internal rumblings regarding Malcolm among NOI members were at their height; on February 14, 1965, Malcolm’s family home where he lived with his pregnant wife, Betty Shabazz, and four daughters, was firebombed. The family escaped physically unscathed and despite the emotional turmoil, Malcolm was determined to stay persistent and keep going. One week later on February 21, 1965, during a speaking engagement at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, Malcolm X was assassinated by three gunmen, pronounced dead at the age of 39. His wife Betty gave birth to their twin daughters that same year.
Despite his short time on earth, his legacy will endure forever. In the passing decades, Malcolm’s teachings have served as a guide and a symbol of hope for African-Americans everywhere. From schools named in his honor, to his autobiography, which is sometimes posited as a second bible for people, and his children who remain active in their strivings to keep his legacy alive, Malcolm X is by far one of the most notable figures from the civil rights era. Now his home state of Nebraska is looking to posthumously award the icon for his contributions, Malcolm X making history as the first Black Nebraska Hall of Fame honoree nearly six decades after his assassination.
First nominated in 2004, a commission of majority white men rejected Malcolm X’s nomination to the Hall of Fame, stating that he was too controversial. Instead, they chose to select former U.S. senator Kenneth Wherry, best known for his campaign to oust queer men from government posts during the ‘40s and ‘50s. Wherry’s selection was later thrown out as a result of an open-meetings violation. In 2007, Malcolm X was again denied in favor of botanist Charles Bessey. But in recent years, attitudes have shifted in the state, and Nebraska has been doing the work to reckon with and acknowledge the contributions of its African-American residents. Last month, political strategist Symone D. Sanders had her North Omaha childhood street renamed in her honor. Earlier this week, former HBCU coach Mickey Joseph was named the first Black head coach in Nebraska sports history.
This past Monday, the Nebraska Hall of Fame commission voted 4-3 in favor of Malcolm X’s nomination, choosing him in favor of late University of Nebraska educator, Louise Pound.
“Malcolm X used the lessons he learned early in life and his intellectual power, dedication and perseverance in the fight for freedom and equality for all during the civil rights movement in America. His work and his legacy continue to impact the citizens of the world,” said Ron Hull, longtime television broadcaster and commission chairman whose vote was the deciding factor.
When it was announced during the commission meeting that Malcolm was voted in as the next inductee, some of the 30 people present at the State History Museum in Lincoln began to shed tears, the Nebraska Examiner reports. It was the culmination of nearly two decades of work by supporters of the nomination. One supporter, Yshall Davis, a volunteer with the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, credits the revolutionary with inspiring her life path from gang member to community activist. For Davis, the induction is proof that Nebraska is headed in the right direction.
“It says a lot about what Nebraska is becoming,” Davis told reporters.
Hull continued in depth about the reasoning behind his choice to support Malcolm’s nomination, saying he feels like there are still many people who have a lot to learn from the icon’s life.
“All men are created equal, but we have to be reminded of that because people have to fight for these rights all their lives…and that’s one reason my vote goes for Malcolm X,” said Hull. “There are a lot of disenfranchised people in this country. Malcolm X turned his life around and was pivotal in the civil rights movement in our country. And he still has impact around the world… He was such an example. I think other people can say, ‘We don’t have to stay in this rut,” he added.
Other commissioners who voted in favor of Malcolm include Aaron Wyatt of Lincoln, who noted Malcolm’s journey of “change, transformation, and reformation.” Wyatt said he believed the story was an important one for children to learn when they visit the State Capitol. Interim Director of History Nebraska, Jill Dolberg, echoed similar sentiments during the commission of her vote.
Tim Heller, an Omaha native, also cast his vote virtually from his vacation in Dublin. Heller said he spoke to friends and others in Ireland about his vote, finding “overwhelming support” for Malcolm X.
“They were shocked that he wasn’t already in the Hall of Fame,” Heller remarked.
The Malcolm X Foundation already has an established museum at Malcolm’s birth site in North Omaha. To commemorate his induction into Nebraska’s Hall of Fame, Malcolm X will receive a bronze bust set to display in the State Capitol. Hull noted that there has already been $20,000 set aside in state funds for the commission of the bust. Former State Senator Ernie Chambers, who has long been a Malcolm X advocate, shouted from the audience that he would also donate $2,000 to the sculpture’s creation.
“I’ll give $500,” someone else shouted.
“I’ll give $50,” added another.
The executive director of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, JoAnna LeFlore-Ejike, said the first thing she planned to do was notify Malcolm X’s family of the honor, calling it “overdue.”
Malcolm’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, took to social media to share the induction announcement, thanking Senator Terrell McKinney for his work in making it happen.
“No problem. Your father has been a huge inspiration for the work that I do in the legislature. It’s important to many here in Omaha and myself to keep his legacy alive as much as possible,” replied McKinney.
Many others flocked to her comments to congratulate the family. While some commented on how long overdue the gesture was, some locals stopped by Shabazz’s comments to share their own little pieces of history related to Malcolm’s time in the state.
“My mom grew up across the street from your dad in Omaha… but didn’t have many memories because he was a teen when she was a kid. But I’ve also felt a different respect/love for him because of the close proximity that made him seem more human,” one user shared.
Currently, there are 26 total inductees in Nebraska’s Hall of Fame. As previously mentioned, Malcolm will be the first African-American, with his bust set to be unveiled in 2024.
Malcolm X is named the first Black Nebraska Hall of Fame honoree 57 years after assassination. Photo Courtesy of Ed Ford/Library of Congress