A bronze bust of prominent civil rights leader Malcolm X is slated to be displayed in Nebraska’s state capitol.
A state commission voted 4-3 Tuesday, Sept. 14 to induct the African-American icon into the Nebraska Hall of Fame after rejecting him as too controversial 15 years ago. It was the third time Malcolm X was nominated for the honor.
“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,” said the organization’s commission chairman Ron Hull. “His work and his legacy continue to impact the citizens of the world.”
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska. His family left for Milwaukee when he was an infant after threats from the Ku Klux Klan. In 1984, the land where Malcolm’s family home once sat was added to the state list of national landmarks.
The Hall of Fame has recognized prominent Nebraskans since 1961. The busts that decorate the halls of the state Capitol include Buffalo Bill Cody, Boys Town founder Rev. Edward J. Flanagan and author Willa Cather. Malcolm X will be the first Black figure to be displayed, slated to be officially inducted in 2024.
Malcolm X was first nominated for a state figure in 2004. However, reports show that the commission of all white men at the time picked Sen. Kenneth Wherry, who rose to prominence because of his campaign to remove gay men from posts in the 1940s and 1950s. In 2007, the commission picked botanist Charles Bessey over Malcolm X, citing his controversial past.
In his early 20s, he served time in prison for burglary, where he was introduced to the Nation of Islam. He converted, changed his name and became a minister. Malcolm X quickly propelled in the Nation of Islam and became second in rank to its former leader, Elijah Muhammad. He was credited for founding the organization’s newspaper and pushing its racial doctrines based on Black nationalism. However, he later left the Nation of Islam and denounced racial separatism.
Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, while lecturing in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom. He played a pivotal role in encouraging Black civil rights leaders to unite.
Nominees for the Nebraska Hall of Fame must be dead for 35 years to be selected by the hall of fame commission.
In 2007, commission chairman Harold Andersen said he took issue with Malcolm X’s ties to racial separatism. He questioned whether the civil rights leader’s popularity comes from an accurate reading of history.
“The inspirational value comes from, perhaps, that there’s been a sort of cult grown up” around Malcolm X, Andersen said. “Assassination, martyrdom, perhaps, has added to that.”
Andersen also said Malcolm X was born in Omaha but, “as far as I’m concerned, never looked back at Nebraska.”
Ernie Chambers, the state’s only Black legislator in 2007, said the decision was evidence of the need for a diverse commission.
“It’s an insult to everybody who is not old, white and male,” Chambers said of the commission and its decision.
Hull, who was a commission member 15 years ago, said then that Malcolm X was his first pick, but he voted for Bessey because the commission wanted to vote unanimously for an inductee.
“I believe he had a momentous impact on this country,” Hull said of Malcolm X.