Malcolm X edges NU educator Louise Pound for induction into the Nebraska Hall of Fame

‘It says a lot about what Nebraska is becoming,’ says one advocate for Malcolm X

By: - September 12, 2022 5:29 pm

Malcolm X poses for a portrait on Feb. 16, 1965, in Rochester, New York. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

LINCOLN — Applause broke out, and some tears were even shed Monday, as Malcolm X was voted in as the next inductee to the Nebraska Hall of Fame.

It was the third time the civil rights leader — who was born in Omaha — had been nominated, and he was inducted on a 4-3 vote.

Ron Hull, the chairman of the committee and a longtime public television broadcaster, cast the deciding vote, saying that Malcolm X continues to have influence worldwide with his story of transformation and reformation.

Nebraska Hall of Fame
Ron Hull, standing, cast the fourth and deciding vote in favor of Malcolm X’s induction into the Nebraska Hall of Fame. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

“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,” Hull said.

Applause, tears

Applause broke out among most of the 30 people attending the commission meeting at the State History Museum in Lincoln.

 Yshall Davis, a volunteer with the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, pumped her fist in the air and wiped away tears as Hull stated his vote, which gave Malcolm X a majority of the seven-member commission.

“It says a lot about what Nebraska is becoming,” Davis said of the vote by the commission, which has no members of color.

Malcolm X
Yshall Davis, a volunteer at the Malcolm X Foundation, wiped tears after Malcolm X was voted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

Davis, 39, said that reading the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” changed her life from that of a gang member who was “on the wrong path” to a community activist working for the Heartland Workers Center and an advocate during the more than decade-long campaign to get Malcolm X the state recognition.

‘People change’

The T-shirt she wore, featuring a picture of Malcolm X in prison and one as an Islamic preacher, stated “People Change. Don’t give up on our youth.”  

Malcolm X will become the first African-American to be inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame. The hall currently has 26 members, of which five are female and three are Native American.

The initial vote by the commission was four votes for Malcolm X and three votes for Louise Pound, an educator, folklorist and author at the University of Nebraska — and the only woman in NU history to earn a letter in a men’s sport (tennis). Howard Hanson, the third finalist and a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, did not receive a vote.

Vote changed to unanimous

Later, one of the commission members who had voted for Pound, retired Peru State history professor Sara Crook, moved that the nomination of Malcolm X be made unanimous. 

 Crook said she had initially voted for Pound because Pound had spent her entire professional life in Nebraska and considered herself “a Nebraskan.” That was unlike Malcolm X, whose family fled harassment in Omaha from the Klu Klux Klan when their son, then Malcolm Little, was just over a year old.

When Hull cast his deciding vote, he said that “where you are born is where you are from,” noting that he had voted to induct Malcolm X a decade ago, when Alvin Saunders Johnson, an educator and co-founder of the New School in New York City was chosen.

“There are a lot of disenfranchised people in this country,” Hull said. “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. 

Commission member Aaron Wyatt of Lincoln said he voted for Malcolm X because his story of “change, transformation, reformation” is an important one to convey to schoolchildren who visit the State Capitol. Jill Dolberg, the interim director of History Nebraska, made similar comments in casting her vote.

Tim Heller of Omaha, another commission member, cast his vote for Malcolm X via an internet hookup from a pub in Dublin, where he was vacationing with his son. Heller said he talked to “friends and other folks” about his vote, and even asked around in Ireland and found “overwhelming support” for Malcolm X.

‘Shocked’ he wasn’t in hall already

“They were shocked that he wasn’t already in the Hall of Fame,” Heller said.

Born in 1925 in Omaha, Malcolm Little spent his early life in foster homes and living with relatives after his father died and his mother was hospitalized.

He was a street hustler and a criminal, who landed in prison for theft in 1946. But that is where he began reading and converted to the Nation of Islam. He became a minister and was a major figure in the civil rights movement during the 1960s, preaching black empowerment, and was a spokesman for the Nation of Islam.

After completing a pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm X adopted the name el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz and denounced the Nation of Islam, which led to death threats against him. He was assassinated in 1965 in New York City, and three Nation members were charged.

Criticized by some

He was criticized by some for preaching that white people were “devils” and for calling Martin Luther King “a chump.”

Chief Red Cloud
Famed Oglala Lakota Chief Red Cloud is among those enshrined in the Nebraska Hall of Fame, in the State Capitol. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

But advocates for Malcolm X’s induction, during a public hearing in Omaha in July, said he sought “peaceful change” and emphasized that  African Americans needed to empower themselves, become educated and seek freedom, justice and equality “by any means necessary.”

That phrase was widely shared after the 1992 movie “Malcolm X,” directed by Spike Lee and starring Denzel Washington.

The movie was based on the Alex Haley book, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” which was named as one of the 10 most important nonfiction books of the 20th century by Time magazine.

Birthplace museum

Several cities across the U.S. celebrate “Malcolm X Day,” and the Malcolm X Foundation has established a museum at his birthsite in North Omaha.

Hull said the next step is to commission a bronze bust of Malcolm X to be installed in the State Hall of Fame, which is in the second-floor hallways of the State Capitol. He said some state funds, perhaps as much as $20,000, had been set aside for the bust, which would be unveiled in 2024.

Ernie Chambers
Former State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha was among those attending Monday’s meeting in support of Malcolm X. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

Former State Sen. Ernie Chambers, a longtime advocate for Malcolm X, shouted from the audience that even though he wasn’t a man of means, he would donate $1,000 to the sculpture.

Later, Chambers said that sometimes people can’t hear what he says and that he really meant to pledge $2,000 to the Malcolm X bust.

“I’ll give $500,” said someone else in the audience. “I’ll give $50,” said another.

JoAnna LeFlore-Ejike, the executive director of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, said her first step will be to notify Malcolm X’s family of the honor.

“It’s overdue,” she said.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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