Nebraska Hall of Fame nominees include Malcolm X

July 18, 2022, 9:05 a.m. ·

Busts of the honorees line the Nebraska Hall of Fame corridor at the state capitol building
Busts of the honorees line the Nebraska Hall of Fame corridor at the state capitol building. (Capitolist/Creative Commons)

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Among the influential Nebraskans up for consideration for inclusion in the state’s Hall of Fame includes Malcolm X, the controversial African American activist.

The eight people scheduled to be nominated also include a famed baseball pitcher, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, and a pioneer in promoting women’s

Public hearings on the candidates in state’s three Congressional districts begin Monday evening in Lincoln, followed by hearings in Omaha on July 20 and Holdrege on July 25.

Every two years, the seven-member Nebraska Hall of Fame Commission selects a prominent person whose residence in the state contributed to their greatness and place in history. The person chosen will be honored with a sculpted bust on display at the state capitol building.

Malcolm X during a speech at Queens Court, New York in 1964
Malcolm X during a speech at Queens Court, New York in 1964 (Library of Congress)

This is not the first time Malcolm X has been proposed for inclusion. He was passed over during a controversial meeting of the Commission in 2004.

Joanna LeFlore Ejike, the executive director of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation based in Omaha, argues recent events like the Black Lives Matter movement make the current nomination timely and relevant.

“I think it's overdue, to be honest, that a Black man or a Black story, in general, is celebrated and recognized across Nebraska,” said Ejike.

For young Malcolm Little, born in Omaha in 1925, the ugly specter of racism became, according to his famous autobiography, the driving force behind the beliefs of the Muslim minister and human rights activist widely known as Malcolm X.

“His family was driven out of Omaha by the KKK,” Ejike said he will remind the Hall of Fame Commission at this week’s hearings. “So, that has been one of Malcolm's earliest memories. It definitely shaped how he viewed society.”

Ejike understands some Nebraskans will see adding the ‘60s era activist as a controversial choice. However, she hopes the commission will consider the arc of his story when weighing the importance of Malcolm X on the international stage.

“We want people to recognize Malcolm not just for being a Black civil rights leader, but for being an internationally known human rights leader,” she said.

As the public face of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X gave fiery speeches that seemed to espouse violence. Later he became disillusioned and broke with the organization. He reached out to more moderate civil rights leaders, addressing racial justice as a fundamental human right.

“That's something, in my opinion, that Nebraska should be proud of no matter what background they think a human rights activist should come from,” Ejike added.

In 1965, three men assassinated Malcolm X in New York.

Others scheduled to be nominated during the public hearings include:

Grover Cleveland Alexander of Elba, Nebraska. A World Series-winning baseball pitcher who went on to earn a place in that sport’s Hall of Fame, Alexander’s Cooperstown biography notes that “during his 20 seasons in the big leagues, (he) would become one of the most successful pitchers the game has ever seen.”

Elzada Clover of Auburn, Nebraska. A botanist who was the first to catalog plant life along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, Clover’s trip launched with another female scientist. The pair made history as the first women to raft the entire length of the dangerous canyon’s waterway.

Howard Hanson of Wahoo. A famed classical musician who began as a child prodigy conducting the city’s high school orchestra. He composed seven symphonies in his life. His fourth, Requiem, earned the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1944.

Emma Louise Pound, of Lincoln, Nebraska. As a professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln philosophy department, she became a renowned pioneer in the study of linguistics. Many also credit her participation in and advocacy of competitive sport as early as 1908 as a catalyst for establishing a foundation for modern women’s athletics.

Calvin Chapman of Nebraska City. He was an anti-slavery advocate who, by his own telling, supported the famed Underground Railroad in 1859 by transporting slaves across the Missouri River.

Ernst H. Herminghaus of Lincoln, Nebraska. A horticulturist who designed the grounds of Nebraska State Capitol, Pioneers Park, and many other notable public spaces and private residences.

Reverend Hiram Hisanori Kano, an Episcopal priest, serving in North Platte, was arrested and imprisoned by the US Government along with thousands of other Japanese Americans during World War Two; he established schools for children and served as a minister in the prison camps. His work earned him sainthood in the Episcopal Church.

A schedule of the hearings, as well as Zoom video links, can be found HERE.