I’m not one to see an injustice under every rock. Too much is misunderstood about context or history, but there is a big problem with the Nebraska Hall of Fame that must be corrected in the next selection cycle, if not before. There are currently no African Americans honored in its membership.
In 2004, Malcolm X was nominated, but he was passed over, it was said, because he had only lived in Nebraska for a few months before moving away with his family. However, it has also been suggested his “by any means necessary” approach to civil rights was still viewed by many as inappropriate, and a few were heard to say comments along the lines of, “he was not the kind of man we should be honoring.” And, unquestionably, on the part of some, there was racism involved.
There are currently five basic criteria for nomination to the Hall of Fame: (1) Born in Nebraska; (2) Gained prominence while in Nebraska; (3) Nebraska contributed to the nominee’s formative growth; (4) Only one selection is allowed every five years; (5) The nominee must have been deceased for 35 years.
However, if you look at the current members of the Hall of Fame, you will note that over half were not born in Nebraska. Several did not gain prominence while living in Nebraska and several had little or no formative growth here. The only possible conclusion is that, as one movie pirate once suggested, "the code is guidelines more than actual rules." As a matter of fact, Malcolm X has a very strong case to make as compared to those already in membership.
He was born in Omaha six years after the infamous 1919 Courthouse lynching of Willie Brown. His father was a key player in many of the local African American activist groups of the time, and Malcolm X referred to his birth in Omaha for the rest of his life. For his father's activism, he and his family were run out of town by the Ku Klux Klan. I’d say Nebraska had a great deal to do with the man he became.
Malcolm X was the second most important Civil Rights leader of the 20th Century, and one of the top five most important African Americans in American history. Some argue, had it not been for his more radical approach to civil rights, Dr. King would not have been as effective. His words and deeds have been studied on college campuses for over 50 years, and his orthodoxy is possibly more relevant today than it was at the time of his death. And, even more important than all of that in the minds of the average Nebraskan, they made a movie about his life and Denzel played him!
As to his so-called anti-American philosophy, militancy or questionable character, the fact that Red Cloud and Standing Bear reside in the honored hall should be all the justification you need to add Malcolm X. Our history has been muddy and brutal, and not at all fair to many of those who made-up the American character for centuries. The fact that you may or may not agree with his politics is completely irrelevant. He was important by any historical standard, and all Nebraskans should be deeply honored to have someone with his cultural significance added to our collective Hall of Fame. Even if it takes special legislative action, let’s get this done right away.
Then we can get to work adding other great African Americans who deserve to be there, like: Matthew Ricketts, MD; Edwin Overall; Cyrus Bell; Clarence Wigington; Lucy Gamble; Roscoe Riddle, MD; Harry Hayword; Daniel Desdunes; and more when their time has come.
As we remember Dr. King today, let us not forget that our work goes on...
Photo courtesy of bostonreview.net.