Open Letter to Nebraska Hall of Fame Commission

by Tm Heller
I write in support of the admission of Malcolm X to the Nebraska Hall of Fame. I regret that I was unable to attend the initial hearings due to other commitments. But, I want to submit to you my opinions.

I am not African-American.

I am not Muslim.

In fact, I am a white, Roman Catholic, Conservative.

Yet, I believe quite strongly that Malcolm X, aka Malcolm Little, deserves to be in the Nebraska Hall of Fame. Please allow me to explain why.

You are most likely familiar with his story. Malcolm’s autobiography has been a best-seller and a major motion picture. But, you are not aware of how I came to learn of him. I have spent most of my life in Omaha, but it wasn’t until the mid-90s that I was made aware that Omaha was the site of his birth. I was the Chairman of the Omaha Young Republicans at the time. One of my members, Dean Mathisen, pointed out to me that Malcolm’s birthsite in Omaha at 34th & Pinkney had become a dumping ground, in spite of the fact that a historical marker sits on the site. He urged me to consider an outreach project of cleaning up the grounds. I knew little of Malcolm, other than that he was a highly vocal, racially charged leader in the civil rights movement who had been assassinated. At Dean’s urging (actually he gave me the book) I read Malcolm’s autobiography.

I won’t lie to you. For the first three-fifths of the the book, I was wondering, “Why in the world am I even considering this? This man is so racist and anti-peace! Malcolm was as racist and bigoted as the KKK or Margaret Sanger. But, as I finished the book, I developed a profound respect for Malcolm and his continued quest for knowledge and the evolution of his mind.

Malcolm was, very much,a product of his environment. He grew up poor and was taught racial intolerance from both his father, a follower of Marcus Garvey and the the bigots and racists who tormented him throughout his life. Seeing little chance for success, he turned to a life a crime. His incarceration was one of the pivotal moments in Malcolm’s life.

In prison, Malcolm took advantages of the opportunities presented to him to feed his mind. Sadly, he fed it poorly. He succumbed, like many to the “blame game.” (“This isn’t my fault, this is the fault of someone else,” philosophy) That being said, he educated himself. He took up his cause and fought for it. The cause was right, the methods were not. He advocated hatred and revolution as the means to an end. Revolution is sometimes necessary, but hatred as a motivator is not.

But, Malcolm had an insatiable quest for knowledge. He possessed a keen intellect. As he traveled, speaking against racial oppression and engaging in spirited debates, the blinders of hatred that kept him focused, were gradually lifted. He began to question what he had been taught. There were things that didn’t add up. His mentors were not who he thought they were. Through his own efforts, he became self-aware. Tormented by what he knew and didn’t know, like Galileo, he sought the truth. Like Galileo, he was urged to be silent.

He traveled to Mecca, on his own accord, another pivotal moment. He learned the truth, “that “all men are created equal”. He brought that back to the Nation of Islam to enlighten them. And for that, he was silenced…murdered by the Nation of Islam.

With that knowledge, I organized the Omaha Young Republicans to engage in regular clean-ups of the site. We acquired numerous dumpsters. more than I can number and filled them to overflowing. (These were semi-sized dumpsters, not the small ones.) Gradually, revealing a landscape that been occluded by time and disdain. I lobbied the City of Omaha to put up signs indicative of the birthsite, so that people of Omaha would know what was there.

The small board that owned the land took notice. Inspired, they have turned a dumping ground into a growing memorial to a native Nebraskan who changed the landscape of racial politics and the civil rights movement. Mr. Liwaru and his associates on the board have done well. I applaud them for their efforts.

On a personal note, during one of her visits to Omaha I was able to meet and talk with Malcolm’s daughter, Attallah Shabbazz. We discussed, at some length, the work I had organized and her father’s life. As we parted, Ms. Shabbazz remarked to me that, “Of these people, you best understand my father.” I remain truly humbled by that statement. It is why I am so motivated to write to you about Malcolm. He is often misunderstood and judged by his errors and not by the good he accomplished and the vision he achieved.

I believe Malcolm exemplifies the spirit of Nebraska. Our Nebraska virtues and values of: Determination, Leadership, Vision, Knowledge, Courage, Justice and Truth and as such deserves to be recognized by the Nebraska Hall of Fame..

Like others before and since, Malcolm X paid the ultimate price for his beliefs. Sadly, at the hands of his friends, who blinded by their hatred of others destroyed a life that would have opened their eyes.

Like those already installed, Malcolm exhibited a willingness to stand up for what is right. He showed determination in the face of insurmountable obstacles. He was passionate about his cause. He had a inquisitive mind that opened his eyes, and ours, to new possibilities. Like those already installed, Malcolm let an indelible fingerprint on our state, our nation and our world.

Like Governor Norris, he was a reformer.
Like Willa Cather, he was a visionary with heart.
Like General Pershing, he was a motivator of men and a strong able leader.
Like Lorne Eiseley, he was a philosopher.
Like Fr. Flanagan, he had a great heart and a desire to change society for the better.
Like Buffalo Bill, he was a rebel and a showman.
Like William Jennings Bryan, he was a gifted orator and religious leader.
Like Bess Aldrich, his story has been translated into innumerable languages.
Like John G. Neihardt, we was a gifted writer.
Like Susette Tibbles, he sought rights for the oppressed.
Like J. Sterling Morton, he was working for the future.
Like Red Cloud, he worked for his people.
Like Grace Abbott, he was a pioneer for social legislation.
Like Charles Bessey, he was tireless in pursuit of his goals.
Like Mari Sandoz, he believed and lived in the stimulation of the mind.

Like Standing Bear, he found a better way.

Unlike these, the was assassinated for doing what was right.
Unlike these, he remains largely unknown to Nebraskans.

To the Members of the Nebraska Hall of Fame Commission:

I strongly urge the admission of Malcolm Little (Malcolm X/El Hajj Malik El Shabbazz) to the Nebraska Hall of Fame.

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