Omaha’s most famous native son is El Hajj Malik el Shabazz. He was born in 1925 as Malcolm Little to Earl and Louise Little, and lived in Omaha less than a year of his life. His story is the city is longer though, where leaders have never managed to memorialize him with a building, street, park, library or museum.

The First Year

This is Louise Norton Little and Earl Little, the parents of Malcolm X.
This is Louise Norton Little and Earl Little, the parents of Malcolm X.

According to the Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm’s parents Earl and Louise moved to Omaha in 1921 with their son Wilfred (1920–1998). Their children Hilda (1921–2015), Philbert (1923–1993), and Malcolm (1925–1965) were born in Omaha.

Earl Little was a Baptist preacher, and a community organizer for Marcus Garvey’s organization called the United Negro Improvement Association, or UNIA. Preaching on the street corners of North 24th Street, Earl Little spread the UNIA’s back-to-Africa gospel. According to Malcolm X’s biography, as “Garveyites,” Earl led the Omaha chapter of the UNIA and Louise wrote articles for the organization’s newspaper, “Negro World.” Louise might have also served as a secretary to other chapters in the Midwest.

Research by the original North Omaha historian, Bertha Calloway, Malcolm was actually born at home, which was at 3448 Pinkney Street, with his mother attended by Dr. W. D. Lear assisted by Dr. A. S. Pinto. His official Douglas County birth certificate listed the place of birth as the University Hospital; this was common practice in Omaha’s segregated healthcare facilities of the time.

In the month after Malcolm was born, Omaha’s Ku Klux Klan rode up to the Little House and started smashing windows with the butts of their guns. Shouting that the family should leave Omaha because “the good Christian white people” didn’t want Earl Little to “spread trouble,” Louise was there alone with her four young children, including baby Malcolm. The Little’s were terrorized in Omaha by a statewide KKK chapter with 45,000 members, with a women’s branch, a kids club, and an annual state convention in the state capitol.

In 1926, the family moved from Omaha to Milwaukee.

Life After Leaving Omaha

Soon after they moved, Earl Little was murdered in Milwaukee, and later Louise Little was committed to an insane asylum.

Malcolm was involved in crime and sentenced to prison. When he was released in 1952, he changed his name to Malcolm X. After separating from the Nation of Islam, in 1964 he took the name El Hajj Malik el Shabazz after converting to Islam and taking a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The only documented visit to speak in Omaha el Shabazz took happened that year as well. On June 30, 1964, he spoke at the Elks Club on Lake Street, as well as in the lecture hall at the now-demolished Civic Auditorium. during which he said “In Omaha as in other places the Ku Klux Klan has just changed its bed sheets for policeman’s uniforms.” The Omaha World-Herald also hyped up him saying, “Anything whites can do, blacks can do better.” There is a remarkable photo from this visit showing him standing with Rev. Rudolph McNair, the leader of the Citizen’s Coordinating Committee for Civil Rights, which hosted his visit.

During his speech in Omaha, according to the Omaha World-Herald he said the following:

“In Omaha as in other places the Ku Klux Klan has just changed its bed sheets for policeman’s uniforms.”

“I go for revolutionaries more than I go for anybody else. I’ve never known anybody who ever got anything by singing, ‘We Shall Overcome.'”

“We have a racist government in Wahsington that has the audacity to tell us that the South lost the Civil War.”

“The sins of the father are about to be visited upon the heads of their children of this generation.”

“We 22 million Afro-Americans must form a united front. There’s no need for us to be divided. We do not want integration–we want complete recognition and respect as human beings.”

“The United States Government has failed to give us our freedom and our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. But we will not be denied much longer.”

In the following month, several editions of the newspaper carried negative comments from detractors who dismissed el Shabazz’s “communism,” “conceit” and anarchism.

el Shabazz was assassinated in New York City on February 21, 1965.

Omaha’s Memorials to Malcolm X

In 1965, the Little house was owned by the Moore family. Without knowing its history, they demolished the house late that year. Fighting vigorously and building a movement to honor the slain leader, Mrs. Rowena Moore started the Malcolm X Memorial Shrine in 1971, then won the site’s placement on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Starting in 1968, there was an annual Malcolm X Day celebration in Omaha for more than 15 years. Hundreds of students didn’t go to school that day, and the Black Panthers collected money from North Omaha businesses to host a “People’s Picnic” at the renamed Malcolm X Park.

This pic shows N. 34th and Pinkney Street, next to the birthsite of Malcolm X at 3448 Pinkney Street. Pic courtesy of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation.
This pic shows N. 34th and Pinkney Street, next to the birthsite of Malcolm X at 3448 Pinkney Street. Pic courtesy of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation.

There is an active movement to honor Malcolm X in his birth city today. Mrs. Moore founded the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, and in the past 25 years it has acquired 15 acres surrounding the birth site, created a plaza, built an interpretive center and educational memorial, and started a community garden. The State of Nebraska erected an official marker there in 1987.

There have been other activities, too, including attempts to formally rename North Omaha’s Kountze Park in his honor, as well as the celebration of Malcolm X Day for several years. The annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha was established in 2002 by Dr. Robert Chrisman, chair of the Black Studies Department at the time. Leading Black intellectuals have spoke at the event on the significance of Malcolm X to a range of issues including Black Nationalism, civil rights, issues of Black masculinity and leadership, Pan-Africanism, and internationalism. It continues today.

There are no schools, parks, streets, hospitals, museums, or higher education facilities named in honor of El Hajj Malik el Shabazz, aka Malcolm X, in Omaha today.

Omaha’s Malcolm X Timeline

  • 1925—Malcolm Little was born at the University of Omaha Hospital on May 19th. His family lived at 3448 Pinkney Street
  • 1926—The Little family moved from Omaha to Milwaukee
  • 1952—Malcolm Little changed his name to Malcolm X
  • 1964—He took the name El Hajj Malik el Shabazz after a pilgrimage to Mecca
  • 1964—el Shabazz spoke at the Elks Club on Lake Street
  • 1965—El Hajj Malik el Shabazz was assassinated on February 21 in New York City
  • 1965—The Little house at 3448 Pinkney Street, aka the Malcolm X Birthsite, was demolished
  • 1968—Omaha’s Black Panthers collected money from North Omaha businesses to host a “People’s Picnic” at the informally renamed Malcolm X Park
  • 1969—The Omaha Black Panthers and BANTU host the first Malcolm X Day events in Omaha, including a school walkout and more
  • 1970—The Wesley House starts hosting the Malcolm X Day events, including parades, park festivals, and dinners
  • 1971—The Malcolm X Day Festival was hosted by the Wesley Center at Malcolm X Park. There was also a well-attended Malcolm X Day Parade leading to the festival
  • 1971—Malcolm X Memorial Shrine established by Rowena Moore at 3448 Pinkney Street, the site of Malcolm X’s home when he was born
  • 1972—Malcolm X Day parade and festival at Malcolm X Park
  • 1973—Malcolm X Day parade and festival at Malcolm X Park
  • 1974—Malcolm X Day parade and festival at Malcolm X Park with 10,000 spectators
  • 1979—The first annual Pan-African Festival sponsored by the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation was held at Malcolm X Park in conjunction with Malcolm X Week
  • 1980—The second annual Pan-African Festival sponsored by the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation was held at Malcolm X Park in conjunction with Malcolm X Week
  • 1981—The third annual Pan-African Festival sponsored by the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation was held at Malcolm X Park in conjunction with Malcolm X Week
  • 1982—The City of Omaha Landmark Heritage Preservation Commission named the Malcolm X Birthsite an official Omaha Landmark
  • 1982—The forth annual Pan-African Festival sponsored by the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation was held at Malcolm X Park in conjunction with Malcolm X Week. It featured Dr. Albert G. Rose of Compton, California, who advocated for a building to celebrate the life of Malcolm X
  • 1982—The Malcolm X Memorial Foundation hosted a cleanup of the birthsite
  • 1984—The Malcolm X Birthsite was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • 1984—The Malcolm X Day parade and festival at Malcolm X Park with 5,000 spectators
  • 1984—The Nebraska State Historic Society places a marker at the Malcolm X Birthsite
  • 1984—Malcolm X Day formal dinner hosted by Wesley House
  • 1984—There was a Malcolm X Day parade and the Great Plains Black History Museum held an open house in honor of Malcolm X Day
  • 1985—Wilfred Little, Malcolm’s older brother, visited Omaha for the annual celebration held by the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation at Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church.
  • 1985—Malcolm X Day health run hosted by the Charles Drew Health Center
  • 1985—The Malcolm X Memorial Foundation partners with a Black-owned production company called Midwest Video to provide a satellite broadcast about the life of Malcolm X
  • 1986—Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers nominated Malcolm X for the Nebraska Hall of Fame for the first time. He was not inducted
  • 1986—The City of Omaha Mayor’s Black Excellence Award was given to the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation
  • 1986—Malcolm X Day health run hosted by the Charles Drew Health Center
  • 1987—Official State of Nebraska historical marker placed at Malcolm X Birthsite
  • 1990—Malcolm X Day events held throughout North Omaha, including a parade, talks, theater and more
  • 1992—Malcolm X Day activities
  • 1994—Malcolm X Day activities
  • 1996—The last media reference to “Malcolm X Park” happens
  • 1997—Malcolm X Day activities, including educational activities at Oran’s Black Americana Historical Museum
  • 2001—The Malcolm X Memorial Foundation organized a birthday celebration, including service activities and speakers
  • 2002—The Muntu Dance Theater performed for the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation in celebration of Malcolm’s life
  • 2002—The inaugural annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened, and featured Joseph White, professor emeritus of psychology and psychiatry at the University of California in Irvine
  • 2003—The 2nd annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened, and featured Robert L. Allen, a visiting professor at the University of California – Berkeley
  • 2004—The Nebraska Hall of Fame Commission considered naming Malcolm X to the hall of fame, but he was not inducted
  • 2004—The 3rd annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened, and featured Pearl Bowser, a scholar focused on African American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux
  • 2005—The 4th annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened, and featured Clayborne Carson, a Stanford University professor
  • 2006—The 5th annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened, and featured Charles Everett Pace, a historian and scholar who impersonates Malcolm X, and 11-year-old Council Bluffs poet D.J. Phillips
  • 2007—The 6th annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened, and featured M1 of dead prez
  • 2008—The 7th annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened, and featured senior political advisor and Georgetown University professor Donna Brazile
  • 2009—The 8th annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened, and featured author and Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson
  • 2010—The Malcolm X Memorial Foundation opened a center at North 34th and Evans Streets, which sits near the Malcolm X Birthsite
  • 2010—The 9th annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened, and featured Dr. Robert Chrisman, former UNO black studies chairman and festival creator
  • 2011—Omaha’s Sherwood Foundation made a $75,000 challenge grant to the Malcolm X Foundation
  • 2011—The 10th annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened, and featured activist and presenter Ameena Nuur Fort-Matthews
  • 2012—The 11th annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened, and featured a Hollywood tv show director
  • 2013—The 12th annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened, and featured author, motivational speaker and UNO graduate Tunette Powell
  • 2014—The 13th annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened
  • 2015—The 14th annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened
  • 2016—The 15th annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened
  • 2017—The 17th annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened, and featured Jane Gordon of the University of Connecticut
  • 2018—The 18th annual Malcolm X Festival at the University of Nebraska at Omaha happened, and featured a Hollywood tv show director
  • 2019—The Malcolm X Memorial Foundation is hosting a weeklong celebration on May 19th to honor the life and legacy of Malcolm X, including forums, art competitions and performances.

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BONUS PICS

This circa 1980 signage was place at the Malcolm X Birthsite before the Nebraska State Historic Society placed one there in 1984.
This circa 1980 signage was place at the Malcolm X Birthsite before the Nebraska State Historic Society placed one there in 1984.
This March 11, 1989 article from the Omaha World-Herald features Rowena Moore’s vision for the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation.
This is Malcolm Little’s original 1925 birth certificate from the Douglas County Health Department.

Published by Adam Fletcher Sasse

I am the editor of NorthOmahaHistory.com, the author of North Omaha History Volumes 1, 2 & 3, and the host of the North Omaha History Podcast.

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