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Malcolm X museum to rise in North Omaha with boost from $20 million state grant

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Malcolm X museum to rise in North Omaha with boost from $20 million state grant

Feb 25, 2024 | 9:25 pm ET
By Cindy Gonzalez
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Malcolm X museum to rise in North Omaha with boost from $20 million state grant
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Nearly 18 acres in North Omaha, managed by the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, includes the spot where the slain human rights leader's family home once stood. Now to be added to the campus is a new museum and cultural center to be financed with a $20 million state grant. Foundation officials say the museum likely will rise on a spot opposite the former church building, and nearer to 36th Street and Bedford Avenue. (Courtesy of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation)

LINCOLN — A nearly 18-acre site in North Omaha — now mostly land, gardens and a small former church — is poised for a multimillion-dollar makeover featuring a museum honoring the legacy of Omaha-born Malcolm X.

Malcolm X museum to rise in North Omaha with boost from $20 million state grant
Malcolm X poses for a portrait on Feb. 16, 1965, in Rochester, New York. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

A $20 million state grant was officially awarded this month to the managers of the property, the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, for the creation of a cultural education center and museum devoted to the slain human rights leader.

The funds follow through on legislation approved last year to build the tourism hub in honor of the first African American voted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony is scheduled for May 22.

Originally, the foundation had requested funding through the competitive process set up to dole out economic development grants to North and South Omaha from the state’s American Rescue Plan Act dollars. The Malcolm X museum was not among recommendations by the Olsson consultant, however. Community meetings were held; amended legislation led by Omaha Sens. Terrell McKinney and Justin Wayne carved out funds for the Malcolm X museum.

The public dollars will help activate key parts of a grand plan that’s been in draft form for more than a decade.

Malcolm X foundation

Founded in 1971, the Omaha-based Malcolm X Memorial Foundation in 1984 erected the historical plaque marking where his family home once stood at 3448 Pinkney St.

About 10 acres of surrounding land was acquired, foundation records show, and a plaza was constructed on the home site in 2008. Two years later, a former church on Evans Street was purchased for use as the visitors center. A  community garden was installed in 2018.

Tourism has been increasing — in 2021, about 3,400 travelers visited and about 2,000 attended a Juneteenth outdoor celebration.

Today the campus footprint has increased to nearly 18 acres.

Indeed, a broader vision for the tract near 35th and Evans Streets — which centers on the place where Malcolm X first lived with his family — will take additional fundraising, said JoAnna LeFlore-Ejike, executive director of the foundation.

But the state dollars will bring to fruition a major building on the historic site that celebrates a man who sought a unified front among Black people, she said.

Malcolm X museum to rise in North Omaha with boost from $20 million state grant
Malcolm X Memorial Foundation’s current headquarters is a former church. The foundation will seek community input on how it fits into the makeover of the campus that is to be funded with a $20 million state grant. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

“This Hall of Fame induction and future development plans are an opportunity for people from all walks of life to learn and connect with Malcolm X,” LeFlore-Ejike said.

Amphitheater, community gardens

A detailed building plan is to come once a developer is selected and more site studies are completed. Beyond the new museum facility, LeFlore-Ejike said the funding will revamp the existing outdoor amphitheater and community gardens area that have been a gathering spot for big events such as Juneteenth festivities.

City of Omaha improvements to nearby Adams Park will contribute to a more walkable flow throughout the area and neighborhood, LeFlore-Ejike said.

We really want to be a destination. Our hope is to position Omaha in a way where people are coming specifically to see this.

– JoAnna LeFlore-Ejike, executive director of Malcolm X Memorial Foundation

The foundation hopes to gain community input on what to do with the former church building that fits about 200 and currently serves as the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation headquarters and program center.

Over time, LeFlore-Ejike said, her team hopes to establish a multi-building memorial campus, similar to one that honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta.

Malcolm X
JoAnna LeFlore-Ejike of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, when she spoke  in favor of his induction into the Nebraska Hall of Fame
(Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

“We really want to be a destination,” she said. “Our hope is to position Omaha in a way where people are coming specifically to see this.”

The reputation of the Malcolm X birthsite has been growing over the past decade, she said, and has seen an influx of visitors from across the nation.

“Malcolm has inspired all walks of life throughout the globe,” said LeFlore-Ejike. “This is going to bring a lot of life to the Black experience, historically, in Omaha.”

Born Malcolm Little

Tourists also will be able to visit Lincoln to see specially commissioned artwork that pays tribute to Malcolm X.

Lincoln sculptor Nathan Murray was chosen to produce a memorial bust that in a few months will join those of 26 other members of the Nebraska Hall of Fame in the State Capitol.

Born in Omaha as Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, Malcolm’s family moved away from the state while he was a baby after suffering harassment and threats from white supremacists.

Malcolm X
Lincoln sculptor Nathan Murray and his proposal for the bust of Malcolm X to be displayed in the Nebraska Hall of Fame. (Courtesy of History Nebraska)

Supporters view his life story as an inspiration for reform and transformation. He evolved from a street hustler and, while in prison, became self-educated and converted to Islam. After his release, he took the name Malcolm X and became a leader in the civil rights movement, advocating for empowerment of Blacks, racial justice and international cooperation.

Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965 after an appearance in New York City.

Lawmaker pursues Malcolm X Day

The vote to put him in Nebraska’s Hall of Fame prompted a story by the national Black Wall Street Times: “Before we knew him as Malcolm X, Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, Malik El Hajj El Shabazz or Omowali, and one of – if not the greatest orator, writer, and thinker of all time – he like all of us, came from somewhere. That somewhere was Omaha, Nebraska.”

Ongoing is a legislative effort led by McKinney to have Nebraska observe every May 19 as Malcolm X Day.

LeFlore-Ejike said it would be gratifying to see. 

Yet it took 20 years from when he was first considered in 2004 for Malcolm X to be inducted into the state Hall of Fame, according to History Nebraska records.

“I don’t know what to expect,” LeFlore-Ejike said of the effort to declare a Malcolm X state holiday. 

“Nebraska is not used to this much change, this fast.”

Malcolm X museum to rise in North Omaha with boost from $20 million state grant
A new Malcolm X museum and cultural center is to be built in North Omaha, on grounds managed by the slain human rights leader’s memorial foundation. (Courtesy of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation)