Nebraska senators are considering a bill that would implement a new holiday for Nebraska.
LB 53 proposes that annually on May 19, Nebraska would honor the birthday of civil rights leader Malcolm X, also referred to as El Malik El Shabazz, with a holiday for the state.
The bill acknowledges Malcolm X as a human rights leader, a staunch advocate and a pursuer of freedom, justice and equality.
Malcolm X Day would join the ranks of holidays such as President’s day, Indigenous People’s Day and Juneteenth, among other holidays.
State Sen. Terrel McKinney of Omaha introduced the bill at a Judiciary Committee hearing on Feb. 22, the day after the anniversary of Malcolm X’s death.
McKinney said holidays are about honor, recognition, education and a way to celebrate tradition or cultural significance.
“When I look at all the holidays,” McKinney said in his opening speech at the hearing. “I am left wondering why there isn’t a holiday or observance of Malcolm X’s legacy and contribution to society.”
McKinney explained Malcolm X’s history and his accomplishments in his lifetime.
“Malcolm X will always be a prominent figure in Black and African American and Muslim American history,” he said. “His teachings still resonate today and have inspired positive growth and inclusive change in the U.S.”
However, while some consider Malcolm X a prominent and influential civil rights leader, others criticized his methods.
“All Malcolm said was, ‘If you hit me, I’m going to defend myself,’” McKinney said. “It was more about self-defense. It’s been translated as if he was a violent person, and that’s not the case.”
During his time as a civil rights leader, Malcolm X formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1963, formed the Muslim Mosque Inc in 1964 and also spoke on the importance of political literacy and voting in his 1965 speech “The Ballot or the Bullet.”
Several people testified in support of LB53, while one person testified against the bill.
JoAnna Ejike, the executive director of the Malcolm X Memorial Fund in Omaha, founded in 1971, was one of the proponents of the bill.
“If more young people learn about Malcolm sooner, we could encourage future generations to become citizens who are stronger, more resilient and excited about their cultural origins,” she said.
Schmeeka Simpson, who works with Ejike at the Malcolm X Foundation, said many people do not know who Malcolm X is, even from Nebraska.
“We had to fight almost 20 years to get Malcolm X into the Nebraska Hall of Fame,” Schmeeka said. “These incidents and many more micro and macro aggressions surrounding the birth of Malcolm X here in Nebraska are part of a pattern of coordinated efforts by authorities and officials throughout the years to not only hid the fact that Malcolm X is from Nebraska but to ensure that Malcolm X and his global legacy has as little impact on Nebraskans as possible.”
Malcolm X, who lived in Omaha at 3448 Pinkney St., moved out of the state due to threats from hate groups at the time, according to Simpson.
“A holiday will mean that more people will be knowledgeable about the fact that Malcolm was born here, and hopefully, he will be regarded as a hometown hero and someone not to be feared but to be respected,” she said.
At the hearing, Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings suggested combining Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Malcolm X Day into a single Civil Rights Leaders Day instead of having a separate day for Malcolm X.
“We have certain days that we celebrate in this country that honor multiple people,” he said. “Presidents Day, we just recently celebrated, and some of those presidents we didn’t like, but we honored them for the role they played as a leader in the country by having one day.”
In his response, McKinney explained why he did not agree.
“Maybe in another state, this would be a smart approach,” he said. “But in Nebraska, we have someone who was born here and played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement.”