Nebraska Moments

By Donald R. Hickey; Susan A. Wunder et al. | Go to book overview

35. Omaha’s Gerald Ford and Malcolm X

On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was about to give a speech in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, when three men burst into the room. In the confusion and hail of gunfire that followed, they shot and killed a native Nebraskan, one of the finest orators in American history. Two of the three murderers were later identified as members of the Nation of Islam. Before Malcolm X was assassinated, he was scheduled to speak at the United Nations on human rights issues. Why had it come to this? That same year another native Nebraskan, Michigan congressman Gerald R. Ford Jr., coauthored a book based upon his recent experiences as a member of the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The book, Portrait of the Assassin, attempted to understand the life of Lee Harvey Oswald, the killer of the president. Indeed, these were violent times. The assassinations of President Kennedy and Malcolm X were soon followed by the murders of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and the attempted assassinations of Alabama governor George Wallace and even Ford himself. In death as well as in life, these native Omahans—Gerald Ford and Malcolm X—shared a kindred place in the history of Nebraska and the nation.

On July 14, 1913, Leslie Lynch King Jr. was born in his grandfather’s home, the Woolworth Mansion in Omaha. Nearly a dozen years later, Malcolm Little came into the world on May 19, 1925, at University Hospital in Omaha. Few at the time would have projected the historical significance of these two baby boys at the time of their births, but both would become American leaders of the twentieth century. One whose name was legally changed to Gerald R. Ford ascended to the presidency in 1974 as the first and only Nebraskan to ever hold that office, and the

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