The Omaha Two inspired activist artists Ben Jones and Emory Douglas to create iconographic images of Nebraska’s political prisoners

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Ben Jones painted Edward Poindexter and Emory Douglas portrayed Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, two Black Panther leaders sentenced to life in prison. (credits: Ben Jones/Emory Douglas)

Ben Jones, a Chicago artist, has recently completed a portrait of Edward Poindexter, an inmate of the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Emory Douglas, former Black Panther Minister of Culture, created a poster of Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa (former David Rice) in 2016 for Mondo’s memorial service. Mondo, who died in March 2016 serving a life without parole sentence, and Poindexter were leaders of Omaha’s Black Panthers in 1970 when they were arrested for a policeman’s murder.

The two men were targets of a clandestine, and illegal, operation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation code-named COINTELPRO. The men were framed for the August 17, 1970 murder of Patrolman Larry Minard, killed in an ambush bombing. J. Edgar Hoover, the infamous FBI director personally oversaw the manipulation of the murder investigation and ordered the FBI Laboratory to withhold a report on the identity of an anonymous 911 caller who lured Minard to his death. The pair were convicted in April 1971 after a controversial trial marred by conflicting police testimony, perjured testimony, withheld evidence, and planted evidence.

Jones says his upbringing in the Midwest led to his activism for the two prisoners. “When I was eighteen, I was incarcerated for three weeks in Lincoln, Nebraska. I do not recall the charges beyond the crime of being young and black in America, but I vividly remember how it felt.”

“Staring out the window, I knew that two blocks down the road was the Nebraska State Penitentiary….I knew that Mondo we Langa and Ed Poindexter were incarcerated for a crime they did not commit. I thought about how I had driven by them without any conception of what they were going through….They were persecuted by COINTELPRO for trying to help people.”

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Edward Poindexter and David Rice (Wopashitewe Mondo Eyen we Langa) were Black Panther leaders in Omaha and frequently harassed by police.  (credits: Omaha Police Department)

“Thinking about the victims of COINTELPRO, one begins to wonder whether the Panthers underestimated the degree of sadism with which the state would seek to obliterate the Black Power movement.”

“The sickening idea that the Panthers were punished for trying to help black people never left me. After I got out, I tried to get we Langa and Poindexter out. I organized fundraisers and benefit shows. I painted an eighty by five foot banner that read “FREE MONDO & ED” and was sprawled out at the state capitol.”

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Artist Ben Jones took his message of freedom for the Omaha Two to the Nebraska State Capitol steps.  (credit: Mary Kennedy)

“Much of the reach of their story comes by way of we Langa’s writings and art….One of his collages became the frontispiece of his 2008 book The Black Panther is an African Cat: Poems of Exploration and Testimony.”

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“Poems of Exploration and Testimony” book cover (credit: Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa)

Emery Douglas was cartoonist for the Black Panther newspaper and over the years has become recognized as the leading artist of the Black Power movement. Although Douglas and Mondo never met the pair were comrades in struggle and after Mondo died in prison Douglas made a painting for Mondo’s memorial service. Douglas put red stripes over Mondo’s face to symbolize both prison bars and the American flag.

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Mondo working on a painting in his prison cell.  (credit: Melissa Rice)

Ed Poindexter remains confined at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, approaching his fiftieth year of imprisonment. Both Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine refuse requests to reopen the investigation into Minard’s murder despite documented evidence that J. Edgar Hoover tampered with the investigation and trial. Meanwhile, from his tiny cell in Lincoln at the maximum-security prison, Ed Poindexter continues to proclaim his innocence.

For further information on the Omaha Two see FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two story, in print edition at Amazon and in ebook. Portions of the book may be read free online at NorthOmahaHistory.com. The book is also available to patrons of the Omaha Public Library.

Author: richardsonreports

Author of FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two Story.

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