Fifty years ago, May 3, 1970, David Rice, who later became Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, attended the Sunday service at the Zion Baptist Church in Omaha, Nebraska. Rice, raised as a Catholic, was not in seek of salvation but was at Zion instead to awaken the congregation of Reverend Rudolph McNair.
McNair had been a subject of attention from Rice in the newsletter he edited for the National Committee to Combat Fascism, Freedom By Any Means Necessary, for hypocrisy in McNair’s personal life. Rice later talked about his public battle with McNair. “I was working on our newsletter when I got a call from this dude who said a particular preacher had beat his wife in the Safeway parking lot. I got the lowdown. Now here was somebody church people had been trying to get rid of for years. I did know he had been active in the so-called civil rights movement, very active, and then he had gone quiet. Later on I found out that he turned to the mayor about his church receiving funds to operate certain programs. So for a time his quietness had been purchased.”
“I guess he was with his girlfriend and the wife busted him and she didn’t take too kindly to it and he assaulted her in the parking lot. This is somebody preaching sermons to his congregation about sin and goodness and evil.”
Rice wrote an article for the newsletter about McNair and decided to attend McNair’s church. “Myself and another Party member went to the service next Sunday, right around service time. After people found out what was in it, all kinds of people just rushing, practically knocking us over to get these newsletters. Well, we ran out of newsletters but it was kind of fruitful we had The Black Panther newspapers with us. When we ran out of our newsletters the people bought the Black Panther Party newspaper. Maybe a week or two after that the police came and a number of us were arrested. I was the only one from the chapter that was arrested.”
Rice and seven church members were charged with disorderly conduct. Several were elderly members of the church. Reverend McNair told police he was pushed and grabbed by members of a group who blocked his way as he walked to the pulpit. McNair said the group shouted during the church service.
The eight people arrested went to court in June. Rice and the seven others were fined one dollar each for disturbing a church service. Municipal Judge Simon A. Simon told the eight, including several women, that church was not the place to “settle grievances.” Several of the defendants testified they only grabbed McNair to restrain him after he clenched his fist as though to strike one of the women.
In August, McNair, used his new appointment to the Greater Omaha Community Action anti-poverty agency to fire Rice who was a community outreach worker. McNair gave Rice a termination notice. “I have noted a continuous recalcitrance on your part to comply with these directives….and in addition, the excessive time I have observed you spending in the headquarters of another organization, and the time wasted in conversation in this office…and the tardiness without explanation are unacceptable.”
Rice understood McNair was intent on firing him. “The moment I heard Rudolph McNair was to be hired to be my supervisor I thought I’m about to not have a job and the day he was hired he came by my office and told me to pack up my stuff.”
That week, on August 17, 1970, a bomb exploded in a vacant house killing Patrolman Larry Minard. The Black Panther affiliate chapter members were suspected by police with Rice and Edward Poindexter the primary suspects.
Rice was fighting for his job at GOCA and appealed for an Equal Opportunity Commission hearing. Rice recalled he was preoccupied with lining up witnesses to get his job restored. “I believe it was a matter of days after the bombing we had the personnel hearing. McNair shows up at the hearing drunk. Somebody had to drive him home in fact. There were a bunch of people there testifying in my behalf. Anyway, needless to say, from in jail I couldn’t work for GOCA anymore.”
The two Panther leaders were arrested for the bombing and convicted in April 1971 after a controversial trial marred by conflicting police testimony; perjured testimony by Duane Peak, the confessed bomber; and a withheld FBI Laboratory report on the identity of the anonymous caller that lured Minard to his death. The pair were closely monitored by DirectorJ. Edgar Hoover, who personally oversaw the manipulation of the police investigation. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents working under the clandestine COINTELPRO counterintelligence operation targeted the two men months earlier.
Rice and Poindexter received life without parole sentences. After imprisonment Rice changed his name to Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, a composite name he created out of four African languages. Mondo died in the Nebraska State Penitentiary in March 2016 while serving his life sentence. Poindexter remains locked up at the maximum-security prison, a half century after his arrest for a crime he denies any role in.
Both Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine have been asked to reopen the murder investigation in light of documented FBI tampering. Ricketts will not answer the request. Kleine says he is waiting for new evidence. Neither man will acknowledge the known role of the FBI in seeking a wrongful conviction.
This article contains excerpts from 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.