Greek Town riot

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The Greek Town riot was a race riot in South Omaha, Nebraska on February 21, 1909.[1] A mob of 3,000 men killed a Greek boy, displaced the entire population of Greek Town, and burned down the Greek neighborhood in South Omaha.[2]


In February 1909, a Greek immigrant man was taking English lessons from a young woman in South Omaha. At this time Greeks were not considered ‘white’ and a policeman named Edward Lowry (of Irish descent) arrested him and the young woman on February 19, 1909. While Lowry transported them to the jailhouse, the Greek man pulled out a handgun and mortally wounded the officer.[3] Greek immigrants had come to the city as strikebreakers, and earlier arrivals resented them. Among those who were hostile were ethnic Irish, who had a large community in South Omaha. Omaha newspapers were particularly renowned for their yellow journalism during this period. They fanned racist flames with salacious headlines about the case.[4] The Omaha Daily News wrote, "Their quarters have been unsanitary; they have insulted women... Herded together in lodging houses and living cheaply, Greeks are a menace to the American laboring man – just as the Japs, Italians, and other similar laborers are."[5] The Omaha World Herald read "Ed Lowery, South Omaha Policeman, Is Shot and Killed By Greek.", the bold type was followed by an article which insinuated that the whole Greek community of South Omaha, and not the alleged slayer, was really responsible and blamed for the conditions and law violations which were inevitably to end in such a tragedy.[6]

When the Greek perpetrator was finally apprehended, two state legislators Jeremiah Howard and J.P. Kraus (one of Irish descent) and an attorney called a mass meeting of more than 900 men. They "harangued the mob", raising emotions against the Greeks.[7] [8] The mob, gathering more men along the way, thronged around the South Omaha Jail where the Greek prisoner was being held. The police decided it was unsafe to keep him there and decided to move their prisoner to the main Omaha jail. The mob followed the police wagon as it left the jail. More than once they got their hands on the prisoner. At one point they almost lynched him.


After the wagon escaped their grasp, the agitated men turned back towards South Omaha. On February 21 a mob of more than 1,000 men stormed "Greek Town."[9] The New York Times carried an article about the riot stating that 3,000 men were in the mob.[10] They looted homes and businesses, beat Greek men, women and children, and burnt down every building in the area. One Greek boy was reportedly killed.[11] The entire population of Greeks in South Omaha were warned to leave the city within one day, or risk the ongoing wrath of the mob. During the violence, the South Omaha police could not control the mob. They asked for help from Omaha, then a separate city, but Omaha decided against sending its own police forces to South Omaha. Within a few days, all the Greeks living in South Omaha fled the city, moving mostly to Council Bluffs, Sioux City and Salt Lake City.[12]


Soon after, the Greek who mortally wounded Lowry was brought to trial. The suspect was convicted and sentenced to death. The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the verdict on appeal, because the mob passions in the city had denied him a fair trial. During a second trial, the man was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 14 years in prison. After serving five and a half years, the man was furloughed by the governor and deported from the United States.[13] At the trial, the Greek vice-consul to the United States asked the Federal government to provide an explanation of the expulsion of Greeks from Omaha, as well as the failure in government protection of Greek residents. The court trial dragged on and no excuse was ever provided.[14]

In addition, the reports of the South Omaha violence set off at least two other anti-Greek demonstrations of a violent nature in Kansas City and Dayton within a week of the Omaha incident.[15]

The two state legislators were exonerated:

[South Omaha City Attorney Murphy]...denied the responsibility for instigating the riot that followed....Murphy was contradicted, however, when another principal speaker at the Sunday meeting, Jeremiah Howard, a state legislator, stated that the riot issued from the meeting. While speaking to the assembled crowd, Howard realized the possibility of his audience degenerating into a mob, but he was afraid to utter words of caution for fear he would move his listeners to violence through the power of suggestion.

Although Henry C. Murphy, was to make another lengthy statement to the press, state legislators Howard and J. P. Kraus had comparatively little to say. Kraus flatly refused to discuss the matter with the press especially after one of his friends made the remark, “I did not know you were such a Marc Anthony [sic] .” At the opening session of Nebraska’s legislature, however, Kraus immediately “rose to a question of personal privilege.” Speaking before the House, he flatly denied making a speech at the Sunday meeting and stated that his only contribution was a resolution directed to the governor and the Nebraska labor commissioner. He went on to defend Representative Howard who, he said, had not used exciting language in his speech.

The day following Kraus’ statement before the House, a special committee of the Nebraska House of Representatives gave Howard and Kraus “certificates of excellence,” because their behavior at the meeting preceding the riot was not found to be “serious or unbecoming members of the august law making body of the State.”[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The only obstacle to immigration applies to but one race and is not general in its nature. Strong racial prejudice has existed for a great many years against the Greeks. It reached its climax in a race riot a few years ago, when the entire Greek settlement was driven from the community by a mob. Immigrants of other races meet with no general obstacles."Dillingham, W.P. (1918) Reports of the Dillingham Commission: Immigrants in the Industries, p 344.
  2. ^ "South Omaha mob wars on Greeks", The New York Times. February 21, 1909. Retrieved 4/16/08.
  3. ^ Officer Lowry also pulled out his service revolver and shot the Greek man."Edward Lowry", Officer Down Memorial Page. Retrieved 5/11/08.
  4. ^ Larsen, L. & Cotrell, B. (1997). The gate city: A history of Omaha. University of Nebraska Press. P 165.
  5. ^ "Racial Tensions in Omaha". Nebraska Studies. Archived from the original on 2012-09-11. Retrieved September 4, 2021.
  6. ^ The Anti-Greek Riot of 1909-South Omaha
  7. ^ "South Omaha mob wars on Greeks", The New York Times. February 21, 1909. Retrieved 4/16/08.
  8. ^ Bitzes, John G., "The anti-Greek riot of 1909: South Omaha" (1964). Student Work. 548.
  9. ^ Larsen, L. & Cotrell, B. (1997). The gate city: A history of Omaha. University of Nebraska Press. P 164.
  10. ^ "South Omaha mob wars on Greeks", The New York Times. February 21, 1909. Retrieved 4/16/08.
  11. ^ Hill, J. (nd) “Interview: Helen Papanikolas.”
  12. ^ Larsen, L. & Cotrell, B. (1997). The gate city: A history of Omaha, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, p. 166.
  13. ^ "Edward Lowry", Officer Down Memorial Page, retrieved 5/11/08
  14. ^ Larsen, L. & Cotrell, B. (1997). The gate city: A history of Omaha. University of Nebraska Press. P 166.
  15. ^ The Anti-Greek Riot of 1909-South Omaha
  16. ^ Bitzes, John G., "The anti-Greek riot of 1909: South Omaha" (1964). Student Work. 548.