Timeline of racial tension in Omaha, Nebraska

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The timeline of racial tension in Omaha, Nebraska lists events in African-American history in Omaha. These included racial violence, but also include many firsts as the African-American community built its institutions. Omaha has been a major industrial city on the edge of what was a rural, agricultural state. It has attracted a more diverse population than the rest of the state. Its issues were common to other major industrial cities of the early 20th century, as it was a destination for 19th and 20th century European immigrants, and internal white and African-American migrants from the South in the Great Migration. Many early 20th century conflicts arose out of labor struggles, postwar social tensions and economic problems, and hiring of later immigrants and black migrants as strikebreakers in the meatpacking and stockyard industries. Massive job losses starting in the 1960s with the restructuring of the railroad, stockyards and meatpacking industries contributed to economic and social problems for workers in the city.

19th century[edit]

Events reflecting racial tension in 19th century Omaha (in chronological order)
Date Issue Event
1804 Slavery The first recorded instance of a black person in the Omaha area is York, who arrives in Omaha area as a slave of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
1854 Treaty rights The Omaha Tribe sells the majority of its tribal land, four million acres (16,000 km²), to the United States for less than 22 cents an acre.[1]
1854 Slavery Nebraska Territory created by Congress with condition that the area stay free of slavery.
1855 Slavery Ongoing debate occurs in the early Territorial Legislature regarding slavery.[2]
1859 Slavery "The bill introduced in [Omaha City] Council, for the abolition of slavery in this Territory, was called up yesterday, and its further consideration postponed for two weeks. A strong effort will be made among the Republicans to secure its passage; we think, however, it will fail. The farce certainly cannot be enacted if the Democrats do their duty." - From an 1859 Daily Nebraskian newspaper.[3]
1860 Slavery The Omaha-based Nebraskian newspaper quotes the Chicago Times and Herald regarding a slave named "Eliza" who ran away from an Omaha businessman to Chicago and was arrested there under the Fugitive Slave Act.
1860 Slavery Census shows 81 Negroes in Nebraska, 10 of whom were slaves.[4]
1865 Voting rights A clause in the original proposed Nebraska State Constitution limited voting rights in the state to "free white males". This kept Nebraska from entering the Union for almost a year.
1867 African American churches St. John's African Methodist Episcopal Church organizes as the first church for African Americans in Nebraska.[5]
1879 Native American rights Standing Bear v. Crook, held at Fort Omaha, recognizes American Indians as persons in the U.S. Federal Court.[6]
1891 Lynching A man called Joe Coe, an African-American, is lynched by a mob for allegedly raping a white woman. No one was charged or convicted for his murder.[6]
1894 Racial segregation The first African-American fair held in the United States takes place in Omaha in July.[7]
1899 A local black singer named J. A. Smith died while in custody at the Omaha jail. Arrested for "loud talking" on a public street, Smith and an accomplice were moving through the building when he and an officer had an altercation, and he struck out. The officer struck back at Smith, who fell against a bench and later died. A police examiner thought there was something resembling a stiletto wound in the back of his skull. Anton Inda, the officer, was charged with murder.[8]

1900 to 1950[edit]

Events reflecting racial tension in Omaha from 1900 to 1950 (in chronological order)
Date Issue Event
1905 Riot More than 800 students, children of European immigrant laborers in South Omaha, protested the presence of Japanese students, the children of strikebreakers. Protesting students locked adults out of their school buildings.[9]
1907 Mayor "Cowboy" James Dahlman lassoed the editors of the Law Journal of Tokyo during their diplomatic visit to Omaha after their asking him about cow punching.[10]
1909 Race riot The Greek Town Riot destroyed a successful Greek immigrant community in South Omaha. A European ethnic mob of 3,000 burnt the community to the ground after a Greek man mortally wounded an ethnic Irish policeman while being taken into custody. Greek residents were forced to leave town.
1910 African Americans build an "Old Colored Folks Home" in North Omaha.[11]
1912 Civil rights Omaha chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opens.[12]
1917 Black nationalism George Wells Parker founds the Hamitic League of the World in Omaha.
1918 As veterans from World War I attempt to return to their civilian jobs, violent strikes break out in the South Omaha meat packing industry when they discover African American and Eastern European immigrants in their former positions.
1918 Black nationalism Cyril Briggs becomes editor of the African Blood Brotherhood journal, The Crusader, which is printed and distributed in Omaha.
1919 Lynching
Race riot
African-American Willy Brown is lynched by a mob from South Omaha after being accused of raping a white woman from that neighborhood, during the Omaha race riot of 1919, sparked by white political boss Tom Dennison. There was a background of resentment against blacks among the ethnic and immigrant white working class in South Omaha because blacks were hired as strikebreakers. The reform mayor tried to calm the crowd; he was also lynched by the mob; only a last minute rescue saved his life. The sheriff and police could not control the mob, numbering in the thousands. No perpetrators were brought to trial. US Army troops were stationed in South Omaha to prevent another mob from forming among white immigrants and ethnic Americans, and in North Omaha to protect the black community.[13][14]
1920s Racial segregation Racial segregation becomes normalized as redlining and restrictive covenants keep African Americans in North Omaha. Harry Haywood is said to have become radicalized by the white mob rule that overtook South Omaha in 1919, which drove him to become a leader of the Communist Party of America.
1920 Racial segregation The Colored Commercial Club organizes to help blacks secure employment and to encourage business enterprises among African Americans in Omaha.
1921 Labor unrest Violent strikes broke out in the South Omaha meatpacking plants in reaction to African-American and Eastern-European workers, as well as attempts by labor to organize the plants.
1921 Civil rights Earl Little, Malcolm X's father, founds the Omaha chapter of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association.
1921 White supremacy The Ku Klux Klan reports its first Klavern in Nebraska being formed in Omaha.[15]
1926 White supremacy After being born in Omaha in 1925, Malcolm X's family was forced to move from their home in North Omaha by the Ku Klux Klan's threatening Earl Little and his family's safety.
1927 Civil rights The Omaha Urban League (now the Urban League of Nebraska) was founded.[16] It is the first chapter of the National Urban League in the American West.[17]
1929 Civil rights Whitney Young leads the Urban League in Omaha to triple its membership.[18]
1930s Civil rights The Knights and Daughters of Tabor, also known as the "Knights of Liberty", was founded in Omaha in this decade as a secret African-American organization whose goal was "nothing less than the destruction of slavery."[19]
1938 Mildred Brown with her husband founds the Omaha Star, likely becoming the first woman, and definitely the first African-American woman, to found a newspaper in the U.S. She continued the paper for 50 years on her own, for the rest of her life. It celebrated African-American contributions and successes in Omaha and America, and became the only newspaper for African Americans in Nebraska. Her niece continues to operate the paper since Brown's death.
1942 Racial segregation Alfonza W. Davis from Omaha fights in the segregated unit known as the Tuskegee Airmen. He is presumed KIA when his aircraft disappears in 1944.
1947 Community activism The DePorres Club begins at Creighton University,[20] actively seeking to fight racial discrimination in Omaha's housing and job markets.
1948 Community activism The DePorres Club stages Omaha's first sit-in at a restaurant in the Douglas County Courthouse in Downtown Omaha with 30 members joining. The restaurant commits to desegregation.
1948 Community activism Mildred Brown invites the DePorres Club to meet at the offices of the Omaha Star after it was kicked off of Creighton's campus.[21]

1950 to 2000[edit]

According to several prominent Omaha historians, racial discrimination was a significant issue in Omaha from the 1950s through the 2000s (decade). Analyzing race relations in Omaha during the period they commented, "1968 rivals 1919 as probably the worst year in the history of twentieth-century America from the standpoint of violence and internal tension."[22] In 1969 three days of rioting swept the Near North Side, and in 1970 a policeman was killed by a suitcase bomb while answering a disturbance call at a house in North Omaha. However, as the 1966 Oscar-nominated documentary A Time for Burning and the 1970s books of Lois Mark Stalvey illustrated, the violence apparently served a purpose as lines of communication were opened between the "West Omaha matron and the black laborer."[23]

Events reflecting racial tension in Omaha from 1950 to 2000 (in chronological order)
Date Issue Event
1950s Racial discrimination "We Don't Serve Any Colored Race." - Signs are posted in cafe windows throughout the city.[24]
1952-54 Boycott The Omaha Bus Boycott was led by the DePorres Club, including Mildred Brown, who extolled readers of the Omaha Star to "Don’t ride Omaha’s buses or streetcars. If you must ride, protest by using 18 pennies." Focusing on ending the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Company's policy of not hiring black drivers, the boycott was successful.[25]
1955 Community activism Picketing and other protests are held at Peony Park after the amusement park refuses to allow black athletes to participate in a regional swim meet. A Nebraska Supreme Court trial finds the park guilty of violating the state's desegregation laws and fines it $50.[26]
1958 Community organizing A group of African-American educators in Omaha Public Schools starts a professional caucus called Concerned and Caring Educators.
1958 Civil rights Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached at Salem Baptist Church in North Omaha.
1962 Community organizing North Omaha resident Bertha Calloway forms the Negro History Society.
1963 Civil rights The Citizens Civic Committee for Civil Liberties, or 4CL, led by Black ministers, rallies to demand change civil rights for all African Americans in Omaha through picketing, stand-ins during city council meetings, and other efforts.[27]
1963 Civil rights The Omaha Human Rights Commission is created, holding a rally of more than 10,000 people later in the year. However, organizations such as 4CL were suspicious that the Commission, led by Omaha's mayor, was a stalling tactic.[28]
1963 Youth activism Black Association for Nationalism Through Unity (BANTU) was founded in Omaha to rally high school student activists towards action.[29]
1963 Youth activism Local youth activists were successful in bringing down the color barrier at Peony Park, the city's main amusement park, after protesting at the admission gates for several weeks.[30][31]
1964 Civil rights Malcolm X speaks in Omaha.[32]
1966 Race riot National Guard quells two days of rioting in North Omaha in July.[33]
1966 Racial discrimination A Time for Burning, a documentary made featuring North Omaha and its issues, is released. Later that year it is nominated for an Oscar.
1968 Race riot National Guard quells North Omaha riots in April after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..
1968 Civil rights Robert Kennedy visits North Omaha in his quest to become president, speaking in support of Omaha's civil rights activists.
1969 Race riot Riots erupt in June after James Loder, an Omaha police officer, fatally shoots teenager Vivian Strong in the Logan Fontenelle Public Housing Projects in North Omaha.[34]
1969 Civil rights 54 black students staged a sit-in at the office of the University of Nebraska at Omaha president to lobby for African American history courses and student voice at the institution.[35]
1970s Urban renewal Construction of the North Freeway bisects North Omaha, cutting the African-American community in half and marring its social fabric.
1970 Political activism Ernie Chambers from North Omaha elected to Nebraska State Legislature.
1970 On August 17 an Omaha police officer is killed when an explosive blows up in an abandoned house in North Omaha. August 28 an African-American man named Duane Peak is arrested, and he implicates six others. August 31 David Rice and Ed Poindexter are arrested, despite not having been originally implicated.
1971 Rice and Poindexter were convicted of murder in the controversial Rice/Poindexter Case.
1971 Black studies University of Nebraska-Omaha starts a Department of Black Studies in response to student activism.[35]
1974 Appeal for retrial of Rice and Poindexter denied by the Nebraska State Supreme Court.
1976 Racial integration Omaha Public Schools begins court-ordered integrated busing.[36]
1976 Community organizing Negro History Society with leadership of Bertha Calloway formally opens the Great Plains Black History Museum in the Webster Telephone Exchange Building to celebrate African-American contributions to the city and region.
1981 Racism Arsonists blaze an East Omaha duplex after an African-American family signs a rental agreement there. The arson is unsolved.[37]
1993 The Nebraska Parole Board votes unanimously and repeatedly to commute Rice and Poindexter's sentences to time served; however, the Nebraska Board of Pardons refuses to schedule a hearing in the matter.
1995 Racism Arsonists tip over and fire an African-American woman's car in East Omaha at the same location as the 1981 arson. Both cases are unsolved.[37]
1996 Racial integration Omaha Public Schools ends court-ordered busing.[38]
1997 Police brutality[39] Marvin Ammons, an African-American Gulf War veteran, is shot and killed by an Omaha police officer. A grand jury indicts the officer for manslaughter, then the judgment was thrown out for jury misconduct. A second grand jury acquits the officer of wrongdoing and admonishes the Omaha police department for mishandling the case.


Events reflecting racial tension in Omaha from 2000 to present (in chronological order)
Date Issue Event
2000 Police brutality George Bibbins, an African American who leads Omaha police on a high speed chase, is shot and killed by officers at the end of the chase. A grand jury later acquits the accused officers.[citation needed]
2000 Institutional racism Nebraska State Legislature sets term limits, with some suspecting this action to be targeted at Ernie Chambers.[40]
2003 Racism An African-American gang member shoots Jason Tye Pratt, an Omaha police officer. US Attorney General John Ashcroft visits Pratt's wife and makes statement admonishing a Douglas County District Judge for offering the gang member second chances in past offenses.[citation needed]
2004 Institutional racism Omaha police officer Tariq Al-Amin is fired from the police department for comments he made during a television show. He appeals and is reinstated with the maximum penalty allowed by police union contract, along with an apology for his comment.[citation needed]
2006 Racial discrimination Ernie Chambers proposes separating Omaha Public Schools into three districts that reflect the city's racial composition: one for the predominantly white western part of Omaha, one for the now predominantly Hispanic South Omaha, and one for predominantly black North Omaha.[41] The Nebraska State Legislature approves the plan to be implemented in 2008. The NAACP is challenging the law at the US Supreme Court.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (n.d.) Multiethnic Guide. Archived 2007-09-26 at the Wayback Machine. Greater Omaha Economic Partnership.
  2. ^ Bristow, D. (2002) A Dirty, Wicked Town: Tale of 19th Century Omaha. Caxton Press.
  3. ^ A Daily Nebraskian newspaper editorial from 1859, as quoted in Bristow, D. (2002) A Dirty, Wicked Town: Tale of 19th Century Omaha. Caxton Press.
  4. ^ (1938) Arthur Goodlett. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940, American Memory, Library of Congress
  5. ^ (2003) "The Negroes of Nebraska: The Negro goes to church" Memorial Library
  6. ^ a b Bristow, D. (2002)
  7. ^ Nebraska Writers Project (1938) Negroes in Nebraska Workers Progress Administration.
  8. ^ "Policeman held for murder", The New York Times. August 14, 1899. Retrieved 4/20/08.
  9. ^ "Revolt over Japanese; South Omaha School Children Want Them Expelled", The New York Times. April 18, 1905. Retrieved 4/20/08.
  10. ^ "Dahlman lassoes [sic] Japanese; Cowboy mayor of Omaha frightens Japanese", The New York Times. May 12, 1907. Retrieved 4/20/08.
  11. ^ (1936) Henry Black: Life Histories from the Folklore Project, WPA Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940; American Memory. U.S. Library of Congress.
  12. ^ (n.d.)Timeline: Omaha's 150th Birthday. Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine. KETV.com
  13. ^ "1919 Riot", Nebraska Studies
  14. ^ A Street of Dreams Nebraska Public Television.
  15. ^ Olson, J.C. and Naugle, R.C. (1997) History of Nebraska. University of Nebraska Press. p 290.
  16. ^ "Urban League Formed." Evening World-Herald 29 Nov. 1927: 2. Print.
  17. ^ (2007) African American History in the American West: Timeline. University of Washington.
  18. ^ (2007) Our History Archived 2006-11-24 at the Wayback Machine. Urban League of Nebraska.
  19. ^ (n.d.) Moses Dickson Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ (1992) A Street of Dreams. Nebraska ETV Network (video)
  21. ^ Mildred Brown Archived 2014-06-06 at the Wayback Machine. Nebraska Studies.
  22. ^ Larsen, Cotrell, Dalhstrom and Dalhstrom. (2007) Upstream Metropolis: An urban biography of Omaha and Council Bluffs. University of Nebraska Press. p 361.
  23. ^ Larsen, Cotrell, Dalhstrom and Dalhstrom. (2007) p. 361.
  24. ^ Preston Love reported seeing this sign repeatedly in Omaha cafes in the 1950s in Bristow, N.D. (n.d.) Swingin' with Preston Love Archived 2007-02-16 at the Wayback Machine.. Nebraska Life.
  25. ^ "Omaha’s Bus Boycott of 1952-54" Archived 2012-03-13 at the Wayback Machine., Nebraska State Historical Society. Retrieved 11/30/10.
  26. ^ Civil Liberties Docket. Vol. I, No. 2. December, 1955.
  27. ^ A Street of Dreams.
  28. ^ Cutting the path to freedom. Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine. The Reader.
  29. ^ Howard, A. M. (2006, Sep) "The Omaha Black Panther Party and BANTU: Exploitation or a Relationship of Mutual Convenience", Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, NA, Atlanta, GA.
  30. ^ Hord, B. "Nebraska Cattlemen's new director is bullish on north Omaha", Omaha World Herald. Jan. 28, 2008. Retrieved 3/30/08.
  31. ^ Calloway, B.W. and Smith, A.N. (1998) Visions of Freedom on the Great Plains: An Illustrated History of African Americans. Donning Company.
  32. ^ "Cutting the path..."
  33. ^ (n.d.) National Guard Mobilized in North Omaha Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine.. Black Facts Online.
  34. ^ (n.d.) "Distilled in Black and White" Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine. Omaha Reader.
  35. ^ a b "Coloring history", The Reader. Retrieved 4/16/08.
  36. ^ 1954-1979. Omaha World Herald (Nebraska), June 13, 2004
  37. ^ a b Burbach, C. "Robbery, fire evoke memories of neighborhood's racist past," Omaha World Herald. February 26, 2007.
  38. ^ Omaha World Herald, June 13, 2004
  39. ^ Peterson, M. (1999) "Copping out: Police-related deaths law assumes incompetence of local government"[permanent dead link], Daily Nebraskan. Retrieved 8/2/08.
  40. ^ Associated Press (Apr 25, 2005). For the Record. Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved on 24 May 2006.
  41. ^ Saunders, Michaela. Chambers up close A Q&A with the senator, whose OPS views are rooted in his youth. Omaha World Herald (April 30, 2006))

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