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.
"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.
The first African-American fair held in the United States takes place in Omaha in July.
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.
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.
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.
African Americans build an "Old Colored Folks Home" in North Omaha.
Cyril Briggs becomes editor of the African Blood Brotherhood journal, The Crusader, which is printed and distributed in Omaha.
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.
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.
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.
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." 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."
Events reflecting racial tension in Omaha from 1950 to 2000 (in chronological order)
"We Don't Serve Any Colored Race." - Signs are posted in cafe windows throughout the city.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Omaha Public Schools ends court-ordered busing.
Events reflecting racial tension in Omaha from 2000 to present (in chronological order)
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.
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.
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. The Nebraska State Legislature approves the plan to be implemented in 2008. The NAACP is challenging the law at the US Supreme Court.
^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.