Jack Johnson and North Omaha

In July 1910 racial tension flared towards Omaha’s African-American community after a tremendous upset victory by boxer Jack Johnson versus James Jeffries in Reno, Nevada.

African American boxer Jack Johnson whooping some white dude.
The fight was billed as “The Fight of the Century“, and was the most significant heavy weight championship bout to that date. It was followed closely across the nation, and when Johnson won, telegraphs and radio across the country announced the upset, and almost immediately riots started, with the first being in Brooklyn.

 

Jeffries vs. Johnson admission ticket.

A day later a news reel of the fight was released, and while many cities banned it for fear of full-fledged rioting, Omaha did not. Mobs of whites roamed throughout North Omaha rioting, targeting blacks in the streets and in their homes, as they did in cities across the U.S.. The mobs wounded several black men in the city, killing one.

 

Boxer Jack Johnson circa 1912.

Today, Omaha is still in denial about the role of race in it’s history; the author of a recent Omaha World Herald article wrote about President Obama pardoning Jack Johnson without mentioning Omaha’s history with him. Without a African American mayor in it’s history, and only recently having an African American police chief for the first time, the city is firmly in denial of the legacy these negative events have in the city. Accompanied with other race riots in the city’s history, the Jack Johnson riot scarred the conscience and soul of a city that could be so much more.

 


Related Articles

 

Elsewhere Online

  • North Omaha History Podcast Episode 5: Omaha’s Jack Johnson Riot – Adam Fletcher Sasse takes us back to the turn of the last century and exams the roots of riots and civil unrest in Omaha. He starts by examining the notorious bout of world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson vs. James Jeffries in Reno Nevada in 1910, and explores what’s happened in Omaha before and after that. (March 20, 2017; 13 mins) Listen online or download on iTunes.

Author: Adam Fletcher

I'm a writer and speaker who teaches people about engaging people. I specialize in youth engagement in communities, at home and through education. Learn more at adamfletcher.net

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