“This town is sick… I’m not speaking of open sores, either — nothing as simple as the ghetto on the ‘Near North Side,’ where all but a handful of 30,000 Omaha Negroes live. No, our sickness is in the bloodstream — in our inner posture. We are an undemocratic city.” – Rev. James T. Stewart, director of Social Action for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha in 1963.
|Protesters with 4CL protesting in Omaha in the 1960s.|
Across the United States today, there is a re-emerging awareness among white people that white privilege, structural racism, segregation, and systemic discrimination are all still hard at work in the U.S. However, people of color have never known anything but those realities.
- To ensure equal housing opportunities
- To create equal job opportunities for African Americans
- To secure integrated schools through busing for all African American students.
|A local newspaper covers a 4CL picket over segregation at the S.S. Kresge Co. store in downtown Omaha.|
Civil Rights Campaigns
A period magazine article reported that “according to Elizabeth Davis Pittman, an attractive Negro attorney,
‘The powers in this city are not so much angry as they are resentful because it is their consciences that are being picketed.'”
Starting in 1963, 4CL held rallies around Omaha to end segregation. Picketing, stand-ins during city council meetings and other efforts were among their methods. Some of their campaigns included:
- July 1963 – A pray-in is held at Omaha City Hall to promote the establishment of a local equal opportunity employment ordinance.
- 1963 – Rev. Rudolph McNair leads a 4CL march of 150 people against the creation of the Omaha Human Rights Commission (HRC), which was intended to placate Civil Rights activists. It didn’t work.
- 1963 – Desegregating Peony Park to allow African Americans to swim in the pool. It worked.
- Desegregating Reed’s Ice Cream – Accepting African Americans’ money, Reed’s refused to hire African American workers. When they hired one Black person, the campaign ended.
- Desegregating the local Coca Cola bottling company – Accepting African Americans’ money, Reed’s refused to hire African American workers.
- Desegregating Fair Housing sing-ins
- Desegregating Harkert Café
- Desegregating Edholm-Sherman Laundry
- Desegregating the Omaha and Council Bluffs Streetcar Company
- Desegregating the S.S. Kresge Co. store
|The leaders of the 4CL gathering in the 1960s.|
The City of Omaha created a “Bi-racial Committee” in 1963 in response to the 4CL being formed. The mayor appointed everyone on the committee, mostly very influential white people. They held a rally of more than 10,000 people later that year. However, the 4CL and other groups were suspicious of what became known as the Human Rights Commission, largely because they saw it as a stalling tactic.
According to a recent interview one former member said,
“We integrated different places and we petitioned for jobs and open housing. We marched on city hall. We did things like this that brought about some changes. We were considered troublemakers and that’s what it takes to get the changes.”
I can’t figure out what happened to 4CL. Rev. Jenkins died in 1980. Apparently, 4CL stopped making news after 1982, when the Omaha World-Herald stopped reporting on them. The Omaha Star reported on them just a few years ago, but I can’t afford the subscription cost for their archives.
If you know any other details about the Citizens Civic Committee for Civil Liberties, please share in the comments below! Thank you!
The REST of Omaha’s Civil Rights Movement
4CL did not exist in a vacuum. Instead, it was part of a movement across the nation and throughout Omaha. Before 4CL, the DePorres Club had affected the city in many ways. At the same time 4CL was so active, the Black Panthers were organizing across the city with food outreach and summer education programs, including Omaha’s Freedom School. BANTU, or Black African Nationalism through Unity, was a youth-led anti-racism campaign active in several high schools. A LOT was happening.
On the other side, segregation continued too. According to research by David Bristow, Mister C’s was a target for the Omaha NAACP Youth Council activism, and they demonstrated until he changed the practice of discriminating against African Americans. Mister C’s refused to serve African Americans in the dining area, instead insisting they take their food at the back door and leave the facility. Other places targeted during this era included Linoma beach and Merritt beach.
The future is still ahead, and 4CL helped pave the way.
This video is a history of Peony Park, including its segregation practices: