Matthew Ricketts was born into slavery in Kentucky in 1858. After the Civil War, his parents moved to Missouri, where he finished school. In 1876, Ricketts earned his degree, and in 1880 he moved to Omaha, where he attended the Omaha Medical College and became the first African American college graduate and the first African American doctor in Nebraska.
Ricketts graduated with honors in 1884, and opened an office immediately. Popular and charismatic, Ricketts was quickly a key leader in Omaha’s African American community.
In 1892, Rickets was elected to as the first African American to the Nebraska House of Representatives, serving two terms from 1893 to 1897. Serving the community determinedly, Ricketts is credited with opening Omaha’s first African American firefighting company; securing appointments for African Americans in Omaha’s city government and Nebraska state government; and serving throughout the community in philanthropic and service oriented organizations.
In the Nebraska Legislature, Ricketts is credited with:
- Chairing several committees and temporarily chairing the body
- Introducing a bill to legalize interracial marriages, which passed the Legislature only to be vetoed by the governor
- Introducing a bill to prohibit the denial of public services to African Americans. In 1893 Nebraska lawmakers passed a measure prohibiting race-based denial of services.
- Strengthening the state’s 1885 civil rights law
- Enacting of a bill that set an age of consent for marriage in Nebraska, relying on a petition of 500 African-American women in Omaha to carry it forward.
After being denied a federal appointment by a Nebraska state senator, in 1903 he moved to St. Joseph, Missouri, where he practiced medicine for another 14 years.
Ricketts died in St. Joseph, at the age of 64.