A Biography of North Omaha’s Dr. Marguerita Washington

“A voiceless people is a hopeless people. People recognize only two things in politics and business: The BALLOT and the BUCKS. The Ballot and the Bucks are Weapons for First-Class Citizenship, Use and Spend Both Wisely.” — Omaha Star motto

This story begins with the death. On November 2nd, 1989, Mildred Brown passed away. Easily the mother of North Omaha pride, Mildred co-founded The Omaha Star in the late 1930s and ran it by herself for almost 50 years. She promoted the community mercilessly, building pride, power and purpose through her paper, and her death was a massive loss to everyone in North Omaha, especially the African American community.

A New Leader for New Times

"The Omaha Star" by Joe Kinney
The Omaha Star newspaper was targeted by the FBI to receive a false news tip in order to defame Ed Poindexter. The paper did not fall for the bogus letter and did not print the spurious allegation.

Dr. Marguerita Washington grew up respecting her aunt. A lifelong educator, she worked at Central High School with special education students when Mildred passed away. Five days later, Dr. Washington became publisher of The Omaha Star.

Starting in 1938, the Omaha Star was originally a voice among several periodicals within Nebraska’s Black community. However, by the 1960s it was the state’s only Black-owned newspaper, and has remained such since then. Mrs. Brown directed the paper from her North 24th Street offices all through the swinging 1940s and the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s, when she hosted the DePorres Club after they were kicked off the Creighton University campus. During the North Omaha riots of the 1960s, she hid white people who were being chased and had her offices protected by the Black Panther party to make sure it wasn’t burnt to the ground.

Marguerita Le Etta Washington was born on August 16, 1948. As a young person, she was close to her Aunt Millie, and spent a lot of time in the Omaha Star offices. She started working in the office when she was a teenager.

According to her biography, part of Dr. Washington’s college studies were paid for by Mrs. Brown. When Dr. Washington was bequeathed leadership of the paper, she had all that legacy to carry. Luckily for the family, she proved a worthy inheritor. Beginning with a family struggle to ensure her complete ownership of the paper, she constantly proved herself to be a worthy leader. Focused on teaching Omaha’s Black community, empowering Blacks, and ensuring the significant contributions of Blacks to Omaha at large, Washington has a track record of success.

Recognizing Power and Success

Omaha Star publisher Mildred Brown meets President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.

The city of Omaha has awoken to the positive power of The Omaha Star and Dr. Washington. More and more, people are recognizing her contributions to the community. One of the first local awards she has received came in 2005 when the YWCA awarded Dr. Washington as one of Omaha’s “Women of Vision.”

In 2007, she rallied community leaders to form a nonprofit organization called the Mildred D. Brown Memorial Study Center. The goal of the Center is to provide scholarships in Omaha’s African American community; providing opportunities for students to study and research Nebraska’s African American journalism history; and to get hands-on experience through involvement with a community newspaper.

Dr. Washington then secured a listing for the Omaha Star offices on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. Along with this, she won a grant for the foundation from the City of Omaha to refurbish the building’s 1940s-era neon sign, and to repaint the old window sashes and doors. In 2014, Dr. Washington was recognized by the Urban League of Nebraska for her leadership in the community.

Passing On

This is the sign on the historic Omaha Star building on North 24th Street in North Omaha, Nebraska
This is the sign on the historic Omaha Star building on North 24th Street.

Dr. Washington’s health took a turn for the worse in late 2015. There was an upsurge of recognition for her. The Omaha World-Herald and the local television stations featured her story, and Mayor Stothert proclaimed December 1, 2015 as Dr. Marguerita Washington Day. In her proclamation, Stothert said that “under the leadership of Mildred Brown and Dr. Marguerita Washington, the Omaha Star remains ‘the people’s paper,’ a ‘relevant voice,’ a ‘sounding board.’”

On February 13, 2016, Dr. Marguerita Washington, publisher of the Omaha Star newspaper, passed away. As the Mildred D. Brown Memorial Foundation wrote, “She will be remembered for continuing the legacy of a black female owned and operated newspaper.”

I will add that she’ll be remembered as one of North Omaha’s great leaders whose unique style made the community stronger, smarter and more resilient than ever.

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