A History of the Omaha Star

“Dedicated to the service of the people that NO good cause shall lack a champion and that evil shall not go unopposed.”

 


 

More than 65 years ago, a newspaper was launched to serve Omaha’s African American community. Coming from a legacy of several Black newspapers before it, the paper was launched by the visionary Mildred Brown and her husband Ed Gilbert. Losing its direct competitors within a decade, TheOmaha Star became the city’s Civil Rights media champion, refusing to print negative news and constantly focusing on keeping it positive. The original banner was “Joy and Happiness”, and the only told good news.

 

 

The original sign outside The Omaha Star building still glows.

 

 


Getting Started

Brown and Gilbert launched the newspaper in a building that had housed a mortuary and social hall before. Printing their first edition on July 9, 1938, they printed 5,000 copies that sold for a dime apiece. Celebrating positive African-American families, role models and accomplishments, The Omaha Star became a pillar in the community.

In 1943, Brown and Gilbert were divorced and Brown took control of everything at the newspaper. By 1945, it was the only black newspaper remaining in Omaha, and today it might be the only newspaper in the United States started by an African-American woman.

The Omaha Star won national respect in the 1950s by reporting the Omaha African-American community’s perspectives on local and national news. Readers were encouraged to vote and run for office, and some did.

 

 


Civil Rights Era

In the early 1950s, Creighton University famously kicked out The DePorres Club from meeting on campus. A particularly rebellious Catholic priest named Father Markoe founded the group to engage youth in fighting for Civil Rights in 1947. With strong campaigns focused on equal rights, desegregated public transportation, non-discriminatory hiring practices and more, they made waves in Omaha. This didn’t sit well with Catholic leadership, and the club was forced off campus. Mildred Brown welcomed them in her office, and for the next few years they met there continuously. Brown was also heavily involved in their campaigns, regularly attending events and activities and providing continuous coverage of the group’s efforts.

Some of the Civil Rights campaigns The Omaha Star supported included efforts against the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Company, Reed’s Ice Cream, Coca Cola and others.

As a publisher, Brown used public pressure to persuade advertisers to accept Omaha’s blacks in more positions. During World War II, she encouraged readers to picket Offutt Air Force Base. The military was segregated and the businesses that served it were too, including the Martin Bomber plant at the base.

Her coverage of civil rights and riots in the 1960s earned her national awards, including the NAACP’s “Unsung Heroine Award”, and an appointment as a goodwill ambassador to East Germany by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

In addition to Mildred Brown, some of the noted staff of the paper over the years include Ernie Chambers, Charles Washington, Preston Love and Cathy Hughes.

 

Mildred Brown and President Lyndon B. Johnson
Mildred Brown meets President Johnson.

 


Modern Era

Mildred Brown died suddenly in 1989, leaving a leadership vacuum at the newspaper. Recognizing the vital role TheOmaha Star plays in the community, her niece, Dr. Marguerita Washington, collected authority from family members and others who claimed ownership. Slowly and steadily, she asserted her leadership until she was the sole owner and editor.

In February 2016, Dr. Washington passed away. The paper continues today.

Today, the Omaha Star circulates approximately 30,000 copies bi-weekly and is distributed to 48 states. In its entire history, The Omaha Star has never missed an edition. According to Leo Adam Biga, Phyllis Hicks has been acting publisher during Washington’s ultimate demise, and there is massive community support for continuing the paper.

 

Newsboys for The Omaha Star are lined up outside the offices for the paper in the 1940s.


Omaha Star Building

The Omaha Star building at 2216 North 24th Street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its contributions to the history of Omaha.

The past meets the present at Omaha Star building. Built as a mortuary in 1923, the building was a social hall and was bought as the home of The Omaha Star in 1938. It has been home to the paper for more than 75 years.

Mildred Brown lived in an apartment at the back of the building from the founding of the paper through her passing in 1989. The dedicated the Mildred Brown Memorial Strolling Park in May 2008 next to the building.

The Omaha Star Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been dedicated as an Omaha Landmark by the City of Omaha Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission.

Before she passed away, Dr. Washington also worked with Phyllis Hicks to establish the Mildred D. Brown Memorial Study Center, a nonprofit focused on promoting Brown’s legacy.

The window at The Omaha Star building.


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