Adam’s Note: This is Chapter 3 in a series for NorthOmahaHistory.com called Framed: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO and the Omaha Two Story. It was written by Michael Richardson. Learn more here.
“What were we but strangers to the land where we were born…”
—Mondo we Langa, “From the Ancestor’s House”
David Lewis Andrew Rice was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the name Mondo would come later in prison. An autobiographical ramble gives a sense of an evolving awareness of self.
“i, david, crept from between my mother’s thighs on may 21st, 1947. since then, i’ve been through any number of changes upon coming to my present self. i was born black, but i didn’t realize the implications of that, until after i had reached the alcohol age. in my lifetime, i’ve been a colored boy, an American who happened to be colored, a negro, now i am black (can’t get much blacker than that). i don’t have enough space here to really run down what factors brought about these different stages of my growing into meaningful manhood. but, for folks who really don’t know where i am (be coming from), i’ll say something about my present self. i am a black man, i am a poet, artist. i am a revolutionary. being all these things that i claim that i am, i hold to certain beliefs, certain truths….i see myself as only part of a universal body, and that universal body being a part of me.”
Mondo was educated in Catholic schools and was one of the few black students in class during high school. Mondo attended St. Benedict’s grade school and Creighton Preparatory High School. “While I was at Creighton Prep I did become aware of some things. I was a member of Young Christian Students that started to become aware of civil rights issues.”
Mondo asked a white girl from another school that was in his youth group to attend the homecoming dance. “That weekend she apparently told some friends. By the time I got to school on Monday it was all over Creighton Prep. Being naive and thinking I was one of the boys I’m not feeling it was a big deal but there were quite a few people at Prep that thought it was a big deal. People were talking about what they were going to do to me or to her. In one class they used the class time to talk about me. They were talking about bringing rifles and this kind of stuff. Eventually what happened was her parents told her if she went to the dance she would need to find new parents.”
“So there were things like that I had to learn about. You can turn back the hands of time on the clock but you can’t turn real life back. Sometimes I wish I had gone to a predominately African high school but I didn’t and I had to learn some things. I had to deal with inner conflict, but my attitude is the things that you live bring you to where you are.”
“I was, I think a junior in high school when I began to truly see that racism and injustice generally might be more than just aberrations… I was convinced that the oppression of African people, and other people of color, in this country was no accident, no mere flaw in the system.”
“Police murder of African people—not including the countless questionable killings by police of unarmed African people—were common across the country.”
In March 1965, senior Mondo testified to the Judiciary Committee of the Nebraska Senate opposing the sale of pornography to minors. Several students led by Mondo testified that it was easy to buy indecent literature. Mondo asked for action. “We sincerely hope you will no longer sit here and watch these things go by.” The committee adjourned pending further amendment to the bill.
Mondo’s political efforts soon went in another direction when he joined the Summer Action Corps after graduation from high school. The summer youth program operated out of Holy Family Church and only paid a stipend of ten dollars per week. Mondo worked with the church’s “neighborhood needs” group and developed a playground out of a vacant lot at Eighteenth and Grace Streets. Before work began on the playground the youths went door-to-door meeting the residents.
Mondo’s work with Omaha’s poor and his volunteer activity quickly developed a social consciousness and an evolving political philosophy. “My early influences were Omowale, who most people refer to as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and not just the famous. Ernie Chambers, a bunch of folks. Not just people who had political ideas but people who were musicians, poets, and so forth. There were a lot of influences”
“There was an album called Let’s Be Candid by Eddie Harris. Some of the verses were trying to make it real. There was Richie Havens talking about freedom, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding talking about respect. You have Jimi Hendrix doing his version of the National Anthem. You didn’t have to be high, all you had do have was an appreciation for the music to hear the politics in that song. The violence and injustice, and tricks and so forth all tied up in this place we call America. People who are living now that were not around then don’t understand the excitement of what was going on. Not just politically, but socially, and culturally.”
As a performance artist, Mondo was a member of the counter-culture movement and has self-described himself as a “blippie” or black hippie. Mondo converted his living room into The Room of Many Colors dance floor where he would gyrate to the jazz of John Coltrane.
“I was not into the true-blue American, that kind of stuff, but what happened was just before I joined the Party, we are talking about 1968 or so, I was politically naïve so I had fallen for the propaganda. I was somebody who was 100% behind the idea of liberation, behind the idea of people being free and not being under other folk’s yoke so I had fallen for the propaganda that the North Vietnamese were trying to overrun the South Vietnamese and usurp authority and that the United States was there to help the South Vietnamese retain their freedom.”
“Of course, we would have discussions and I would listen, I wasn’t hard-headed, I would listen. But I guess I wasn’t getting the kind of information to change my mind. I didn’t know, for example, about the Viet Minh and the French and how that area of the world came to be split into North and South. I didn’t see the connection between that splitting and the splitting of Korea into the North and the South and the United States involvement in all that, so I didn’t have that kind of background information. But I would listen. Anyway, one day I was watching the news and at that time the United States was bombing Hanoi. The reporter asked the representative of North Vietnam, ‘What will you do by way of reciprocation if the United States agrees to stop the bombing of Hanoi?’ His response was, ‘We will stop bombing Washington.’ It stunned me. They were not bombing Washington and that was his point, ‘We are not bothering you, why are you bothering us?’ It stunned me and I sat there and thought I have been a fool all this long.”
“I had gotten a letter saying I was supposed to appear for a pre-induction physical. Well, this is during the time I was still in favor of the war. When I say in favor, I mean not opposed to it. It’s probably a necessary evil and that kind of nonsense. When it came time for the pre-induction physical, I wasn’t there because I had forgotten it. By the time I got the next letter about the physical I had already changed my mind and I had decided I’m not having a part of this. I’m not taking someone else’s life and I’m not risking my own for the U.S. government to be exercising an adventure in imperialism. So when the time came for the pre-induction physical, I did not go.”
“Months passed. I’m not thinking any more about this now. One morning there is a knock on my door, I go to the door and there are two Europeans standing there wearing suits. I’m under arrest for refusing induction. They informed me that I’m facing five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine, something like that. They take me down to the federal building, lock me upstairs in some kind of damn cage. I had a phone call so I called an attorney and he came down and had a meeting with the magistrate. They agreed to let me go on my own recognizance provided I would show up for this physical. It came down I was deemed unacceptable.”
“I’d have a job and I wouldn’t have a job and I would be trying to get another job. When you are involved in activity like I was involved with the public it is not the easiest thing in the world to get a job. There was a program at Creighton University called New Careers. I remember going up there one time to apply for this job. The person doing the interview was like myself, an African, older than me. He looked at my application and seemed relatively pleased. I’m thinking I got the job. Somehow he missed my name or something, he had the nerve to look at me and say, “I’m sorry, we don’t hire militants.”
Wally Provost, columnist for the Omaha World-Herald, wrote an essay about the Near North Side. Provost made mention of “noisy bars, crowded pool halls, sauntering welfare recipients, late-hour muggings.”
“There also is the important reality of about 850 square blocks containing—or confining—more than 30 thousand Negroes, a majority of whom rise far above the stereotypes peddled so industriously by white racists.”
“In addition, the resentment of ugly oppression simmers deeply within some; in others, it boils near the surface.”
Provost reported about a public hearing by a city recreation study committee to improve the neighborhood. Mondo was one of those who testified. Provost wrote, “It was not the rock-throwers who appeared before the committee.”
“The positive recommendations of Dave Rice, Creighton University student, came forth with a dynamic ring. Rice also voiced hope that private enterprise might provide ‘someplace besides a bar where people can sit down and talk.'”
Mondo’s growing social awareness turned to activism. “I was in the Young Christian Students Movement for a couple of years, Apostleship of Prayer, Sodality, Poster Club, track, football, and I began writing when I was about a junior or senior in high school and I was involved in a couple or three social actions or organizations and they were church-affiliated.”
Mondo organized a music group to play at a guitar mass at St. John’s Catholic Church in Omaha. Priest Robert Purcell supervised the guitar masses and defended the innovation in the worship service saying “the use of modern music doesn’t change the meaning of the mass.”
Mondo was a regular at the Give and Take Coffee House. “Well, it began—about that time this ecumenism thing was big and I guess in certain, what you would call progressive circles, and people were involved in various phases and there were a lot of attempts to get Catholics and Protestant and Jews and so forth together to try to do some things for people and some interrelated church groups got together and formed the Give and Take coffee house and the main function of the coffee house was to educate people—my basic job was to establish the kind of discussions and so forth we were going to have and contact speakers and get out publicity so that we could discuss problems, and there were also people that came there with guitars, like on Saturday and Sunday nights and play and enjoy themselves.”
In 1967, Mondo and thirty-five ministers and church members traveled to Milwaukee to attend a peaceful demonstration in support of an open housing law.
The trip was Mondo’s second visit to Milwaukee. Two years earlier, Mondo traveled to the Wisconsin city to march in a boycott against a major beer company which had discriminatory hiring practices.
In September, Mondo led a group of priests, nuns and ministers in prayer at a courthouse pray-in to promote open housing. A group of one hundred and fifty gathered to pray in front of the Douglas County Courthouse. The pray-in was sponsored by an ad hoc group called the Underground Movement for Progressive Action with Mondo as its “fearless leader.” The pray-in, which was a local response following Mondo’s recent trip to Milwaukee, attracted a number of onlookers. Mondo told a reporter he would do “whatever it takes to bring open housing to Omaha.”
Mondo was almost too busy for school during his college days. “Well, during my freshman year at Creighton University I was involved with the Kellom Community Council, Lake-Charles Community Organization, Hamilton-Lake Community Organization and Franklin Community Council. Basically neighborhood organizations. Their purpose being to try to inform people in basically poor and basically black neighborhoods to get them aware of political situations and try to form self-help type programs so people begin to think and so forth on their own and begin to establish programs in their communities that would help them.”
“I was in liberal arts. My intention was to be an English teacher and to eventually go into English literature but I got sidetracked because of money and during my first year at Creighton I was involved in a number of liturgical movements which was an attempt to make church, you know, the religion and that kind of thing more meaningful for people.”
“About this time I began writing extensively and was writing for a number of community newsletters and newspapers and so forth.”
The Omaha World-Herald reported on the community newspapers and neighborhood newsletters and their drift toward militancy. Father John McCaslin was quoted praying for some Omaha citizens over “the anger and the hatred that they have in their hearts” from an article he wrote in the Lake-Hamilton Undercurrents newsletter. Mondo was also quoted from an article he wrote.
“Omaha takes first prize, gets the blue ribbon for phoniness on the part of the Negroes. And what is so pitiful is that Omaha does not have to be this way. All we have to do is get together and bust the sick system that hems us in like a pinching strap.”
Mondo explored his creativity with activism in a variety of ways. “I believe somewhere in ’67 or ’68 I produced my first play which was put on at the Colony House and began writing songs and started playing guitar and other things….after I graduated from Creighton Prep I volunteered for the Summer Action Corps and I was quartered there [Holy Family Church] with nine or ten other men and I worked with community organizations, that type of thing.”
“I had met Rev. Jack McCaslin….by that time I had already got the guitar mass thing started at St. John’s and I asked if I could start something there to try to get some meaningful things going as far as people relating to Christ and all that kind of thing is concerned and so we instituted the guitar mass there and a lot of other things like having people give their own sermons and just trying to make it meaningful.”
“I was in Omaha all my life up until the time I got convicted and I had been involved in rights kinds of issues when I was in high school, probably seventeen, maybe a little younger and so by the time I was eighteen I had already started being watched by the police. And watched in the sense that Omowale or Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and others would have been watched. I had become accustomed to being occasionally followed, seeing cars and police cars go up and down in front of where I was staying. I had gotten really good at being able to identify those unmarked cars because there would be a certain way they’d be driven and they had certain colors. Colors that were supposed to be inconspicuous, but you know nobody in the neighborhood would actually buy a car that color, like a funny brown and brownish green and so forth, almost solid camouflage colors, gray. We knew who it was.”
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- “Intro to Poetry,” Mondo, Prison Writing, undated, circa 1975
- Mondo, prison interview, undated
- Can’t Jail the Spirit, Mondo, Prison Activist Resource Center, Fourth Edition, 1998
- Don Shasteen, “Testimony Conflicts Over Bill That Bans Smut,” Omaha World-Herald, March 9, 1965
- Gerald Wade, “Summer Corps Stresses Middle Name—Action,” Omaha World-Herald, July 4, 1965
- Mondo, prison interview, September 8, 2007
- Mondo, prison interview, September 8, 2007
- Mondo, prison interview, December 31, 2007
- Wally Provost, “A Story of More Than One Street,” Omaha World-Herald, July 26, 1966
- Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1041, April 13, 1971
- Titus Fisher, “Modern Beat Is Heard in Church,” Omaha World-Herald, May 6, 1967
- Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1044, April 13, 1971
- “Courthouse Pray-in Held,” Omaha World-Herald, September 28, 1967
- “The Cases of David Rice and Edward Poindexter,” Group 489, Amnesty International, p. 2, April 7, 1980
- “Courthouse Pray-in Held,” Omaha World-Herald, September 28, 1967
- Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1043-1044, April 13, 1971
- Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1042, April 13, 1971
- “Militant” Paper Tells Aim: To Stir Near North Action,” Omaha World-Herald, November 2. 1967
- Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1045, April 13, 1971
- Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1046, April 13, 1971
- Mondo, prison interview, December 31, 2007
About the Author
Michael Richardson is a former Omaha resident who attended Westside High School and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Richardson was a VISTA Volunteer on the Near-Northside and served on the Nebraska Commission on Aging before moving from the state. Richardson attended the Minard murder trial and reported on the case in 1971 for the Omaha Star in his first published article. After a nineteen year career as a disability rights advocate, Richardson worked for Ralph Nader coordinating his ballot access campaigns in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. Richardson has written extensively for the San Francisco Bay View, OpEdNews.com and Examiner.com about the trial while spending the last decade researching and writing the book.
- “Framed” Preface by Michael Richardson
- A History of the Near North Side Neighborhood
- A History of the St. Benedict’s Parish