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A History of Segregated Schools in Omaha, Nebraska

There were and are many segregated schools in Omaha, and this is an account of their history.

Omaha’s segregated schools are part of the fabric of the city today. However, few people will admit that Jim Crow made Black schools here, or that racial segregation continues existing in Omaha Public Schools, or that white people continue benefiting from the racial imbalance of the city’s public education system. This article is a history of segregated schools in Omaha.

DePorres OPS Protest Poster
This 1963 protest poster was made by the DePorres Club against Omaha Public Schools racist hiring practices.

As white flight gripped North Omaha, white families ripped their children from historically white and mixed schools and placed them in all-white public schools in west Omaha, as well as private schools spread throughout the city. This led to the segregation of public schools in North Omaha.

Racism in Omaha Public Schools isn’t confined to student placement. It isn’t just a historical fact, either. Today, racism in Omaha continues to be prevalent in teacher hiring, school leadership, district leadership, school board elections, school curriculum and teaching practices, testing, and discipline.

This article is limited to addressing the first issue of segregating student populations; however, the other issues should be addressed too.

A few terms before I start:

  • Racial segregationThe separation of humans into racial or other ethnic groups in daily life.
  • De facto segregationDiscrimination that was not segregation by law, instead relying on culture, attitudes, traditions and opinions for enforcement.
  • De jure segregation: Law provides entirely separate schools for black and white students that they legally have to attend.
  • Jim Crow: The practice of segregating black people in the US.

There was only one instance of de jure segregation in Omaha, and that was the Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha’s school for Black students only called St. Benedict School.

Omaha Public Schools are de facto segregated, which is enforced by housing practices, economic limitations and cultural “understandings.” Following is an exploration of what Jim Crow look like in Omaha Public Schools historically, and where it appears today.


Early History of School Segregation in Omaha

These are the historically segregated schools in Omaha: Kellom, Lothrop, Lake, Howard Kennedy, and Long Schools.
Historically segregated schools in Omaha included Kellom, Lothrop, Lake, Howard Kennedy, and Long Schools.

From the 1860s through the beginning of integrated school busing in Omaha in 1999, North Omaha was home to the city’s strictly segregated black schools. Over time, those became identified as Kennedy School, Lake School, Kellom School, Lothrop School, and Long School, all of which were the only elementary schools serving African American students. In Omaha, as well as many cities nationwide) schools for Black students were older, had fewer resources of all kinds, and paid their teachers less than in white schools.

Dr. Harry A. Burke, namesake of Omaha Burke High School, used racism to run Omaha Public Schools from 1946 to 1962. David Bristow, now an official with the Nebraska State Historical Society, wrote about an interview with Herb Rhodes, a North Omaha civil rights leader in the 50s and 60s. Rhodes said that Harry Burke once “proclaimed that as long as he was superintendent, there would not be a black educator in the school system, other than the two schools that served the black community,” because Burke opposed having black teachers “where white children would see a black person in a role of prominence or authority.”


De-segregation Plan

A History of Segregated Schools in Omaha
This is the cover of “The Plan: Desegregation of the Omaha Public Schools, 1977-78.” It was created in response to the 1975 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against Omaha’s segregated schooling practices.

In 1972, the total number of students in Omaha Public Schools was 63,125. That included 19.4 percent blacks, 1.6 percent Hispanics, 0.6 percent American Indians, and 0.3 percent Asian Americans. Of 2,585 faculty members in 1972, there were 202 blacks, 8 Hispanics, 5 Asian Americans, and 1 American Indian. During the 1977-78 school year, 1 of 12 school board members was black.

In 1976, the US government took the Omaha Public Schools to court because of its segregated schools. The US circuit court ordered Omaha to use busing to desegregate the district. They ordered the district to desegregate Omaha’s public schools, starting in September 1976. Suddenly, white flight swept through North Omaha, with hundreds of residents fleeing to the city’s western suburbs where there were few African Americans. White student enrollment in the district tanked, and African-American students were encouraged to travel across the city to predominantly white schools.

This 1976 graphic shows the desegregation “school clusters” created by Omaha Public Schools to address segregation in elementary schools throughout the city.

In 1999, the school district adopted an open enrollment policy based on income instead of race, effectively ending busing. Resegregation has emerged throughout the 2000s. When state legislator Ernie Chambers promoted legislation to create three distinct learning communities controlled by Omaha neighborhoods organized largely around patterns of race and ethnicity, the conversation about race and education policy came back on the radar in the city.


Modern Re-Segregation

Segregated Schools in Omaha
These maps show the segregated schools in Omaha. Historically segregated schools (1878-1976) included Lake, Kellom, Lothrop, Long, Tech, Tech Junior, Mann Junior, Webster, Franklin, Howard Kennedy, Fairfax, Druid Hill, Monmouth Park, Saratoga, Lothrop, Lake, Connestoga, and Kellom. The currently segregated schools in Omaha are North High, Blackburn High, Northwest High, Hale Middle, Monroe Middle, McMillan Magnet Middle, Transitions Program, Career Center, Parrish Program, Belvedere, Central Park, Conestoga, King, Miller Park, Mountain View, Skinner, and Wakonda.

Since the release of Omaha from the order by the US Supreme Court to become integrated in 1991, Omaha Public Schools have become re-segregating today. According to OPS data, percentage of white students enrolled in Omaha Public Schools is decreasing while the percentage of students of color is rising, especially in schools with predominantly African American and Hispanic / Latino student populations. This is happening while the general Omaha population has increasing numbers of white people and a decreasing population of African Americans.

Modern Racial Statistics

Map of school districts and schools in Douglas County
This is a map of school districts and schools in Douglas County from the Douglas County Clerk’s office.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the 2018-2019 racial demographics for Omaha Public Schools are:

  • Hispanic or Latino: 10,648
  • Non Hispanic or Latino: 73,217
  • Students of one race: 80,257
  • White alone: 53,974
  • Black or African American alone: 18,578
  • American Indian or Alaska Native alone: 861
  • Asian alone: 1,160
  • Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander alone: 49
  • Some other race alone: 5,635

A variety of schools in North Omaha have large percentages of African American students that demonstration racial unevenness in school. For instance, at North High, Blackburn High, and Northwest High, African American students comprise the largest racial populations in the school. Other schools that are predominantly African American include Hale, King, Monroe, Morton, and McMillan; as well as the Transitions Program, Career Center and Parrish, which are also predominantly African American. In the 2015-16 school year, the trends of racial isolation in Omaha Public Schools are even more pronounced in elementary schools. Belvedere, Central Park, Conestoga, Druid Hill, King, Franklin, Lothrop, Miller Park, Mountain View, Saratoga, Skinner and Wakonda are all majority African American schools.

The UNO Middle College Program and the Gateway to College Program are predominately white, as well as Burke High, Alice Buffet Middle, and Davis Middle.  Vastly white student populations also exist at Caitlan, Columbian, Dundee, Florence, Fullerton, Picotte, Pinewood, Saddlebrook, Standing Bear, and Washington elementary schools.

This is all evidence of the ineffective administration of resources among Omaha Public Schools, and demonstrates how North Omaha is routinely afflicted by racial segregation. A more thorough analysis of per school spending, neighborhood economic status or other factors would corroborate these findings.

In the meantime, its easy to see that racial segregation is trending throughout the city of Omaha today, and that its schools are clearly reflective of that trend.


Directory of Historically Segregated Schools in Omaha

Schools in Omaha Public Schools
This is the 2019-2020 map of schools in the Omaha Public Schools.

Segregation in Omaha Public Schools has been generally confined to a group of schools north of Dodge Street and east of North 72nd Street. As de facto segregation, Black students are limited to only attending schools in the neighborhoods where they live. In Omaha, housing is limited to African Americans according to their income, which in turn is afforded by income and credit. Income and credit are reliant on education. This cycle disallowed several generations of Blacks to move away from the segregated schools their children attended; these schools hosted succeeding generations of African American students. Even when the Black population was allowed to move away from the Near North Side by the 1964 Fair Housing Act, school segregation in Omaha moved along with the Black population. This has led to the simplistic reality that wherever African Americans live, Black students attend the schools in those neighborhoods. This has allowed Omaha Public Schools to stay segregated by allowing white people to simply move away from schools Black students attend. This has proven to be the case over the last 50+ years since housing integration.

Early Black Schools in Omaha

The following schools were identified as “Black schools” in the history of Omaha dating back to the 1880s and extending into the 1960s.

  1. Howard Kennedy School, 2906 North 30th Street
  2. Lake School, 2410 North 19th Street
  3. Kellom School, 1311 North 24th Street
  4. Lothrop School, 1518 North 26th Street
  5. Long School, 2520 Franklin Street

Later Black Schools in Omaha

Segregated schools in Omaha in 1967.
A 1967 map of Omaha’s Black schools at that point, including Tech Junior and Senior High; Webster, Franklin, Kennedy, Fairfax, Druid Hill, Monmouth Park, Saratoga, Lothrop, Lake, Connestoga, and Kellom Grade Schools; and Mann Junior High.

In 1976, the US Supreme Court identified the following schools as segregated and ruled that Omaha Public Schools integrate the students in these buildings.

  1. Tech High School, 3215 Cuming Street
  2. Tech Junior High School, 3215 Cuming Street
  3. Mann Junior High School, 3720 Florence Boulevard
  4. Webster Elementary School, 618 North 28th Avenue
  5. Franklin Elementary School, 3506 Franklin Street
  6. Howard Kennedy Elementary School, 2906 North 30th Street
  7. Fairfax Elementary School, 3708 North 40th Street
  8. Druid Hill Elementary School, 4020 North 30th Street
  9. Monmouth Park Elementary School, 4508 North 33rd Street
  10. Saratoga Elementary School, 2504 Meredith Avenue
  11. Lothrop Elementary School, 3300 North 22nd Street
  12. Lake Elementary School, 2410 North 19th Street
  13. Connestoga Elementary School, 2115 Burdette Street
  14. Kellom Elementary School, 1311 North 24th Street

Today’s Black Schools in Omaha

According to recent data, there are several schools in Omaha Public Schools today that are predominantly African American, despite the currently segregated schools in Omaha have included or currently do include…

  1. North High School, 4410 North 36th Street
  2. Blackburn High School, 2606 Hamilton Street
  3. Northwest High School, 8204 Crown Point Avenue
  4. Hale Middle School, 6143 Whitmore Street
  5. Monroe Middle School, 5105 Bedford Avenue
  6. McMillan Magnet Middle School, 3802 Redick Avenue
  7. Transitions Program, 2504 Meredith Avenue
  8. Career Center, 3230 Burt Street
  9. Parrish Program, 4315 Cuming Street
  10. Belvedere Elementary School, 3775 Curtis Avenue
  11. Central Park Elementary School, 4904 N 42nd Street
  12. Conestoga Elementary School, 2115 Burdette Street
  13. King Elementary School, 3706 Maple Street
  14. Miller Park Elementary School, 5625 N 28th Avenue
  15. Mountain View Elementary School, 5322 N 52nd Street
  16. Skinner Elementary School, 4304 N 33rd Street
  17. Wakonda Elementary School, 4845 Curtis Avenue

Note that I didn’t pick from North Omaha’s schools only; its coincidental to my list that all of Omaha’s segregated schools are in North Omaha.

Schools in Omaha are clearly re-segregated today. More white students in Omaha attend private schools within the city’s boundaries than ever before. Fewer teachers of color are available for students of color and white students than ever before.

Private Segregated Schools

St Benedict's, North Omaha, Nebraska
This pic shows students at St Benedict’s in 1949, walking during a ceremony dedicating the new cafe at the school.

There were at least two private segregated schools. The St. Benedict’s Catholic School was located at North 24th and Grant Street, and operated for more than 50 years as a school exclusively for African American students who Catholics did not want integrating with white students. The Hope Lutheran School was operated for 14 years by Hope Lutheran Church, and was “coincidentally” segregated because it served only neighborhood students from the neighborhood around its building at North 27th and Wirt Streets.


Ongoing Segregation

Suburban school districts around Omaha also grow exponentially. This is happening because of population growth on the edges of the city, because even as their municipalities are annexed by the City of Omaha, their school districts are not absorbed by Omaha Public Schools. This has been true of Elkhorn Public Schools, Arlington Public Schools, Bennington Public Schools, Ralston Public Schools, Westside Community Schools, and Millard Public Schools. Neighboring Bellevue Public Schools has grown exponentially, too.

With recent struggles still in the rear view mirror, it is absolutely necessary to keep moving forward. Only time will tell whether that will happen though.


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BONUS PICS

Hope Lutheran School, 2720 Wirt Street, North Omaha, Nebraska
The Hope Lutheran School was opened in 1950 at 2720 Wirt Street. It stayed open until 1963, when it was demolished to make room for the North Freeway.
Lake School, 20th and Lake Streets, North Omaha, Nebraska
These are Lake School students at 24th and Lake in 1967 during a parade. Note the sign in the students’ hands to the right.
Bob Gibson, North Omaha, Nebraska
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson, who went to Kellom School, wears his alma mater’s hat in 1965 parade honoring him.
This is Long School at 2520 Franklin Street in North Omaha in the 1890s.
This is Long School at 2520 Franklin Street in North Omaha in the 1890s.

7 replies on “A History of Segregated Schools in Omaha, Nebraska”

I found all of this information about the Long School neighborhood and segregation in Omaha fascinating. It’s also interesting that Long School was named after a Union Pacific employee, and I gained additional insight into what my great-aunt Sarah McCheane’s leadership must have been like while she was a principal of that school during the 1890s and 1900s.

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I went to Dundee School, and then Central High School. I was graduated in 1965. I have always been proud that I was lucky enough to go to an integrated school. But recently, I’ve been rethinking that pride. I believe that Central was de facto segregated, even though there were students of all races attending in the 60’s. I’ve been looking at my old yearbooks: nary a black face in debate club, one black girl in choir (really!), one black face in band, one in orchestra, and on and on. Advanced placement classes were almost totally white. Coach Marcus fielded an all-black basket ball team after I graduated, and trouble followed. Friendships and “cliques” were pretty much segregated.

Have we ever faced this reality? I did have a fine education, but I did not truly attend an integrated school. I wish I had.

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You are ignorant as hell. Maybe the “white” moved out of those neighborhoods because of the random bullets flying through windows in the ” black neighborhoods” it is ignorant people like you keeping racism alive.

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Ms. Dughman,
Your statement to the author of this article implies that court-ordered/forced desegregation never happened in Omaha, NE in the 1970s. Your hateful comment perpetuates the erroneous belief that North Omaha was then and continues to be nothing but a haven for “random bullets flying through the windows in the black neighborhoods”. Do you seriously believe that the only explanation for “white flight” in Omaha was because of random gunfire? Are you under the impression and implying that people of color want to be killed by these “random bullets” and that is why they did not flee to the suburbs also? How does investigating and reporting institutionalized racism in a well-written article, cause the author to be guilty of “keeping racism alive”? Systemic racism is in the DNA that creates the extremely colorful tapestry of our great nation. It is not wise to call out one person as being ignorant because data was presented in an article which helps shed light on the history of the education system that still exists to this day in Omaha, NE. We can all look in the mirror and state aloud your first sentence when we refuse to recognize and accept historical data as a way to gain knowledge and understanding of who we are as a nation so that history does not repeat itself. Arrogant ignorance begets fear and fear begets racism, not simply the reporting of it. The issue of housing is another important factor to discuss, but was not the focus in the above article…education was the topic, in case you lost sight of that.

Liked by 1 person

Here is my take on what you label as white flight! I grew up in north Omaha my first address was 2523 Himebaugh I attended Miller Park Elementary! We moved from there when I was 9. Our move was because my dad wanted to make life easier for my 94 year old great grandma who was having trouble climbing the stairs to the bedroom of that old house! We moved to a ranch style house in the Central Elementary attendance area! Great Grandma passed and we moved right across the street from Saratoga Elementary! I was in 5th grade! Each move was to a home my parents could afford! We move from Saratoga Street because my dad’s truck was broken into 3 or 4 times! Each time his bricklaying tools were stolen! We could not afford to live there any more! You would say white flight I say preservation! We moved to 58th and Frederick which was at that time the far west side of Omaha city limits! 1960!

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