Segregated Schools in Omaha

A History of Segregated Schools in Omaha, Nebraska

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. However, as the graphic above alludes to, racism in Omaha Public Schools wasn’t confined to student placement. It was also prevalent in teacher hiring, school leadership, district leadership, school board elections, school curriculum and teaching practices, testing, and punishment. My 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 CrowThe practice of segregating black people in the US.

There was not de jure segregation in Omaha. Instead, it was de facto segregation 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 shows up 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

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.

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

A History of Segregated Schools in Omaha

 

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

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the current 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

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.

 

The following schools were identified as “Black schools” in the history of Omaha dating back to the 1890s and after.

 

  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

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

 

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

 


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2 comments

  1. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

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