Omaha NAACP Youth Council

A History of the Omaha NAACP Youth Council

Equal education and economic opportunities, civil rights and protection from lynchings weren’t too much for young people to fight for nationally, and when African American youth in Omaha found they could join the struggle, they wanted to take action. The Omaha NAACP Youth Council wanted to stop Jim Crow in Omaha, and they succeeded on several fronts.

Following is a history of the group.

The Beginnings

NAACP log

“You, the Youth of Omaha, are urged to take your place in planning, achieving, and leading in this great movement to help meet the challenge to lead your future to a bright and glorious future.”—Omaha Star, 10/21/1949

The Omaha NAACP Youth Council was formed in 1936. As part of a national campaign to energize young people in the struggle for civil rights, African American youth were trained to protest through marches and picketing, peaceful sit ins, and how to respond to any attacks from police or others.

In 1949, the national NAACP said their youth councils were for people ages 12 to 25. who “organize themselves against intolerance, discrimination and prejudice. They are making themselves felt in their communities. They are planning to achieve and to lead.” Leading a membership drive, they sought to involve every youth in Omaha in their fight. However, it took another decade before they grew exponentially and got busy…

Mable , 1938 leader of the Omaha NAACP Youth Council.
Mable Longmeyer was announced as the 1938 leader of the Omaha NAACP Youth Council by the Omaha Star.

The activities of Omaha’s NAACP Youth Council began slowly, including regular meetings and special events, as well as holiday programs throughout the early years. From its inception, the youth council was talked about importantly as a reference point in young peoples’ lives and as a civic contribution youth could make. For instance, in a 1938 featurette from the Omaha Star, Mabelle Longmeyer, the leader of the group that year, was heralded for her involvement and more.

During the early years, Omaha’s NAACP Youth Council competed for the attention and time of its constituents against the Negro Youth Council, a joint program of the Urban League, the Woodson Center, and the North Side YMCA, focused on civic engagement and highlighting the usefulness of youth. They quickly became ubiquitous in the reporting of the Omaha Star, and the NAACP youth council was quieted throughout the 1940s.

In 1955, the youth council was re-established and met regularly at Tech High School. Voncil Breakfield was the chairman of the youth council that year. One of their annual events became naming Miss NAACP for the Omaha chapter, which Joyce Pope held in 1956. The youth council celebrated the 100th anniversary of Emancipation Day in 1962 with an event in North Omaha.

In February 1962, the group became adamant in their promotional article in the Omaha Star, writing,

“It seems that most of the Negro youth of Omaha are satisfied with being second class citizens who are living in a segregated area. We have had very bad turn out at the meetings. We cannot accomplish anything because we do not have enough members… If the youth in Omaha get together they could make Omaha a first class place to live in, no matter what race, religion, or nationality. This is the place.”

Their recruitment campaign and ambition must have paid off. With training in nonviolence, influence from Omaha’s historical civil rights movement, and the rising tide of the national civil rights movement all at their backs, the Omaha NAACP Youth Council made change happen in the coming years.

Getting the Movement Moving

1963 was a banner year for the Omaha NAACP Youth Council. That year, Mrs. J. T. Calloway was the advisor to the group, and the direction action committee that planned movement activities was busy! Meeting frequently at the Near North Side YMCA and holding special events at the North Christ Child Center at North 22nd and Emmet Streets, they planned a series of actions throughout the city designed to uplift Civil Rights, build the movement and push forward equality. Archie J. Godfrey, Jr. was the president of the youth council that year. Holding dances and other activities, the youth council pushed into activism, protesting Omaha’s Jim Crow segregation and calling for change across the city.

In March of that year, the youth council was credited with negotiating policy change with a downtown Omaha dance hall. Before they did, the hall wouldn’t allow single African Americans, male or females, but would only accept African American couples. After meeting with the owner, the policy was changed.

After the brutal murder of Medgar Evars in June 1963, the youth council carried American flags during Omaha’s march in honor and awareness of the event. The flag bearers were Betty Jo and Debra Moreland, and Jeannie and Oscar Morgan.

During this same era, the Omaha NAACP Youth Council began testing local public entertainment establishments to see if they practiced de facto segregation. According to an 1892 Nebraska law, public entertainment establishments weren’t allowed to discriminate against people because of their race. The arms of Jim Crow were strong in Omaha though, and there were many unstated rules in theaters, restaurants, bowling alleys, roller rinks and other places. This is where the youth council took action. They’d send in groups of youth to see if they were served, and then report to the community through the Omaha Star whether they faced racism or not. One business ran into big trouble when they turned away youth council members, creating the biggest splash the group ever experienced.

Peony Park Policy Protest

Peony Park was generally viewed as a whites-only facility from its establishment in 1919 all the way into 1963. That July, the NAACP Youth Council led a boycott and picket of the establishment that brought its owners to their knees. Way back in 1955, the park was ordered by a judge to be open to African Americans because they were a public entertainment establishment, and segregation wasn’t legal in Nebraska’s public entertainment establishments. After closing for a short period, Peony Park “reopened as a private club—a popular Southern strategy for avoiding court-ordered integration of public places.”

After planning for a week, the youth council announced their intentions to the media and then took action. The Omaha World-Herald reported on the first protest action on July 14, 1963, with the heading:

“Peony Turns Back Negros: ‘Three carloads of Negros were refused admittance to Peony Park Saturday afternoon …'”

That day, a carload of Black youth were turned away by the gate attendant at the park. Pulling to the side of the entryway, another carload of Black youth pulled up and were denied entrance to the park. They pulled next to the other car, and a third car tried to enter. When they were denied entrance, they pulled next to the other, effectively forming a barricade to the park. Dozens of other cars filled with white people pulled up, but drove away from the park. The business was nearly closed down all day long.

With strategy and determination, throughout the summer of 1963 the NAACP youth council picketed outside Peony Park, leading many white people to stop going in great numbers. Peony Park lost big money. By the end of the summer, the pool at Peony Park, along with rides and more, was officially desegregated and African Americans were freely admitted throughout the park. The youth council is wholly credited with the success of this campaign, and in particular, members Bob Paris, Dale Anders, Bertha Callaway, Archie Godfrey and Leonard West. Other members like Joan Adams Davis, Herb Rhodes, Betty Jo Moreland, Laura Inns, Rich Janda, and Charles Galloway were active, going to Peony Park to protest and more.

Action Grows, Expands and Pays Dividends

1963 Omaha NAACP Youth Council Camp Registration Card
This is a registration card for the 1963 Omaha NAACP Youth Council camp.

In October 1963, members of the NAACP Youth Council picketed the leader of the Omaha Ministerial Alliance when that organization refused to participate in a sit-in in downtown Omaha. The youth, who were planning a march on city hall, were trying to pressure Rev. Albert Lampkin into making the city’s Black ministers get involved.

That same month, a voter awareness parade marched from Kountze Park to the Near North Side YMCA, with more than 200 NAACP youth council members marching along. 4,000 fact sheets were handed out along the parade route. On October 31, the youth council was lauded by the Douglas County election commissioner for registering 76 new voters in a 5-hour period.

Late in the month of October, a group of 20 African American youth spent 15 minutes in front of the Central Police Station in downtown Omaha singing spirituals. The group said they were protesting arrests of civil rights protesters that day, and nobody was arrested.

President Godfrey stayed busy and frequently represented the youth council at different events. He even led large gatherings in civil rights sing-alongs. Omaha’s Cathy Hughes, today a national media mogul, credits her experiences in the youth council with opening her eyes to the world beyond her city. Another one of the actions of the NAACP Youth Council in 1963 was to picket the State Theatre in downtown Omaha at 15th and Douglas Streets. For the 25 years the theatre had been open, Blacks could sit only in the balcony, and the youth council fought to end that segregation.

Early in 1964, the Omaha youth council won an award at the regional NAACP conference for their 1963 membership drive, which was massively successful, according to the Omaha Star.

In May 1964, Godfrey told the World-Herald the youth council was writing a national write-in campaign for Roy Wilkins, leader of the national NAACP, to become president of the United States. Although Wilkins didn’t respond to their campaign, Goodfrey said their campaign was important to show George Wallace that being American citizens meant Black people weren’t second-class citizens, as Wallace had asserted. They held a rally and continued their campaign through election day. Wallace wasn’t elected.

Omaha NAACP at the 1965 national NAACP convention
This is a pic from the 1965 national NAACP convention in Denver. Attending from the Omaha youth council was Rudy Smith; other names unknown. Pic from the Omaha Star.

1965 was also a particularly newsworthy year.

On March 29, 1965, the youth council held an event called the Youth Freedom Rally at the Near North Side YMCA. Led by then-president Rudolph V. Smith (b. 1945), there were hundreds of people in attendance. Two Omaha ministers – Father James Stewart of Holy Family Catholic and Rev. R. F. Jenkins of Hope Lutheran – told their stories of the March on Selma on March 7 of that year.

Launching a voter registration drive the next week, the youth council signed up dozens of African Americans in North Omaha to vote from April through voting day. In April 1965, the fruits of the youth council’s labor came to bear with the testing of several Omaha restaurants. In prior years, they’d tested several restaurants to see whether they’d accept African American customers. After being turned away, during the spring testing in 1965 the youth were accepted and no restaurants turned any of the youth council members away.

Also in 1965, Smith went on to tour the devastation of Watts as the leader of Omaha’s NAACP youth council. Happening from August 11 to 16, Smith went a month afterwards and brought a report back to the youth council.

In Fall 1965, the youth council was credited with integrating afterschool activities in the Omaha Public School district. In 1965, The Crisis magazine reported that Smith met with the superintendent of Omaha Public Schools to “press for action in eliminating de facto segregation in junior and senior high schools and discrimination in school clubs.” The magazine said the superintendent assigned a student-led committee to address discrimination in school clubs by ensuring club by-laws include non-discrimination clauses.

The next summer, Rudy Smith was interviewed for an article in the Omaha World-Herald where he pleaded for new membership.

“The adults are fighting in the courts and conferences every day… and if we can clean up and fix up our areas, it will give them more to present on our behalf.” – Rudy Smith, president of the Omaha NAACP Youth Council (OWH 6/19/66)

When the Omaha zoo began charging admission in June of 1965, the youth council responded with a stern letter to the Omaha Zoological Society that ran it. Among other things, the letter said, “It places an undue hardship and discourages family participation for low income families who attend the zoo.” The youth council proposed a campaign to raise money for the maintenance of the zoo, but it didn’t gain traction. That year, the Omaha youth council won a national NAACP award for best newsletter.

Rioting began in North Omaha in 1966. Youth from throughout the community became involved, and others stayed out of the melees. In light of a sense of disenfranchisement and disillusionment that must’ve swept through the community, in August 1966, the youth council hosted a back-to-school drive to motivate African American youth who dropped out to return to school, and keep current students attending. “The purpose of the campaign is to encourage Negro and other minority group youth to return to school and complete their formal education.” In December 1967, they held a membership drive to recruit 200 new youth to their ranks.

In 1968, the youth council asked Mayor Sorenson “under what conditions chemical spray and riot guns are to be used by police to control disturbances.” That year, Pat Murrell was president. Under his leadership, the youth council stood up against white rioters at the infamous Wallace campaign melee that happened in early March.

1968 Omaha NAACP Youth Council march
In February 1968, the youth council led a march in remembrance and protest of the murder of three African American youth in South Carolina.

On February 8, 1968, a group of 200 protesters was picketing against segregation in Orangeburg, South Carolina. The Orangeburg Massacre happened when state patrolmen opened fire on the unarmed protesters, murdering three and wounding 27 others. At the end of the month, the Omaha NAACP Youth Council led a march in North Omaha in honor of the lives lost in this horrific event.

Continuing Toward Today

By the late 1970s, the youth council was meeting at the Commercial Federal building at 30th and Ames, the Charles Washington branch of the Omaha Public Library, and at other times they met at St. John’s AME Church. However, in 1979 the youth council was defunct. Archie Godfrey and his wife Christina catalyzed the re-creation of the group, and by March 1979 more than 100 youth were registered to participate.

In 1981, the new Omaha NAACP youth council hosted a community forum on the construction of the North Freeway, leading the World-Herald to report the event as unsuccessful despite the protests of several editorial writers who insisted it was valuable. In 1982, they sponsored a “Fashion Elite Explosion” at the Civic Auditorium. Highlighting back-to-school fashion, the proceeds were used for scholarships and youth leadership projects. Luminaries like Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers and Omaha City Councilman Fred Conley also spoke to the group at their regularly scheduled meeting.

Starting in 1984, the Omaha NAACP youth council held an annual banquet. Preceded by a reception and featuring top-notch speakers, the event raised funds to send youth to the national NAACP conference held in various cities nationwide. Also in 1984, the Omaha NAACP held an “Olympics of the Mind” academic competition. ACT-SO, or the Afro – Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, had students in grades 9 through 12 compete for honors in the arts and sciences. Local winners attended the national convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to compete against students from all 50 states for scholarships. In 1985, the youth council sponsored another banquet at Cleopatra’s on Ames Avenue, with Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers speaking, and later that year held a car wash to raise funds. The youth council was meeting at St. John’s AME Church in the mid-80s.

These are the leaders of the 1985 Omaha NAACP Youth Council.
These are the leaders of the Omaha NAACP Youth Council in 1986. Pictured (L to R) are Yvonda Deason, Pulchratia Falkner, April Hogan, Gayle Jones, Stacey Pearson and Rev. Dorsey McCullough. Pic from the Omaha Star.

In the late 1980s, the youth council met at Flanagan High School. In 1987, the Omaha youth council won an award for their “outstanding work and achievement in Civil Rights.” Members that year included Markeita Edwards, April Hogan, Renee Richardson, Sheire Shields and Michael Thompson. The youth council formed a campaign in 1988 to promote literacy in Omaha’s African American community. Raising money, the youth went throughout the community to collect money to combat “the devastating problems illiteracy is causing in the black community.” Pulchratia Falkner, an Omaha youth council member, won the 1988 Roy Wilkins Scholarship from the national NAACP.

After another hiatus, the youth council became active again in the late 1990s. In a 1999 Omaha Star article, Omaha NAACP youth council advisor Rev. Wayne Reynolds was quoted saying, “Tomorrow’s leaders need training today if we as black people are going to keep up our momentum of the sixties, seventies, eighties and ninties… Parents who ‘know’ the struggle should impress upon their youth how they can help manage and improve the struggle by their participation in the NAACP.”

In 2006, the youth council hosted a college night in honor of the 70th anniversary of their existence.

The youth council continues today. With an annual golf tournament supporting their activities, in recent years notables like Judy Rhodes, LPGA; Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers, and; Nia Station, the Metro Conference Girls Golf Tournament Champion, have attended in support.

Omaha NAACP Youth Council Timeline

  • 1936—Omaha NAACP Youth Council was formed
  • 1938—Mable Longmeyer serves as executive secretary
  • 1940s—The youth council is dormant
  • 1955—The youth council was re-established
  • 1955—Voncil Breakfield was the executive secretary
  • 1956—Joyce Pope named Miss NAACP for the Omaha chapter
  • April 1966—The youth council celebrated the 100th anniversary of Emancipation Day
  • February 1962—The youth council launched a recruitment campaign
  • 1963—Bertha Calloway was the advisor to the group
  • 1963—Archie J. Godfrey, Jr. was the executive secretary
  • March 1963—The youth council was credited with negotiating policy change with a downtown Omaha dance hall
  • June 1963—The youth council marches in honor of Medgar Evars murder
  • July 1963—The youth council begins campaign to integrate Peony Park
  • August 1963—The youth council wins their campaign to integrate Peony Park
  • October 1963—Youth council members picket the leader of the Omaha Ministerial Alliance
  • October 1963—Youth council members lead a voter awareness campaign. On October 31, they were lauded by the Douglas County election commissioner for their efforts.
  • October 1963—Youth council members picket the Omaha Police Department
  • 1963—The youth council pickets Omaha’s State Theatre segregation practices
  • 1964—The youth council won an award at the regional NAACP conference for their 1963 membership drive
  • May 1964—The youth council launches a campaign against George Wallace for president and nominates Roy Wilkins as a write-in candidate
  • March 29, 1965—The youth council held the Youth Freedom Rally at the Near North Side YMCA to stand in solidarity with the March on Selma
  • April 1965—The youth council launches a voter registration drive
  • Fall 1965—The youth council wins the integration of Omaha Public Schools clubs and after school activities
  • June 1965—The youth council launched a campaign to end a new fee system at the Henry Doorly Zoo run by the Omaha Zoological Society
  • 1965—The youth council won a national NAACP award for best newsletter.
  • December 1967—The youth council held a membership drive to recruit 200 new youth to their ranks
  • 1968—The youth council asked Mayor Sorenson “under what conditions chemical spray and riot guns are to be used by police to control disturbances.”
  • 1968—Pat Murrell was president
  • February 1968—The youth council lead a march in honor of The Orangeburg Massacre happened.
  • Late 1970s—The youth council was defunct
  • March 1979—Archie Godfrey and his wife Christina catalyzed the re-creation of the group and registered more than 100 youth to participate.
  • 1981—The youth council hosted a community forum on the construction of the North Freeway
  • 1982—The youth council sponsored a “Fashion Elite Explosion” at the Civic Auditorium. Highlighting back-to-school fashion, the proceeds were used for scholarships and youth leadership projects. Luminaries like Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers and Omaha City Councilman Fred Conley also spoke to the group at their regularly scheduled meeting.
  • 1984—The youth council started holding an annual banquet
  • 1986—Gayle Jones was the president of the youth council
  • 1987—The youth council won an regional award for their “outstanding work and achievement in Civil Rights.”
  • 1988—The youth council launched a literacy campaign in Omaha’s African American community
  • 1988—Youth council member Pulchratia Falkner won the 1988 Roy Wilkins Scholarship from the national NAACP
  • Late 1990s—The youth council was defunct
  • 1999—Youth council advisor Rev. Wayne Reynolds re-launches the group
  • 2006—The youth council hosted a college night in honor of their 70th anniversary
  • 2016—The youth council hosted an annual golf tournament to support their activities

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