Did you know there have been at least 11 members of the Nebraska Legislature representing North Omaha who were and/or are African American?
Ernie Chambers is frequently misattributed as the first African American legislator in Nebraska. While Chambers was first elected in 1971, my research shows there have been African Americans in Nebraska’s Unicameral Legislature for dozens of terms since 1892.
The first Black to run for the Nebraska Legislature was Edwin R. Overall, a city worker and abolitionist who lost in 1890. However, his friend Dr. Matthew Ricketts won just two years later.
Following are North Omaha’s Black Legislators, serving the community’s political interests without prejudice and accomplishing what many other state senators have never tried and wouldn’t have been able to do.
Dr. Matthew Ricketts, 1893-1897
Born to enslaved parents in Kentucky, Dr. Matthew Ricketts (1858-1917) was the first African American member of the Nebraska Legislature. He was a Republican who represented North Omaha. Dr. Ricketts’ general practice office was on North 24th Street, until 1903 when he moved to St. Joseph, Missouri. Learn more about him »
Dr. John A. Singleton, 1926–1928
Dr. John Singleton was a dentist on North 24th Street and the son of a political activist in Omaha. He was a Republican who became a Democrat, and represented the Ninth District. Learn more about him »
Ferdinand L. Barnett, 1927-1928
Elected in 1926, Barnett was a civil rights activist who founded a Black newspaper in North Omaha. He was a Republican representing the Tenth District. Learn more about him »
Dr. Aaron M. McMillan, 1929–1930
Dr. Aaron M. McMillan served in the Nebraska Legislature from 1928 to 1930. He was a Republican who represented the Ninth District. Learn more about him »
Johnny Owen, 1932–1935
Johnny Owen was a phenomonal athlete who became a designated leader in Omaha’s African American community, and was a Democrat who served the Ninth District. Learn more about him »
John Adams, Jr., 1935–1941
John Adams, Jr. was a lawyer who became a legislator in the last session of the Nebraska House of Representatives, and the only and African American member of the first session, and the first African American member of the Nebraska unicameral. Learn more about him »
John Adams, Sr., 1949–1962
A lawyer and minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, John Adams, Sr. was a Republican who served the Fifth District. Learn more about him »
Edward Danner, 1963–1970
Edward Danner was a Democrat who represented the Eleventh District, and served from 1963 to 1970. Learn more about him »
George W. Althouse, 1970
Mr. Althouse was appointed as a Nebraska Legislator after the sudden death of Edward Danner. He was a Republican who served the Eleventh District. Learn more about him »
Ernie Chambers, 1971–2009, 2013–present
The longest serving state senator in Nebraska history, Ernie Chambers is considered an icon. He is an Independent who represents the Eleventh District in North Omaha. Learn more about him »
Brenda J. Council, 2009–2013
A long-time labor lawyer, Brenda Council served on the Omaha School Board and the Omaha City Council, and ran for Mayor of Omaha twice before running for Nebraska Legislature. She is a Democrat who represented the Eleventh District. Learn more about her »
Tanya Cook, 2009–2016
Tanya Cook is a public relations professional who runs her own business. She is a Democrat who represented the Thirteenth District. Learn more about her »
Justin Wayne, 2017-Present
Once a labor lawyer for the Union Pacific, Justin Wayne owns his own practice. He is a Democratic who represents the Thirteenth District. Learn more about him »