A History of North Omaha’s African American Legislators

This article is a history of African American Members of the Nebraska Legislature by Adam Fletcher Sasse for NorthOmahaHistory.com

Did you know there have been 14 members of the Nebraska Legislature representing North Omaha who are African American?

The first Black person to run for the Omaha City Council and the Nebraska Legislature was Edwin R. Overall, a government worker and abolitionist who lost in 1890. However, his friend Senator Dr. Matthew Ricketts (1893-1897) won just two years later.

Fast Facts About North Omaha’s Black Legislators

African American Nebraska State Legislators from Omaha, including Dr. Matthew Ricketts, John Andrew Singleton, Ferdinand L. Barnett, Dr. Aaron Manasses McMillan, Johnny Owen, John Adams, Jr., John Adams, Sr., Edward Danner, George W Althouse, Ernie Chambers, Brenda J. Council, and Tanya Cook.
African American Nebraska State Legislators from Omaha, including Dr. Matthew Ricketts, John Andrew Singleton, Ferdinand L. Barnett, Dr. Aaron Manasses McMillan, Johnny Owen, John Adams, Jr., John Adams, Sr., Edward Danner, George W Althouse, Ernie Chambers, Brenda J. Council, and Tanya Cook.
  • There was a 19-year gap between the first Black legislator and the second one (1897-1926). There have been no gaps since.
  • Senator Ernie Chambers is the longest-serving state senator in Nebraska history, having represented North Omaha for 46 years.
  • The first African American man elected to the former Nebraska House of Representatives was Dr. Ricketts in 1893.
  • The first African American man elected to the unicameral Nebraska Legislature was John Adams Jr. in 1937.
  • The first African American woman appointed to the Nebraska Legislature was JoAnn Maxey of Lincoln in 1977.
  • The first African American women elected to the Nebraska Legislature were Tanya Cook and Brenda Council in 2009.
  • Every African American legislator in Nebraska was elected from North Omaha except for Senator Maxey, who was from Lincoln.

Biographies of North Omaha’s African American Legislators

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.

This is a map of legislative districts in North Omaha, including the 13th, 11th, 9th, 8th, 6th, 4th and 10th. This is current as of January 2019.
This is a map of legislative districts in North Omaha, including the 13th, 11th, 9th, 8th, 6th, 4th and 10th. This is current as of January 2019.

1. Dr. Matthew Ricketts, 1893-1897

Dr. Matthew O. Ricketts (1958-1917) of North Omaha was an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1893 to 1897.
Dr. Matthew O. Ricketts (1958-1917) was an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1893 to 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 »


2. Dr. John A. Singleton, 1926–1928

John Andrew Singleton (1895-1970) of North Omaha was an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1927 to 1928.
John Andrew Singleton (1895-1970) was an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1926 to 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 »


3. Ferdinand L. Barnett, 1927-1928

Ferdinand L. Barnett (1854-1932) of North Omaha was an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1927 to 1928.
Ferdinand L. Barnett (1854-1932) was an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1927 to 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 »


4. Dr. Aaron M. McMillan, 1929–1930

This is Dr. Aaron Manasses McMillan (1895-1980), a noted missionary doctor, Omaha politician and African American community leader.
This is Dr. Aaron Manasses McMillan (1895-1980), a noted missionary doctor, served as a member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1929 to 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 »


5. Johnny Owen, 1932–1935

Johnny Owen (1907-1978) was an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1932 to 1935.
Johnny Owen (1907-1978) was an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1932 to 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 »


6. John Adams, Jr., 1935–1941

John Adams, Jr. (1906-1999) of North Omaha was a member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1935–1941.
John Adams, Jr. (1906-1999) was an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature from 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 »


7. John Adams, Sr., 1949–1962

John Adams, Sr. (1876-1962) of North Omaha served in the Nebraska Legislature from 1949–1962.
John Adams, Sr. (1876-1962) was an African American member ofthe Nebraska Legislature from 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 »


8. Edward Danner, 1963–1970

Edward Danner (1900-1970) of North Omaha served as a member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1963–1970.
Edward Danner (1900-1970) was an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1963–1970.

Edward Danner was a Democrat who represented the Eleventh District, and served from 1963 to 1970. Learn more about him »


9. George W. Althouse, 1970

George W. Althouse (1896-1981) of North Omaha was a member of the Nebraska Legislature in 1970.
George W. Althouse (1896-1981) was an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature in 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 »


10. Ernie Chambers, 1971–2009, 2013–present

Nebraska legislator Ernie Chambers of North Omaha.
Ernie Chambers (1937-) is an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature who served from 1971 to 2009 and again from 2013 to 2020.

The longest serving state senator in Nebraska history, Ernie Chambers is considered an icon. He was an Independent who represented the Eleventh District in North Omaha. Learn more about him »


11. Brenda J. Council, 2009–2013

Brenda J. Council (1955-present) from North Omaha was an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature.
Brenda J. Council (1955-present) was an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature from 2009 to 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 »


12. Tanya Cook, 2009–2016

Tanya Cook (1964-present) of North Omaha is an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature.
Tanya Cook (1964-present) is an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature from 2009 to 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 »


13. Justin Wayne, 2017-Present

Justin Wayne (1979-present) of North Omaha is an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature.
Justin Wayne is an African American member of the Nebraska Legislature from 2017 to present.

Once a labor lawyer for the Union Pacific, Justin Wayne (born 1979) owns his own practice. He is a Democratic who represents the Thirteenth District. Learn more about him »


14. Terrell McKinney

Terrell McKinney. District 11. Nebraska Legislature. November 9, 2020. Photo by Craig Chandler / University Communication
This is Terrell McKinney (b. 1990), legislator from District 11 in the Nebraska Legislature. He was elected in 2020.

Terrell McKinney (born 1990) is currently a student at Creighton University’s School of Law. Representing the Eleventh District district since 2020, he is a father and a community organizer. Learn more about him »


African American Legislators from North Omaha

LegislatorYears ServedLifePartyDistrict
1.Dr. Matthew Ricketts1893–18971858–1917Republican
2.Dr. John A. Singleton1926–19281895–1970Democrat/Republican9th
3.Ferdinand L. Barnett1927–19281854–1932Republican10th
4.Dr. Aaron M. McMillan1929–19301895–1980Republication9th
5.Johnny Owen1932–19351907–1978Democrat9th
6.John Adams, Jr.1935–19411906–1999Democrat9th
7.John Adams, Sr.1949–19621876-1962Republican5th
8.Edward Danner1963–19701900–1970Democrat11th
9.George W. Althouse19701896–1981Democrat11th
10.Ernie Chambers1971–2009, 2013–20201937–Independent11th
11.Brenda J. Council2009–20131955–Democrat11th
12.Tanya Cook2009–20161964–Democrat13th
13.Justin Wayne2017-present1979–Democrat13th
14.Terrell McKinney2020-present1990-Democrat11th
Source: Fletcher Sasse, Adam (2020) “A History of North Omaha’s African American Legislators” for NorthOmahaHistory.com. Retrieved from https://northomahahistory.com/2019/03/18/a-history-of-north-omahas-african-american-legislators/

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MY ARTICLES ABOUT AFRICAN AMERICAN LEGISLATORS FROM NORTH OMAHA:
PEOPLE: Dr. Matthew Ricketts (1893–1897) | Dr. John A. Singleton (1926–1928) | Ferdinand L. Barnett (1927-1928) | Dr. Aaron M. McMillan (1929-1930) | Johnny Owen (1932-1935) | John Adams, Jr. (1935-1941) | John Adams, Sr. (1949-1962) | Edward Danner (1963-1970) | George W. Althouse (1970) | Ernie Chambers (1971–2009, 2013–2020) | Brenda J. Council (2009-2013) | Tanya Cook (2009-2016) | Justin Wayne (2017-present) | Terrell McKinney (202 0-present)

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