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A Biography of Ernie Chambers

This is a biography of Nebraska legislator Ernie Chambers.

The longest serving state senator in Nebraska history, Ernie Chambers is a national icon. He is an Independent who represents the Eleventh District in the Nebraska Legislature. This is a biography of his life.


Early Life

Ernie Chambers, Ebony Magazine, April 1968
This is Ernie Chambers at Tech High in a picture from from the April 1968 edition of Ebony magazine.

Ernie Chambers was born in Omaha on July 10, 1937, to Rev. Malcolm and Lillian Chambers. His father was a pastor for the Church of God in Christ, and contributed religious articles to local newspapers from the 1930s through the 1970s. A 1955 graduate of Tech High, Chambers earned his bachelors degree in history at Creighton University in 1959, and finished law school there in 1979.

After he got his bachelors, Chambers worked at the US Post Office in downtown Omaha. After quitting because of racism, he got a job at Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barber Shop. He and Dan Goodwin appeared together in a 1966 documentary called A Time for Burning, which was nominated for an Oscar award.

He first ran for office in 1968, going after a seat on the Omaha Public Schools board and losing. In 1969, he lost a bid for the Omaha City Council. In 1974, he became the only African American in Nebraska history to run for governor, and lost. He is also the only African American to ever run for the US Senate from Nebraska.

Mr. Chambers has served in the Legislature from 1971 to 2009, and again from 2013 to present.

helping end the 1966 North Omaha riots,

Policy Wins

This is a November 1995 pic of Ernie Chambers at a community forum on police misconduct in North Omaha.
This is a November 1995 pic of Ernie Chambers at a NAACP community forum on police misconduct in North Omaha.

Always wearing a short-sleeve sweatshirt and jeans to the Capitol, Ernie Chambers has been responsible for passing countless bills in the Nebraska Legislature. One of the most outspoken leaders in Nebraska, he is credited with changing the state forever. Although it would be impossible to include every win he has led, here are a few of Chambers’ most important policy wins:

  • Ending corporal punishment in Nebraska’s public schools;
  • Challenging segregation in Omaha Public Schools;
  • Requiring grand jury investigations of the deaths of people while in police custody;
  • Eliminating Nebraska sales tax on groceries;
  • Switching to district-based voting to give nonwhite citizens a fair shot at election to public office;
  • Barring the execution of juveniles and those with mental retardation;
  • Changing state rules to ensure equal state pensions to women;
  • Leading Nebraska to national and international leadership in 1980 when it became the first state to call for an end to apartheid in South Africa by divesting in the country; and,
  • Establishing government liability for bystanders injured in police chases.

Chambers lobbied the legislature to replace the death sentence with a mandatory 30 year sentence consistently for more than 40 years, nearly getting it passed more than once, only to be vetoed by Republican governors.

Chambers is the longest serving state senator in Nebraska history.

In 2004, Chambers was honored by the Omaha Housing Authority with the renaming of the historic Strehlow Terrace Apartments as the Ernie Chambers Court.


You Might Like…

Elsewhere

  • Free Radical — Ernest Chambers, Black Power and the Politics of Race by Tekla Agbala Ali Johnson for the Texas Tech University Press in 2012.

BONUS PICS

September 1971 Omaha World-Herald OHA criticism
This September 1971 newspaper article addressed the criticisms of the OHA board and leadership led by Ernie Chambers.
Ernie Chambers in 1969
A young Ernie Chambers getting arrested in June 1969 during the riots. Police said he had weapons on him when they picked him up.
Cover of Free Radical by Takla Ali Johnson
This is the cover of Free Radical — Ernest Chambers, Black Power and the Politics of Race by Tekla Agbala Ali Johnson for the Texas Tech University Press in 2012.

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