Some people talk about freedom, and others work for it. Looking through the popular sources for historical information, it can be challenging to figure out who was hyped up and who actually did things. In North Omaha, Mrs. Jessie Hale-Moss did a lot in her short time in the city. She was a strong Black female leader in North Omaha who ran a business, edited a newspaper, volunteered throughout the community, and served as one of the first leaders of Omaha’s NAACP. This is a biography of Jessie Hale-Moss (1880-1920).
“Jessie Hale-Moss is a woman who Omaha will sadly miss. She was a zealous, self-sacrificing and unremitting worker for any cause which enlisted her sympathy and every movement affected her race had her whole-hearted devotion.Rev. John Albert Williams, 1920
Jessie Hale-Moss was born to J. Cladius Hale and Caroline Hale in Middleport, Ohio, in 1880. After graduating from Middleport High School in 1893, Mrs. Hale-Moss taught in public schools in Ohio for several years before she and her husband moved to Nebraska. She was also referred to as a “trained social worker” in an era when few were educated in that area. However, I haven’t found details about her education yet.
She came from a family that included her uncle Samuel Blaine Allen (1842-1915), who was born into slavery and eventually became mayor of Rendville, Ohio. This town was founded after the Civil War to serve as a deliberate and successful interracial haven. Focused on attracting talented Black entrepreneurs and professionals, the town had 700 residents at its peak. Allen owned a hotel and barbershop in Rendville from 1881-1892, and at the same time served as a councilman in the town for nine years, and as mayor of the town in 1891. He owned owned a hotel called The Allen House in Middleport, Ohio, where his niece Jessie Hale-Moss was born.
Before she came to Omaha, she was apparently a real estate agent for a large land-holding in Michigan called the Homestead Orchard Estate. Traveling to West Virginia more than once, Mrs. Hale-Moss advertised her visits and was mentioned in local newspapers across that state. She continued selling the land once she arrived in Omaha around 1911. She was 31 years old.
Moving to North Omaha
Jessie Hale-Moss had family in Omaha before she got to the community. Her sister Mrs. John Wright lived in the city and her brother Frank Hale (1868-1921) lived in Omaha for 25 years before he died a few months after his sister Jessie. Her brother George W. Hale (1861-1947) was a barber in Akron, Ohio, but died in Omaha. Her husband’s brother James W. Moss (1886-1962) moved to Omaha, too.
In addition to working as a real estate broker, Mrs. Hale-Moss was also the manager of the Kashmir Beauty Shop downtown at 13th and Farnam. A 1918 edition of The Monitor said, “If this enterprising young business woman cannot convince you your scalp needs treatment, she may be able to interest you in an investing in Michigan orchards, for which she also has the agency.
Mrs. Moss was credited as…
- Founder, North Omaha’s Negro Women’s Christian Association, which was a segregated YWCA
- Founder, North Omaha’s Colored Old Folks’ Home
- President, Omaha chapter of the NAACP from 1918 until she died in 1920
- Member, Dubois Players, an African American theatre group that performed at small parties in North Omaha.
- Director, Cooperative Workers of America, a Black-owned department store on North 24th Street
- Secretary, Douglas County Colored Women’s Republican Club
Long before the lynching of Will Brown in 1919, Mrs. Hale-Moss was advocating for the media to stop their white supremacist coverage of African Americans in the Omaha newspapers. Using the fledgling NAACP as her hammer, she singlehandedly waged war against white supremacy before the terrible year that followed. Over several years, she attended the annual NAACP Conference in cities across the country. She also led the group in discussions about racism in Omaha’s media before and after the event.
1919 in Omaha
In 1919, Ms. Hale-Moss played a pivotal role in fighting the events of the notorious and evil Red Summer in Omaha.
Early on, the NAACP identified the summer of 1919 as a potential bloodbath across the country. After attending a national NAACP conference in July 1919, Hale-Moss became clear about what was happening across the nation. With hundreds of unprovoked and seemingly coordinated attacks by white people against Blacks in cities across the country, Hale-Moss called out Omaha, observing that, “Since the Washington and Chicago riots we are having to fight a propaganda war to discredit the Negro in this community.”
As the city became embroiled in race hatred focused on reinforcing white supremacy, Hale-Moss became especially active through a letter-writing campaign to local newspapers and in appearances throughout the community by calling attention to the growing anti-Black male coverage in the newspapers and the illegal, unwarranted and unjust arrests of Black men by the Omaha Police Department. She led the chapter in securing lawyers for more than 30 African American men accused of attacking white women throughout the city, all of whom were found innocent except one. Despite that, Black men were targeted by the Omaha Police Department without cause. In these cases, Hale-Moss quickly named a pattern that emerged: “The victims do not in many cases know who their assailants are.” In multiple letters to the Omaha City Council, she implored the city’s leaders to call together newspaper editors in the city so she could present the evidence against their implicating Black men so frequently. The council ignored her requests.
The man who that didn’t get acquitted was laborer Will Brown, who was dragged from his jail cell and lynched by a white mob of 20,000 people before he could have a trial. Hale-Moss instructed the chapter’s main lawyer, Harrison Pinkett, to represent Brown, and after just a single interview Pinkett determined Brown had to have been innocent because he was severely disabled from rheumatoid arthritis. Before Hale-Moss could lead the chapter any further in this particular case, Brown was lynched.
The night after the lynching, Ms. Hale-Moss was joined by Rev. John Albert Williams in calling every African American in Omaha they could find phone telephone numbers for in order to advise them to stay indoors, as a violent white mob was poised to attack Blacks without provocation. After that, the US Army arrived to protect Omaha’s Black residents.
Mrs. Hale-Moss continued in her activism after the lynching. She’s credited with being the driving force for establishing the Negro Christian Women’s Association, aka the North Side YWCA, as well as the Colored Old Folks Home in Omaha in the year right after the lynching. That same year, she also became an assistant editor to George Wells Parker in a short-lived Black newspaper called the New Era.
She was a Black suffragette, too, and was passionately campaigning for voting rights for African American women in Omaha throughout 1920.
An Early Death
Mrs. Hale-Moss was 40 years old and had lived in Omaha for nine years when she died suddenly and unexpectedly on November 14, 1920. She died at Nicholas Senn Hospital.
Reports from her funeral said it was extremely large. It was held at St. John’s AME Church, and she was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery. In her obituary, Ms. Hale-Moss was said to have “connected with practically every movement for the social, educational and civic uplift of her people.”
Today, there is no memory, memorial or acknowledgment of Mrs. Jessie Hale-Moss in North Omaha. No awards bear her name, and few histories mention her by more than her name.