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 served as one of the first leaders of Omaha’s NAACP. This is a biography of Jessie Hale-Moss.
Jessie Hale-Moss (1880-1920) was born in Middleport, Ohio. Graduating from Middleport High School in 1893, she taught in public schools in Ohio before she moved to Nebraska.
She came from a family that included 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. In the 1910s, he owned owned a hotel called The Allen House in Middleport, Ohio, where his niece Jessie Hale-Moss was born.
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. Also before she came to Omaha, she was apparently a real estate agent for a large land-holding in Michigan called the Homestead Orchard Estate.
In North Omaha, she became involved throughout the community, including activities at St. Phillip the Deacon Episcopal Church and in the theater. She was credited as a founder of North Omaha’s Negro Women’s Christian Association, which was a segregated YWCA; and as a founder of North Omaha’s Colored Old Folks’ Home. She served as the president of the Omaha chapter of the NAACP from 1918 until she died in 1920. She was also one of the directors of a short-lived Black-owned department store on North 24th Street called the Cooperative Workers of America. Jessie Hale-Moss was also a leader of the Omaha NAACP when it was formally started in 1919.
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.
An Early Death
Mrs. Hale-Moss was 40 years old when she died 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.