For more than 75 years, Omaha was deeply segregated. In the 1930s, an African American couple informally established a home for African American boys who didn’t have a place to live, either because they ran away from home or were kicked out, or in other ways had become orphaned. They later incorporated and fostered dozens of young men. This is a history of the Oak View Home for Negro Boys.
Meet the Partridge Family
These pics show Mrs. and Mr. Partridge and their son. Two daughters aren’t shown.
Gaines Roland Partridge (1900-1963) and his wife Anna May Bouyer Partridge (1900-1970) started taking in homeless Black boys into their North Omaha home in the 1930s. Gaines was a brother of Pitmon Foxall, one of the first African American policemen in the Omaha Police Department. After moving to Omaha from Magnolia, Alabama in the early 1930s, Gaines made a living as a plumber. Holding onto a vision of raising their wards on a farm, over the next decade they saved money to buy an acreage. After World War II, they looked throughout Douglas County, only to find racism rampant in the rural real estate market as well as North Omaha.
The Partridge family also included Dr. Gaines Partridge Jr. (1923–2009), and two daughters, Helen (1919-1997) and Lyndell (1921-2014). Originally living living at 2863 Miami Street, each of the Gaines children graduated from Technical High School. Junior helped his parents in the summertime after they moved to the farm. Earlier, he graduated from Union College in Lincoln and became a professor at a historic black university (HBCU) called Oakwood University in Alabama.
After going to Pennsylvania in 1946 to find property and failing for the same reason, early in 1947 they came back to Omaha. In April, they found a rundown homestead just south of the Douglas County – Washington County line.After buying it that month, Gaines Partridge continued his job as a plumber, using every spare penny to fix up the property before opening.
The Home and Farm
In May 1948, the Partridges opened the Oak View Home. The only facility of its kind for African American boys in Omaha history, it was located at the end of the paved highway on a western hill overlooking the area. Various descriptions said it was west of Calhoun Road, on Florence Station Road, on Highway 73 and on Route 6. I haven’t located an actual address. It was called Oak View because of the ring of oaks surrounding the farmhouse.
Situated on 65 acres, there was a large house and several outbuildings on the land when Oak View Home opened. All were rundown, and the boys were immediately put to work repairing the buildings and running the farm. The Partridges rented out the majority of the land to tenant farmers, keeping just enough land to run their program.
With meager fiscal support provided to the home by the State of Nebraska, it was essential for outside sources to provide donations to support the health and wellbeing of the boys. Several clubs immediately answered the call, and within the year Oak View had secured most of the basic necessities for their charges. A feature article in the Omaha World-Herald in September 1949 followed by a short piece in the Omaha Star led to a renewed surge in donations, and the facility continued. Throughout the years, there were various fundraising events including dances, draws, and other activities. Social clubs, churches, professional organizations and individual donors gave amounts ranging from $100 to $10,000 to the home.
In 1954, Ollie Love made a contribution that allowed the Partridges to finish construction on an addition to the home. This allowed the number of young people there to increase. In 1955, the home was incorporated as a charity and established a board of directors. There were 20 children at the home that year.
Not all the wards of the school were successful in staying out of trouble. For instance, in 1959 one young man was caught drunk with a gun after breaking into a store with a group of friends. He was convicted of being uncontrollable and sent to the Kearney Industrial School with four others.
Wards of the Oak View Home
When it opened, were eleven African American foster youth at the Oak View Home, all boys from North Omaha, ages six to 16. The World-Herald painted their existence as idyllic, saying they spent their summer days “gardening, riding a sturdy old work horse, tending chickens and cows and playing baseball.” By design, that program was farm-oriented and the boys were raised as country kids. Each one had their own garden plot to manage, including preparing, planning, planting, maintaining and harvesting their crops. There were also several animals each boy cared for, including rabbits, chickens, a cow and dogs.
The newspaper said the boys didn’t look like “problem children,” but came from “broken homes, parents that didn’t want the children, fathers who refused to support them, mothers whose interest was elsewhere and… an orphan.”
However, their crimes and misdemeanors were numerous, and several were on their way to the court-appointed Kearney Industrial School. The Oak View Home provided a respite along that pathway for some of North Omaha’s most desperate young men, and apparently succeeded.
The boys were generally treated to two trips to the city weekly. The first was on Saturday, when they wore their best clothes to attend Sharon Seventh-Day Adventist Church with Anna and Gaines. The second was on Sunday, when they were brought to their families’ homes or treated to the homes of Mrs. Partridges’ extended family. After attending the churches of their relatives, the boys had a small allowance to attend a movie in one of North Omaha’s many segregated theaters. They would be home before dinnertime Sunday, complete their chores and get ready for the next week.
According to the 1949 account in the Omaha World-Herald, after their initial challenges finding land to buy because of redlining, the Oak View Home didn’t face much racism in the wilds of northern Douglas County. Instead, the neighbors were accepting and the boys were generally welcomed.
Going ahead to the nearby country school in Washington County, Anna Partridge talked with the principal to explain the home and its residents. He assured her the boys were welcomed at the school and would have no problems, and the six youngest were sent there that year. The three older boys were sent to Tech High everyday.
Closing and Passing Away
Without enough funding to keep it open and with Anna and Gaines’ health failing, the home was closed in late 1959. In 1960, Mrs. Partridge reported to the Omaha World-Herald that there were efforts to re-open it, but those apparently didn’t work and the home was gone. The Partridges kept living there though.
Gaines Partridge died in 1964. By the time he died, he held “he had held every major office in the church and was a local elder,” and was remembered in the newspapers for founding Oak View Home.
When Anna Partridge died in 1970, she was remembered glowingly in her obituary in the Omaha Star. Her volunteering at Sharon was broad, as she served as director of youth activities, Sabbath School Superintendent, Home Missionary leader, Deaconess and Dorcas leader, and as the leader of the Nebraska-Iowa district Dorcas Federation for three years. The paper made special note of her 1951 award as “Outstanding Woman of the Year” by the local Zeta Phi Beta sorority. The couple were buried at Forest Lawn.
Their son, Dr. Gaines Partridge, Jr. became a highly-regarded educator and a very influential leader of Christian Adventist Education when he died in 2009.
However, after the home closed, memories of the institution and its founders faded from the community’s memories. Today, there is no historic marker or plaque designating the location of the place, and Gaines and Anna Partridge have largely been forgotten in North Omaha.
You Might Like…
- A History of Segregated Schools in Omaha
- A History of Segregated Hospitals in Omaha
- Omaha Black History