Throughout Omaha’s history, there have been many attempts to overcome Jim Crow segregation. However, its continued to exist since the city’s incorporation in 1857. For two years during the Great Depression, young people led one attempt. This is the history of the City Interracial Committee, an attempt to overcome segregation in Omaha, Nebraska.
In 1931, a group of young people created the City Interracial Committee. The group was dedicated to facilitating forums where Black youth and white youth could discuss issues related to youth. In addition to the forums, the group also sponsored social events including classical music performances, dinners, and other activities.
Originally chaired by Laurance R. Plank, in January 1934 Rachel I. Taylor was elected to the position next. Verna Snell was elected the co-chair; Lucy Crawford, secretary, and; Mrs. Karl Saline, treasurer. The young people involved with the committee were affiliated with the segregated north side YWCA and other neighborhood institutions.
In 1934, the committee learned about an anti-lynching bill trying to pass through the US Congress. During a “very spirited discussion,” it was also shared that forums were held at First Central Congregational Church and Cleaves Temple CME Church.
In February of that year, the committee hosted a three-church meeting of St. John’s Evangelical, First Reformed, and First Evangelical of Council Bluffs.
At the beginning of 1935, the committee sponsored forums at Lowe Avenue Presbyterian, First Unitarian, Clair Methodist Episcopal, Central United Presbyterian, and Zion Baptist Churches. Throughout the coming year, they presented at Mt. Moriah Baptist and several other churches. That year, the committee also sponsored the Conference on Race Relations. Focused on offering “an opportunity for the discussion of the world problems of race and the factors which constitute the American interrelation,” The conference adopted a statement in favor of the then-current anti-lynching bill with “unusually fine attendance throughout the entire conference.”
In February 1935, the group hosted Dr. E.B. Reuter, a sociologist and author who spoke at a conference they held at First Methodist Episcopal Church. Sam Beber presided over the gather, and Dr. Earl Sullenger of Omaha University introduced Dr. Reuter. Sessions were held at the downtown YWCA.
In April, they invited an African American operatic soprano to the city to perform. The spectacular Lillian Evanti (1890-1967) was world-renowned and welcomed with the highest praise in Europe’s opera halls. In the United States she routinely faced discrimination and hatred, jealousy and Jim Crow. When the City Interracial Committee brought her to Omaha, it was because she wasn’t allowed to perform in the city otherwise. She was welcomed by the committee at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce though, with Black and white people showing up to appreciate her. During her stay, Evanti performed in the Technical High School auditorium for the city’s African American community.
After the 1930s, there were mentions of different organizations in Omaha hosting their own interracial committees, including the Omaha Community Chest, the YWCA, the YMCA, and the Anti-Defamation League.
However, there is no word where the original trans-denominational organization went. Today, there is no acknowledgment of the work of these pioneers, and much of their work is forgotten and lost.