Despite how the media and politicians paint the community, African Americans in Omaha have never been monolithic. For more than 150 years, Black people have been patrons of the Arts, celebrating classical music, painting, dance, jazz, and much more. One store stood out as a bastion during the Great Depression. This is a history of the Stuart Art Shoppe in North Omaha.
Launching the Store
Andrew Stuart (1878-1937) moved to Omaha from Oklahoma City. Living at 1705 North 24th Street, in 1925 Stuart and his then-girlfriend Marie Stuart (nee Horton) (1905-19??) opened the Stuart Art Shoppe at 1803 North 24th Street, on the corner of N. 24th and Clark Streets. Marie was originally from Caldwell, Kansas. Stuart was a railroad porter before he became to Omaha, and continued his membership in the Porters and Maids Professional Association throughout his life.
In addition to selling art supplies, the store also sold “the very latest records” and had a “comfortable and up-to-date demonstrating room for the selection of phonographic records.”
One of the main features highlighted by Stuart’s Art Shoppe were the Black dolls it offered for sale. This was an era when they were first mass produced and made available to the average African American customer. In the late 1920s, Stuart’s was the only place in Omaha to buy Black dolls. The dolls were also advertised in unusual ways, including being lent to the North Side YWCA for use in a window display in 1928.
In an opening announcement from September 25, 1925, the couple said, “See our beautiful Colored Dolls, Books, Pictures, Calendars, and Post Cards—all Negro subjects. We also handle very creative oil paintings by a brilliant and coming local artist, Mr. J.L. Whitney. We are agents for all the leading Negro newspaper and Magazines of the country. Our Toilet Articles are the best money can buy. We also have a Picture Enlarging and Framing Department. We produce Medallions from any old picture. Special attention given to ladies and children. Mail orders promptly filled.”
By 1933, the shop moved to 2522 Lake Street.
Deep Dive Into Politics
“…the only registered Negro democrat in the state…”—Omaha World-Herald, November 17, 1937
Although he never ran for office or formally held a seat in party politics, Andrew Stuart was active in North Omaha’s politics for more than a decade. As early as 1923, Stuart was associated with political activities. That year, he became the secretary of the Independent Voters League, a group of African American Democrats who weren’t determined to vote Democratic again.
In the mid-1920s American politics began changing radically as the Republican Party—the party of Abraham Lincoln—became increasingly and overtly racist, abandoning Black voters, ramping up the pro-enslavement machinery of the nation’s prison system, and dismantling the cotton-based economy which kept African Americans in the South employed, albeit for terrible wages and conditions. According to the US House of Representatives website, “By the early 1930s, 38 percent of African Americans were unemployed compared to 17 percent of whites.” The 1932 presidential race was the turning point when vast numbers of Black voters stopped voting Republican and started voting Democrat. During this era, Andrew Stuart shared a driving voice for encouraging Omaha’s Black community to change with the times.
In the late 1920s, he was referred to in the Omaha World-Herald as a “representative of the Negro race,” and quoted his support for a Democratic Party activity. “I feel that I am voicing the sentiment of every Negro democrat in Douglas county. If there be any assistance I can give toward his election, I will gladly do so.”
“The Negro is no longer interested in partisan politics, as such. Our problem is one of economic industrial and political justice. Our experience in the last few years has taught us that we must fight in defense of our homes and families regardless of our party affiliations.”—Andrew Stuart as quoted in the Omaha World-Herald, August 26, 1928
Stuart later related how he was admonished by his peers for assuming leadership in the Black community, and readily said he was a fool.
However, during his years of political activity Stuart wrote letter after letter to the editors of the Omaha Monitor, the Omaha Guide, and the Omaha World-Herald. He was a very prolific writer who shared a lot of his thoughts regarding politics, including calling out white politicians for selling out Black voters, naming some white fraternal organizations (Masons, Elks) as similar to the Ku Klux Klan, and chastising other African Americans for not being politically active. During the great party switch mentioned earlier, he constantly wrote to Omaha’s Black newspapers to call on his peers to stop supporting Republicans, to start Democratic booster clubs, and to change their allegiance, although not blindly.
In 1931, the Omaha World-Herald took note of Stuart’s efforts. As the first president of the Negro Democratic Club of Omaha, he was cited for his past efforts in Oklahoma City, where he was a member of the Negro Democratic Club, too. “There is no reason why the colored man in Omaha should not rally around the standard of true Jeffersonian democracy. It stands for what he believes and really needs.”
Like a lot of North Omahans, Stuart was struck by the Great Depression. However, he became more active in 1932, assisting in creating the Unemployed Married Men’s Council that year. Writing in the Omaha Guide, Stuart said, “Today our business and professional men with the assistance of our white friends are using every means at their disposal to bring about a new social trend that will forever enrich the life of this exploited people.” Citing the participation of Rev. John Albert Williams, C.C. Galloway, and several others, Stuart wrote about current political leaders saying, “No longer will we allow ourselves to be represented by irresponsibles. Our social, economic, industrial and political life can be safely left in the hands of these gentlemen.”
In his editorials, Stuart excitedly kept pointing Black voters to elect Democrats in 1934, the first year Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for office. He was energized and continued working to energize others. As early as 1932, he was part of a group of Black voters that formed North Omaha’s Roosevelt and Garner Club, the pair that ran for President and Vice-President respectively in the 1932 election. Later joining the Colored Branch of the Young Peoples Democratic Club, Stuart and his wife were present for a speech by the president of the White Young Peoples Club in 1934. During that meeting, Marie Stuart joined a committee to choose representatives from Nebraska’s group to join the National Committee of the club.
Continuing with his business in 1934, Stuart made a presentation to the the Modern Priscilla Art and Study Club, which was held in different members’ houses. There were 12 members for Stuart’s presentation, and apparently the topics were wide-ranging.
In July of that year, Andrew Stuart and Homer Burdette took “an extensive tour through the South.” Traveling through Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma, Stuart wrote an account published in the Omaha Guide. He excitedly told of how welcomed he was. However, he also admonished notions of white Southerners being unkind to Black people and talked about the great service and kindness he experienced along the drive. Although he mentioned them by name, he didn’t speak highly of the Black communities he drove through.
Andrew Stuart got props from the Omaha Guide that year, which said, “How different from 1922 to 1932 when there was only a handful of Negroes, led by Andrew Stuart who had the courage to support the Democratic Party…”
In one of the few explicit political endorsements I have found, in 1934 Stuart joined C.C. Galloway, Charles Davis, and other African American community leaders in supporting Johnny Owen to continue serving in the Nebraska State Legislature.
The End of Their Activism
In 1931, Marie Stuart was named secretary of the newly formed Citizen’s Cooperative Society of Omaha, which included C.C. Galloway, H.J. Pinkett, and J. Harvey Kerns. She also served as an incorporator of the organization, which had $5,000 in stock.
In 1932, the couple lived above their store at 2522 Lake Street, and by 1936 they had moved to at 2419 Seward Street.
Andrew Stuart was seriously ill in 1934, and the newspapers reported he was in the hospital for a weeks. In February 1936, Marie Stuart was involved in organizing the Negro Women’s Democratic Club in North Omaha. However, by September the Omaha Guide reported that Marie herself was seriously sick, and that she planned on traveling to her mother’s home in Decatur, Michigan, as soon as she felt better.
The next year in 1937, she took Elder O.J. Markingbird to court for cheating her sick husband out of money. Apparently, Andrew Stuart gave the disciple of Father Divine four dollars for an insurance policy. At that time, their address was Their last address in Omaha was 1843 North 24th Street.
A short obituary in the Omaha World-Herald in 1937 marked the death of Andrew Stuart, whose name was spelled “Stewart” in the paper. Remarked as the longtime owner of his art shop, the paper wrote “…he was said to be at one time the only registered Negro democrat in the state.”
In 1955, the Omaha Star mentioned a “lovely lunch” served by Mrs. Marie Stewart, and in 1967 she won a TV give-away by Shaver’s Grocery on Ames Avenue. I haven’t found any mention of her after this date.
Today, there is no memory of the Stuart Art Shoppe on North 24th Street or the fiery, politically awakened couple that operated it. The entire region of North Omaha where the store was located has been demolished and redeveloped, and the memory of Black-owned business history from the 1920s in North Omaha is nearly all gone. There are no history markers for Andrew and Marie Stuart, early Black political activists in Omaha without who the city’s community might not have turned blue for the last century.
Ultimately, this is another story of Black history missing from Omaha’s historical record. Thanks for reading along.
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- A History of Black-Owned Businesses in Omaha
- A History of North Omaha’s African American Legislators
- A History of Community Leaders in North Omaha
MY ARTICLES ABOUT THE HISTORY OF N. 24TH ST.
NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES: 24th and Lake Historic District | Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church | Carnation Ballroom | Jewell Building | Minne Lusa Historic District | The Omaha Star
NEIGHBORHOODS: Near North Side | Long School | Kellom Heights | Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects | Kountze Place | Saratoga | Miller Park | Minne Lusa
BUSINESSES: 1324 North 24th Street | 24th Street Dairy Queen | 2936 North 24th Street | Jewell Building and Dreamland Ballroom | 3006 Building | Forbes Bakery, Ak-Sar-Ben Bakery, and Royal Bakery | Blue Lion Center | Omaha Star | Hash House | Live Wire Cafe | Metoyer’s BBQ | Fair Deal Cafe | Carter’s Cafe | Carnation Ballroom | Alhambra Theater | Ritz Theater | Suburban Theater | Skeet’s BBQ | Safeway
CHURCHES: Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church | Pearl Memorial United Methodist Church | Immanuel Baptist Church | Mt Moriah Baptist Church | Bethel AME Church
HOUSES: McCreary Mansion | Gruenig Mansion
INTERSECTIONS: 24th and Fort | Recent History of 24th and Lake | Tour of 24th and Lake
EVENTS: 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition | 1899 Greater America Exposition | 1913 Easter Sunday Tornado | 1919 Lynching and Riot | 1960s Riots
OTHER: Omaha Driving Park | JFK Rec Center | Salvation Army Hospital | Omaha University | Creighton University | Bryant Center
RELATED: A Street of Dreams | Redlining | Black History in Omaha | North Omaha’s Jewish Community | Binney Street | Wirt Street
This is an interesting capsule biography of an important, but sorely overlooked couple in North Omaha history. The Stuarts’ art shop must have been pioneering in promoting Black popular culture. And their political activism was on the leading edge for their times. This piece whet my appetite for a deeper look at the Stuarts’ lives and contributions to the community.
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