Contempt for someone isn’t always expressed through anger, physical violence or discrimination. In Omaha, African Americans have faced scorn, derision, contempt, facetiousness, sarcasm and more in the media, culture, government, and elsewhere throughout the city. There are many such stories, and this is one of them. This is a biography of Boston Green (1838-1908).
In the 1860s, Boston Green went by the name George Washington Boston Greene, and was a successful politician in Marshalltown, Iowa. In 1869, he was noted in the local newspaper for voting for prohibition, which passed locally. He was said to be successful for a decade before losing his battle with alcohol. Before then, he had a business, owned a house and paid taxes regularly.
The police chief gave account of Boston’s arrival in Omaha the day after he died. Apparently Boston was first made known in Omaha “a few days after the terrible blizzard of January 12, 1888” when they “dug Boston out of the snow. He was just as good as frozen stiff… we carried him to the station. With returning consciousness he let out a yell which would wake a man who had been dead a month. But Boston’s life was saved by the department.”
After that, Green was a regular guest at the Omaha City jail, most frequently on charges of vagrancy and drunkenness.
A judge sent Green back to Marshalltown, Iowa, in 1893. Noting that the City of Omaha had spent $300 on room and board for staying the city jail for his frequent visits, the judge decided to send Green back to his former home. Purchasing his fare and a new outfit, and writing a letter for him to give to the Marshalltown officials, more than 100 police officers showed up to wish Green well. When he returned a month later, the first report of his return said, “Boston Green, the most notorious colored man in the tenderloin district, returned yesterday from an extended eastern trip… He was given a cordial reception by his numerous friends at the old haunts last night.”
Reportedly born in Kentucky, he lived in Missouri and Iowa before coming to Omaha around 1885. In 1904, the Omaha Bee said Green had been in Omaha for 18 years.
From newspaper accounts, he was a chronic alcoholic that was constantly arrested and tried for related crimes. However, the paper was excited to say “officers became his friends and he got to came to call the station his home and spent most of his time there sleeping in the stable.”
Boston Green was referred to as the Omaha Police Department mascot when he died in 1908. The Bee reported that Rev. John Albert Williams performed the funeral and that the undertaker’s rooms were “crowded with friends, white and Black, Jew and Gentile.”
In 1899, he was found completely inebriated and painted green and red from his hairline over the top of the collar of his jacket. He told the arresting officer he didn’t care that it happened. In 1901, the World-Herald reported that Green “has been arrested some 1,500 times by the Omaha police. There has never been a week during which he was not arrested at least three times, except when serving out a fine.” In September that year he was sent to the county jail for the first time ever.
The newspaper’s obituary said “He was never known to steal a thing or commit any offense besides getting drunk, being a vagrant, and profanity.” Apparently, the last offense was his greatest, and “he respected nobody.” In 1902, the newspaper reported that he “lived under a porch on 9th Street when he isn’t in jail.”
Regularly belittled, mocked and derided by police, elected officials, judges and the public, Green was also tokenized. In 1908, he was featured riding on an Ak-Sar-Ben parade float that was a giant water wagon. He had a sign around his neck that said, “I’m on the water wagon now,” alluding to his alcoholism.
The Omaha Bee got sentimental about the death of Green writing, “Boston has had every opportunity to become a bold, bad man. He has loafed about the station since the snow drift gave him back into the arms of the officers twenty years ago. During all that score of years he has watched the workings of justice and the dyed-in-the-wool villians, the plain drunks, teeth-gnashing miscreants, second-story workers and grafters of high and low degree, only to come out of it all, the harlequin of police headquarters, clown for the desk sergeants, scape-goat for the unpunished crimes about the station.”
At the age of 70, he died of problems related to his drinking. According to the obituary, “…he was a favorite with the all the police, and they will see that he is properly buried.”
His grave is at Forest Lawn.
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- “Boston Green” on Findagrave.com