Opened in 1952, the Spencer Projects in North Omaha have a long, complex history of neglect, crime and community building.
Omaha’s tradition of Black churches started less than a decade after the founding of the city in 1865. With de facto segregation the norm in the city by then, African Americans were denied seats in white churches. Not to be without a spiritual home, the city’s pioneer Blacks founded their own places of worship. Here is an introduction […]
North Omaha’s Martha T. Smith Home for the Aged opened in 1913 as the Colored Old Folks Home. This is the history…
A leader among the bedrock institutions of North Omaha is Zion Baptist Church. One of the oldest congregations in Omaha, it was founded in 1884 and became the largest Black church in Omaha by 1900. It’s landmark building at 2215 Grant Street was designed by North Omaha native “Cap” Clarence Wigington, and its mission is still distinctly relevant more than 125 years after it was founded.
(Olympia, WA: December 1, 2016) The final book of Adam Fletcher Sasse’s series, North Omaha History: Volume Three, is now available from CommonAction Publishing. In the third book of the North Omaha History Series, Adam Fletcher Sasse reveals a lot of the hidden, denied and neglected history of one of the oldest areas of Nebraska’s largest city. Highlighting the […]
The John F. Kennedy Recreation Center, also called the Blackburn Recreation Center after its founding owner Beverly Wead Blackburn Jones, was located at 4514 North 24th Street between 1965 and 1970. Mrs. Jones began her work with youth when she was 17 at the Kellom Community Center, and became the director in 1957 at the age of 20. In […]
On December 17, 1963, LOOK magazine included a story about segregation in Omaha. Following is a section of the article; there is a link to a PDF of the story under “Related Articles” that follows. THE NEGRO FACES NORTH OMAHA, NEBRASKA: THE NEW MOOD SHOCKS THE CITY BY SAM CASTAN LOOK SENIOR EDITOR Omaha, Nebr., has an […]
In the aftermath of the 1960s riots that ravaged the community, a group of African American investors from North Omaha rallied to invest in technology, and for many, to invest in their home neighborhood. Pulling off a coup, for almost a decade, North Omaha was home to Nebraska’s first radio station and a former bastion of white middle class American culture. Except now it was the home of the city’s Black pride, empowerment and culture.
Omaha, Nebraska, was founded on white supremacy. Since then, both formal and informal forces throughout the city have worked continuously to impose, maintain and expand white supremacy throughout the city, state and nation. The stories of Mondo we Langa and Ed Poindexter are examples of what that looks like. Understood in the context of North Omaha history, it is easy to see they aren’t the only examples; however, they are among the most powerful.
This is a timeline of people from the history of North Omaha. They include people from political, legal, religious, medical, and other professions who transformed the community in countless ways. There are also creative leaders, sports figures, and others, too.
In a time of mobland gangsters, illegal booze, dirty gambling halls and open prostitution, several African Americans rose high enough in Omaha’s criminal underworld to become the crime lords of North Omaha.
Starting in 1905, the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, also called the black Elks, met in North Omaha. They were determined to help foster positive social connections, build community and foster growth within Omaha’s African American community. Almost 100 years later, it keeps going.
North Omaha is screaming full of history, and the new 24th and Lake Historic District is a tremendous example of how that’s so. After its first developments in the 1870s, this intersection evolved to become a hotbed of the African American community; as well as the heart of the Jewish community; a farm supply area; and much, much more. In 2016, 38 buildings were included in a new listing on the National Register of Historic Places. This article is an introduction to the powerful, poignant past of a large jewel in North Omaha’s historical crown.
North Omaha’s African American culture has grown and changed dramatically since its founding in 1854. One of the main drivers of the culture for more than a century has been the Black media. From the time Omaha’s first Black newspaper was published in 1889 through Shanelle Williams’ continued use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media today to build the African American community in Omaha, Black media has continued to transform the North Omaha community and the city at large.
Almost a decade ago, I stumbled across stories of a railroad that looped around Omaha. Different sources told crazy realities, including conflicting ownership, court cases, and the rise and fall of several neighborhoods in North Omaha. I was fascinated that I saw this track all the time when I was growing up, but I never knew its story, so I started researching. I read articles and pamphlets, books and maps. After that, I started an article on Wikipedia to share what I’d found. Well, as you know, that’s never enough for me. With some recent encouragement from John Peterson, a fine Omaha history writer, I am going to expand here on what I’ve researched and learned about the Belt Line Railway in North Omaha.
The Long School neighborhood is located in North Omaha from Hamilton Street on the south to Erskine on the North; North 24th on the east and the North Freeway on the west, and it has a total of 30 blocks. Houses started getting built in the neighborhood as early as the 1860s. However, it wasn’t until Long School was built that things really got underway. This is a history of the neighborhood.
African Americans stepped up to create community for themselves. Since Blacks weren’t allowed to move away from the Near North Side neighborhood, that’s where the community arose. Black churches, restaurants, clothing stores, and entertainment venues filled the North 24th Street strip from Cuming north to Lothrop Streets, and along Lake Street too.
Mobs have terrorized Omaha since the city was founded in 1854. Defined as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” terrorism was been the weapon of Omaha’s mobs from the beginning. Early on, they were seemingly concerned with horse thieves, claim jumping and break-ins. In more recent times, mobs attacked people in Omaha because of their race and ethnicities. 50 years ago, mobs lashed out at businesses. Notably, there haven’t been any mob terror trials, monuments, or other acknowledgments of the acts of the masses in Omaha throughout its 160+ years of existence.
Adam’s note: I’m a little hesitant to share this story, but I’m going to. Bad things happen in communities, and this story is part of North Omaha’s history. I’ve removed family names out of respect for the families involved. This is Kellom School in 1914. It was located at N. 24th and Paul Streets. […]
For more than 15 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has been fighting lead poisoning in North Omaha as part of a citywide environmental cleanup focused on the 27-square-miles east of 72nd Street.
More than 65 years ago, a newspaper was launched to serve Omaha’s African American community. Coming from a legacy of several Black newspapers before it, the paper was launched by the visionary Mildred Brown and her husband Ed Gilbert. Losing its direct competitors within a decade, The Omaha Star became the city’s Civil Rights media champion, refusing to print negative news and constantly focusing on keeping it positive. The original banner was “Joy and Happiness”, and the only told good news.
The Ohio Fish Market was a North Omaha institution for 25 years. Discover the history of this iconic restaurant and store…
In its first 75 years, North Omaha was home to no fewer than four Jewish synagogues, six Catholic parishes and 50 Protestant congregations. These churches reflected the community’s diversity, including ethnic churches where only Italian, German, Norwegian, Danish and other languages were spoke. Within 25 years of Omaha’s founding, there were also several Black churches in the neighborhood north of downtown. Following is a history of churches in North Omaha.
This story begins with the death. On November 2nd, 1989, Mildred Brown passed away. Easily the mother of North Omaha pride, Mildred co-founded The Omaha Star in the late 1930s and ran it by herself for almost 50 years. She promoted the community mercilessly, building pride, power and purpose through her paper, and her death was a massive loss to everyone in North Omaha, especially the African American community.
The N. 24th and Lake intersection as it appeared in the early 1950s. Jim Bell’s Club Harlem was to the left of the intersection at 2310 Lake Street. The horns blared out the doors, crowds of Black and white jazz fans waited impatiently to cram in, and bunches of kids stood around the back door […]
Dan Desdunes was The Man. The leader of Omaha’s powerhouse music scene for more than 20 years, here’s his story…
Built in 1915, the Broadview Hotel at 2060 Florence Boulevard operated for several decades. Much the same as today, Omaha was culturally segregated in the early 20th century. That included its hotels. Spectacular stories about wonderful early hotels didn’t include African Americans. Places like the Grand Central Hotel, the Cozzens Hotel, the Herndon House, and […]
On October 24, 1889, the Omaha Daily World reported that G.S. Kennedy, an African American mechanic who frequented the bar at the Paxton Hotel, was “somewhat indignant” for being charged a higher price than usual because, as the bartender said, he was Black. My review of other articles from early Omaha shows wasn’t Kennedy’s experience wasn’t exception in […]
Omaha’s Colored Commercial Club was an business referral, employment agency, and community building org for almost a decade. This is it’s history…
As far as I’m concerned, the history of Omaha’s Near North Side neighborhood is the richest in all of Omaha. It has been home to working class families, poor people, and the wealthy; northern Europeans, African Americans, and eastern Europeans; Lutherans and Catholics, Jews and Black Muslims; slums, family homes, and mansions; looked like a pioneer town, had country gentleman farms, been a suburb, and had slums; professional offices, warehouses, manufacturing plants, local storefronts, printing presses, training centers, supermarkets and pop-up shops; giant churches and synagogues, and tiny storefront temples and more. So much has happened here, and clearly its story is still being written…
This is a biography of Nebraska’s first African American legislator, Dr. Matthew O. Ricketts. He served from 1893 to 1897.
While it has absolutely no active movie theaters today, the North Omaha community has been home to at least 20 (!) movie theaters over the last century. This is a short history of those theaters. Its really incomplete, as information has been hard for me to find.
North Omaha has been the home to many fraternal lodges, community societies, political and social organizations and other groups. It has also been home to a lot of private clubs, nightclubs, dance halls and ballrooms. This article highlights North Omaha social clubs and social halls, and gives them context. Remember that North Omaha has been […]
“This town is sick… I’m not speaking of open sores, either — nothing as simple as the ghetto on the ‘Near North Side,’ where all but a handful of 30,000 Omaha Negroes live. No, our sickness is in the bloodstream — in our inner posture. We are an undemocratic city.” – Rev. James T. Stewart, […]
While African Americans have known about police racism for more than a century, white people across the US are beginning to acknowledge the effects of legalized harassment, white privilege, systematic discrimination, the school-to-prison pipeline and other forms of white supremacy that constantly plunder communities and the entire nation of its potential, power and purpose. With a vibrant, vital, and obvious story, Vivian Strong must be remembered today.
The history of North Omaha includes redlining starting during the 1920s, and being made illegal in the 1960s. This article explores that history, including the context in which it happened and some of the outcomes.
North Omaha’s Ernie Chambers has been a enlightened, phenomenal and powerful political representative and social leader over the last 40 years. His politics are straight-forward, obvious and spot-on, every single time. He confronts white privilege constantly, challenges injustice regularly and demands respect for the people he serves as a politician. In 2010, Nebraska Educational Television […]
This is a timeline of African American politics in North Omaha, Nebraska, including African American Nebraska State Legislators.
When the Trans-Mississippi Exposition happened in North Omaha in 1898, the city wanted to make sure all visitors knew how easy it was to get to the site. Using some promotional materials from that time, I’ve written a history of streetcars in North Omaha in the 1890s.