NORTH OMAHA WWII
 
   What were the experiences of black workers in Hastings, and what role did the African American community in Omaha play in these workers’ lives?
 
     

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The Hastings Naval Ammunition Depot

World War II 1942-1946, Korean War 1950-1953, Closed 1966

Compiled by: Angela S, Carl B, Izaac H, Colleen W, & Chris P.

"Boarding Navy Bus to go to Work, U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot, Hastings Nebraska", (Photo courtesy of The National Archives. Circa 1944.)

The War Effort at Home

During World War II, the Hastings Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD), located 150 miles west of Omaha, played a central role in the nation’s war effort. Life on the base usually consisted of work, work, and more work. Soldier's responsibilities included everything from cleaning up to loading munitions to playing to entertain officers and visitng dignitaries. However, Hastings offered Black soldiers few entertainment options when they were given a pass to leave the base. As a result, Black troops looked toward North Omaha when they wanted to relax and have fun.

Emma Hart, a Native of North Omaha remembers the soldiers well. “I used to live down by the train station during World War II," she said. "I could sit on my front porch and watch the soldiers coming off the train. One time my girl friend who had a lot more courage went up and started talking to them.”

  Although they resided in different cities, a new community formed between Blacks in both Hastings and North Omaha. While nearly two thousand Blacks would live and work at Hastings during wartime years, many had moved to Hastings only to work in the plant during the war. After World War II ended many Blacks returned to North Omaha, bringing with them the Black men stationed at the "NAD”. This contributed to a new wave of Black migration and community growth in the city.

WWII

Enlisted men at work on the load line, 1944? 

This photograph shows African American enlisted men helping create ammunition at the Hastings Naval Ammunition Depot.   The largest ammunition depot in the nation was southwest of Hastings, Nebraska; 40% of the ammunition used in World War II was created here.  The Depot "manufactured and stored bombs, rockets, mines, 40-millimeter shells and six-inch shells." (NebraskaStudies.org). The War Department chose Hastings as the location for the $45 million facility because it was half way between America's West and East Coasts. (Photo courtesy of The National Archives.  For more information visit: NebraskaStudies.org)

 

WWII

WW2 2010

 

“You know, after the war I worked on the farm until I got enough saved up to quit farming and I moved to Omaha, Nebraska. I got a job as a server at the Blackstone Hotel. Here I am eating my lunch in the basement, because that is where blacks had to eat. From the basement we could hear Fats Domino performing up on stage, this is the late 40’s now, Fats Domino could perform for those people, but he still had to eat in the basement. But I did get to meet Fats Domino.”

- Bennie Jones (Alabama native stationed at the Hastings Munitions Plant during WWII

 

Additional Information

“You know, after the war I worked on the farm until I got enough saved up to quit farming and I moved to Omaha, Nebraska. I got a job as a server at the Blackstone Hotel. Here I am eating my lunch in the basement, because that is where blacks had to eat. From the basement we could hear Fats Domino performing up on stage, this is the late 40’s now, Fats Domino could perform for those people, but he still had to eat in the basement. But I did get to meet Fats Domino.”

- Bennie Jones (Alabama native stationed at the Hastings Munitions Plant during WWII)

As the largest provider of ammunition for the Navy during World War II, the Hastings ammunition plant brought a boom to the small city of Hastings. Hastings was one of many cities, including several in Nebraska, which experienced a wartime increase as military branches established ammunition plants across the nation, many of which were located in rural communities. Included in Hastings’ boom were many African Americans who came for the wartime jobs. African Americans were newly provided the opportunity for employment in the defense industry following Franklin D. Roosevelt’s prohibition of racial discrimination in Executive Order 8802.

Unfamiliar and uneasy with the racial diversity that came with the incoming “outside” workers, the overwhelmingly white Hastings residents did not want to accommodate Blacks in their living and entertainment spaces. Many Black workers and Black soldiers stationed at the plant would travel to Omaha, already home to a significant African American population and vibrant Black culture. Hastings residents also established separate living and entertainment facilities for the Black and Native American workers.

Following the war, most Blacks moved from Hastings to other cities, including Omaha. Although the Hasting ammunition plant remained active until the 1960s, the level of production never approached its World War II levels, as many defense industries established permanent locations outside of Nebraska.
FOR MORE INFORMATION SEE:
Resources and Further Readings:
Nebraskastudies.org. “Minority Experiences: Afrcan Americans.” The War: Nebraska Stories.
Russell, Beverly. “World War II Boomtown: Hastings & the Naval Ammunition Depot.” Nebraska History, 76, no. 2/3 (Summer/Fall 1995): 75-83.
Tayor, Quintard. “African American Men in the American West, 1528-1990.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 569 (May, 2000): 102-119.

Lesson Plan

WWII

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Student Reflections

I believe that the history should always be studied, both to prevent bad things from happening again, and to help people better understand themselves and their community. Heck, maybe if we can really move forward based on the past, the GLBT civil rights movement won't take hundreds of years like the African American civil rights movement.

-Carl B.


I do think this project is really important because most of these stories told by WWII veterans are not heard or even forgotten. I do think that these stories should be passed on or even recored by people and told for generations.

Izaac H.

I walked in the room
I was so confused
I thought I wasn't prepared
But there was nothing to fret
I was all set
To make history
There was a mystery
Of the history
That I did not know
There were many things
That I hadn't seen
Or even heard of before
I did an interview
I never knew
About the Hastings Munition Plant
They had a band for entertainment
And Mason Prince played in it
He played loud and clean
I wish I could've seen
You know what I mean
Later in the day
Bennie Jones came to say
About how he was also in the plant
He would get a weekend pass
It was quite a blast

-Angela S.