Escaping the Indignities of Jim Crow.
Research compiled by: Hennessy B., LaCeiara J., Mahalia M.
Despite segregation and racism, African Americans in Omaha created a vibrant local culture and found ways to have fun. Some of the unique leisure and entertainment opportunities for local black people included Kellom swimming pool, a putt-putt golf course, a skating rink and several theaters where local people saw concerts and plays. By looking at entertainment in North Omaha, we can see the many positive ways African Americans built their community.
Blacks often advertised their accomplishments in one of the first Black newspapers, "The Omaha Monitor". This is an advertisement for a Negro photo-play, now known as a movie. It was written by Black producer, Oscar Micheaux, and starred African American actors. This showing was at the first and only Negro Theater in Nebraska at the time, The Loyal Theater.
The Elks had their 40th annual parade on August 18, 1946. Held on 24th and Lake St., the parade was one of many social events the Elks and other social clubs, including the Prince Hall Masons and the YWCA organized like the pageants and balls. The reason that Blacks had to have their own clubs was because the whites would not let them go to their clubs (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society).
The YWCA in North Omaha was founded in the spring of 1920 by Mrs. J. Alice Stewart. The YWCA provided a unique space for young women and girls to get together away from home, to learn etiquette, have fun and just be themselves. Because African American young women were not allowed to attend balls and dances with their white peers, the YWCA sponsored alternative events for them (Photo courtesy of Patricia Barron).
(Photo courtesy of Patricia Barron)
Elks Lodge 2010
The Elks Lodge is one of the social organizations still active in North Omaha.
African-Americans visited theaters, which showed films made by and about African Americans Filmmakers like Oscar Michauex and African-American owned movie companies, like the Lincoln Motion Picture Company founded in Omaha, gave African Americans leading roles and hoped to counter some of the negative stereotypes often portrayed in white made films. In Omaha, first the Loyal Theatre and then theaters like the Ritz and Lothrop screened these films for the Black community.
Black social organizations actively involved themselves in the community and provided a space for the Black middle and upper classes to construct a social space. Their role in the community became especially important as the Black community grew during the Great Migration and segregation grew stricter, particularly following the lynching of Will Brown. For example, Nebraska did not form an independent Prince Hall Masonic Lodge until 1919 (local lodges often belonged to Missouri or Iowa organizations before that time). Later, many of these organizations played a role in facilitating the struggle for civil rights in many cities across the United States.
Resources and Further Reading: Flory, Dan. “Race, Rationality, and Melodrama: Aesthetic Response and the Case of Oscar Micheaux.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 63, no. 4 (Autumn, 2005): 327-338.
Hooks, Bell. “Micheaux: Celebrating Blackness.” Black American Literature Forum, 25, no. 2, (Summer, 1991): 351-360.
Mihelich, Dennis N. “World War I, the Great Migration, and the Formation of the Grand Bodies of Prince Hall Masonry.” Nebraska History, 78, no. 1 (Spring 1997): 28-39.
Mihelich, Dennis N. “Boom-Bust: Prince Hall Masonry in Nebraska During the 1920s.” Nebraska History, 79, no. 2 (Summer 1998): 74-84.
Skotnes, Andor. “‘Buy Where You Can Work’: Boycotting for Jobs in African-American Baltimore, 1933-1934.” Journal of Social History, 27, no. 4 (Summer, 1994): 735-761.
I have learned about the invisible history of Omaha that has been right under my nose but I've never known.
— Henessy B.
I'm really starting to be more interested in history and what Omaha went through to get where we are now.
— LaCeiara J.
The importance of this program was for us to learn about history that is not talked about.
— Mahalia M.