North Omaha, Civil Rights
North Omaha has a long, complex
history of Civil Rights that remains largely unnoticed. Not only is it
the birthplace of an important political and cultural leader, Malcolm
Little, but also home of one of the longest running Black newspapers,
the Omaha Star. From a small town barbershop on 24th & Spencer to
marches and demonstrations that changed people’s lives—Omaha has
captured people’s attention from Presidential candidates to the common
folk. However, much of this history remains largely invisible…until now.
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North Omaha, Education in Omaha
Americans have faced numerous obstacles over the years including
several within the field of education. From segregation, to unfair
hiring practices, to outdated textbooks, to dilapidated buildings,
African Americans are still persevering. African American parents
realized that their children were not receiving an equal education and
decided to take legal action against the Omaha Public Schools district
in the hopes of having a more integrated educational system. The courts
intervened to assist in the desegregation of OPS. Eventually mandatory
busing was put into place essentially integrating the district in the
1970's. In 1999 the Omaha Public School district ended mandatory busing.
Students could then choose to go to any school they wanted, but most
chose their neighborhood schools. Due to the issues surrounding
redlining, the practice of steering members of certain racial groups to
live in certain areas of the city, race based neighborhoods are causing
the classroom images of segregation from the past to slowly creep back
into some schools.
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North Omaha, Music
Jazz played an important part in the history of North Omaha. Preston
Love once said, "If New York, Chicago, and Kansas City were the major
leagues of jazz, Omaha was the Triple-A.” Omaha was a stop for many of
the top jazz musicans in the nation from the 1920s to the 1960s. The
thriving jazz culture also gave birth to many great native Omahan
musicans. Most African American jazz musicians were not allowed to play
with the white musicians, those wanting to hear them were very limited
on where they could go. Because of this, the Dreamland Ballroom at 24th
and Grant Streets became the popular destination for lovers of jazz
music in Omaha. The Dreamland Ballroom was where most famous African
American jazz musicians played, giving members of the community a chance
to experience the energy and excitement of the era.
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North Omaha, Church History
church has been very important to the African-American community. In
North Omaha, the church has been a source of spiritual motivation by
providing Sunday morning services, Bible study, and Vacation Bible
School. Churches also serve the community by feeding the hungry, housing
the homeless, providing college scholarships and job training services,
serving in the Civil Rights Movement, and a variety of other services.
When looking through African-American history in North Omaha, the church
can be found at the center of all other aspects.
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North Omaha, The Great Migration
In the early 1900s, African-Americans sought a better life in the North.
Jim Crow Laws in the South reinforced segregation and discrimination.
Agricultural problems also made it difficult for African-Americans to
make a living in the South. African-Americans migrated to Omaha seeking
better jobs. Labor recruiters, northern newspapers that were sent south,
and simple word of mouth helped to keep a steady flow of
African-American workers coming north during WWI. African-Americans
often migrated north on trains or buses, traveling with limited
possessions, but filled with hope for a better life. African-Americans
in Omaha settled first in South Omaha for the packing jobs. Then they
moved to the north part because of available housing and because they
could own their own businesses. North Omaha quickly became the heart of
the African-American community.
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Omaha livestock market became the largest in the world. It surpassed
Chicago as the busiest stockyard. Everyday thousands of pigs, cows, and
sheep would be shipped. They would ship them to Omahas pens where they
would be sold to packinghouses for slaughter or to other livestock
producers for fattening or breeding stock. In 1967 the number of
livestock brought to Omaha dropped. They officially closed in 1999.
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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.
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North Omaha, World War II
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
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Miguel Keith is one of Omaha's paramount war heroes and one of three Omahans who has received the highest possible military award, the Medal of Honor.
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Dorothy Eure, Lerlean Johnson
Ms. Eure and Ms. Johnson fought for civil rights for African Americans
and worked to integrate the Omaha Public Schools and bring African
American teachers to the District.
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