North Omaha, Church History
The 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, 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
African 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 From segregation, to unfair hiring practices, to outdated textbooks, to dilapidated buildings, African Americans are still persevering.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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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, 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, 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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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 have fun.
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North Omaha, Work
This page explores the history of African American work and business in Omaha. The topic has been broken into three main sections: the stockyards, the businesses of Twenty-fourth Street, and employment with the Union Pacific Railroad. The stockyards (and the meat-packing plants associated with them) were a major factor in attracting African Americans to the city. Twenty-fourth Street was the center of North Omaha's African American community during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, but deteriorated during the turbulent years of the Civil Rights Movement. In recent years, there have been efforts to revitalize the district. The Union Pacific Railroad began employing African Americans as strikebreakers during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, and later offered African Americans jobs as porters, cooks, and waiters. Although these jobs were service-based, they generally paid much better than jobs available in the South and were therefore well-respected within Omaha’s Black community.
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Military Service, Civil War
During the years of the Civil War thousands of African Americans played a crucial role in defending our freedoms. As the guns fell silent across the nation these newly minted veterans saw new lives in the North. Hundreds of veterans and their families established themselves in Omaha. Among those who made Omaha home are three men: Edward Jones, Josiah Waddle, July Miles. We learned about the roles they played in one of the pivotal conflicts in our history.
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North Omaha, Military Service, Vietnam
America began taking direct military action in Vietnam in 1964 and ended the draft and signed peace accords in 1973. North Vietnam and South Vietnam were at war over the issue of communism. This conflict was a continuation of the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union. The United States supported South Vietnam because it was non-communist.
This controversial conflict created tension in the United States, which coincided with social, political, and racial unrest. The United States military drafted many African Americans to fight in Vietnam. This website celebrates the lives and contributions of Omaha’s Black Vietnam Veterans.
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North Omaha, Sports
Sports are a large part of the community for fans and non fans alike. Sports give youth a sense of hope. More importantly it keeps young kids out of gangs and away from drugs. African-Americans have fought for a place on sports teams throughout the years, destroying the racial barriers. It wasn’t just the athletes that fought for these rights. A large amount of the black people in the community became united and helped to make young African-American athletes' dreams realized. When some of those athletes became professionals, they exhibited a sense of pride they earned through proving themselves to white athletes. Over the years, whites became more accepting of them, and the stereotype that whites are better than blacks was destroyed. Black athletes became heroes in their communities and across the country.
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Omaha North, Businesses
Have you ever walked down 24th Street and wondered about the history behind it? During the 1930s, N. 24th Street transitioned from a predominantly Jewish community to a largely African American neighborhood. During the 1930s, there were several local African American owned buisnesses, such as Myers Funeral Home (pictured below), Robins Drug (pictured right), and Harris Grocery Store (pictured below). During the Civil Rights movement of the fifties and sixties, several African American-owned restaurants opened and became significant community centers, such as Skeets Barbecue and Time Out Chicken, where we did our oral history. Civil Rights activists gathered at the Fair Deal Café.
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Civil Rights: Tactics and Strategy for Change
Segregation, discrimination, and unfair, these are the words that were commonly used by the North Omaha black community in the 1950s and 1960s to describe the struggles of minorities. These words would thrive in a new era, The Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement was made up of citizens who wanted to achieve equality, to take charge in their lives, and to do something to make things right, not only for blacks, but other ethnic groups as well. Some groups were non-violent such as the 4CL (the Citizens Coordinating Committe for Civil Liberties) and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement for Colored People). Others were more radical such as the Black Panthers. However, they all shared a common goal: Civil Rights.
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Community Cohesion: Native American Days
Native Omaha Days is important to North Omaha because it brings back memories. It's where the black community comes together, has fun, and talks to each other. Native Omaha Days is where people from across the country come to Omaha and get together to celebrate the North 24th Street culture. This biannual event has become a main stay in the North Omaha community. The founders of Native Omaha Days were two black women, Vera Johnson and Bettie McDonald. Native Omaha Days was founded in the mid 1970's.
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Politics: Pioneering Politicians
In order to improve their community, several African-Americans in Nebraska have decided to get involved in politics. They have held positions ranging from those on the City Council to the State Legislature. Several African Americans have also been appointed to positions in the government by governors and mayors. Involvement in politics allows African Americans a way to improve their community by working to change laws and policies that are detrimental to their community and create new laws and policies that would help people in their community move ahead. The inclusion of African Americans in positions in city, state, and local government works not only to benefit the African American community, but the benefits having diversity in community service positions can help everyone in the community. Black politicians, along with others from marginalized groups, offer unique perspectives that can serve the community as a whole.
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Press and Newspapers
Throughout our history, African-Americans have struggled to be treated fairly and to be free. Segregation and discrimination followed African-Americans as they moved from the South to the North during the 20th century, leading to the fight for civil rights. African-American newspapers in Omaha provided a voice, during the period of the Great Migration African-American newspapers like the Omaha Monitor, worked to get the truth out about discrimination and racial injustice. Between WWI and WWII, African-American newspapers, such as the Omaha Guide, strove to show African-Americans in a positive light, and continued to promote movement North for new opportunities. In the post WWII era, civil unrest shaped many African-Americans communities. Newspapers like the Omaha Star provided a strong and positive voice for the African-American community, fought for civil rights, promoted the good within, and encouraged people to make a difference.
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Minstrel shows were a variety of acts performed to stereotypically down grade the African American culture. You may find this historically funny or you may read this as extremely disgraceful to blacks and disrespectful just as the blacks did. However, what the whites did not know is that by trying to be comedic, all they were doing was shining a bright light in a dangerously dark space. This gave blacks the drive and ambition to showcase their theatrical side and educate those who didn't know the real struggles and truth behind their black culture. Some of the theatrical talent to arise from Omaha’s black community included Lincoln Motion Picture Company, one of the first African-American film companies; the Afro Academy for Dramatic Arts; and Center Stage Theatre, which won both the National and International Amateur Theatre Festivals in 1983.
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Music has had a significant impact on people throughout history and provides a soundtrack for their experiences. It has the remarkable ability to enhance history and tell the story of a people. The presence of music in Omaha has continued to help the African American community survive hardships like discrimination and segregation by acting as a source of encouragement and motivation to keep the fight for equal rights alive. It has given comfort when people are in pain and calm in times of stress. The presence of music has also amplified joy in happier times and fed the excitement during times of celebration.
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Omaha has a long and proud tradition of black firefighters breaking barriers. In 1895, the first black firefighters were hired. They were very proud of their accomplishments, but they were not treated as equals. Black firefighters had to follow the laws of segregation. They were based at two different fire stations in North Omaha because that is where the black population was at that time. It was difficult for black firefighters to be promoted. This started to change in 1951 due to the use of a Civil Service exam for eligibility among applicants. Some challenges to being promoted continued through the desegregation of the Omaha Fire Department.
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Sirens, arrests, crime, violence, all lead to one place. These are just a few words that come to mind when one thinks of the police. However, through our research we learned that the Omaha Police Department is very dedicated to keeping the city of Omaha safe. We also discovered that African American police officers are a very large part of the OPD. They often faced struggles such as racial tensions, discrimination, forced residential assignments, and affirmative action.
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Violent Civil War has been a reality for many South Sudanese citizens for decades. In the mid 1980's the conflict started to turn, the South Sudanese People’s Liberation Army fought against the Northern Sudanese Army. Southern Sudanese citizens fled to refugee camps to save their lives. Many refugees were eventually resettled in the United States. Omaha, NE eventually became the largest resettlement location in the United States. Refugees came to Omaha in search of a better life. Omaha offers career opportunities, affordable living, and an already established Sudanese community to join. While in Omaha many refugees face challenges adapting to their new lives. Some of these challenges include learning English, finding employment, and developing a new identity in the states. The Southern Sudanese Community Association provides training and education for refugees in Omaha. Since their establishment in 1997 they have served over 1,311 Southern Sudanese families. Many refugees feel that though this journey has been rough it is one that is worth it for the sake of their families. They are hopeful Omaha will someday feel like home.
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The Tuskegee Airmen were heroes in World War II. They were African American fighter pilots of the 332nd fighter group. 450 Tuskegee Airmen served in Europe during World War II, 68 of whom were killed or went missing in action. The main purpose that they served was to escort the bombers into Germany and back. White bomber pilots requested that the Tuskegee Airman escort them because they had gained a reputation for not losing bombers. The Tuskegee Airmen were trailblazers in integrating the Military. They endured the hate of Jim Crow, inside and outside the military, and inspired the start of the integration of the military by order of President Truman in 1948. The Tuskegee Airmen served with distinction, receiving 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Legion of Merit, a Red Star of Yugoslavia, 8 Purple Hearts, a Silver Star, 14 Bronze Stars, 744 Air Medals, and 3 Presidential Unit Citations. They also earned a long delayed Medal of Honor in 2007. As you can see, the Tuskegee Airmen deserve the respect of all Americans.
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Visual art is an important avenue for self-expression and always has a story behind it. African American visual arts have long been an important part of the community in North Omaha, murals, statues, and art galleries are all around. Art helps make up the unique identity of the people and community. Our project is bringing African American visual arts in Omaha to the surface so that they are not forgotten as African American art has been in the past.
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Drill and step in Omaha continues to be part of community celebrations such as Native Omaha Days and the Juneteenth parade.
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Gospel music has long been an essential force in Omaha's African American church community.
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Learn about the economic and cultural forces that brought hip hop to Omaha.
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Omaha had a bright and vibrant jazz scene, filled with great players and venues.
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