North Omaha History 1940 – 1960
1942- 1945 World War II creates jobs in the armament industry, providing previously unavailable employment opportunities for African Americans and women. Rural Nebraska was a prime area for training, aircraft and armament manufacturing. The Glenn L. Martin Bomber Plant near Bellevue produced over 1,500 medium bombers and more than 500 B-29 Superfortresses, including the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb, the “Enola Gay.” At its peak in 1945, the plant employed over 13,000 workers. Over 40 percent of the workforce were women – 5,300 workers. Only around 5 percent of the workforce was Black despite a relatively large African-American population in Omaha.
1942 The first African American from Omaha to graduate from flight training at Tuskegee Airfield and earn his wings in the US Army Air Corps was Tech High School 1939 valedictorian Captain Alfonza W. Davis.
He was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, a recipient of the Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Unit Citation. Davis was assumed to be dead after going missing on or about July 30, 1945, over the Adriatic Sea.
1942 The Omaha Star joins in the “Double V” campaign started by an African American newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier. Double V was a slogan and drive to promote the fight for democracy in oversea campaigns and at the home front in the US for African Americans. The Double V refers to the “V for victory” sign prominently displayed by countries fighting “for victory over aggression, slavery, and tyranny,” but adopts a second “V” to represent the double victory for African Americans fighting for freedom overseas and at home.
1944 The Carver Savings and Loan Association opened at 2416 Lake Street in 1944, the first African-American financial institution in Omaha. In the 1950s, Whitney Young, then head of Omaha’s Urban League, worked with the Carver S&L to create a special lending program for prospective African-American home buyers. It was designed to fight the city’s segregationist red lining practices, by which banks restricted loans in neighborhoods they thought less successful (generally minority). Through the Carter program, Omaha’s black families were able to buy more homes within three years than in the preceding decade through other banks in the city.
1947 The Omaha DePorres Club is formed on the Creighton University campus. Two of the earliest members are Star publisher Mildred Brown and Bertha Calloway. The group earned the ire of many Whites by publicly protesting in front of North Omaha businesses who refused to hire African Americans. Using a little-known statute in the Nebraska constitution that stated anyone who refused service on the basis or race or creed could be fined $25, they had employees arrested for refusing to wait on Black customers. Their targets included the Coca Cola plant, the Greyhound Bus station and Epply Airfield. Their actions earned them the nickname “The Little Troublemakers.” After being kicked off the CU campus, the group met for about two years in a vacant store at 24th and Grace, then moved to the offices of the Omaha Star. The FBI kept a file on both the DePorres Club and Mildred Brown through the 50s.
1948 – 1953 Dr. Aaron Manasses McMillan, a noted missionary doctor, Omaha politician and African American community leader opened The People’s Hospital at North 20th and Grace Streets. The hospital was open to all African American patients, who were almost always turned away from White-run hospitals. Services were offered on a sliding-fee scale basis. In 1953, City of Omaha shut down the hospital, citing that the building didn’t meet city code. However, the building served as an apartment building for at least another 20 years. (History of North Omaha, Adam Sasse)
1950 Civil rights leader Whitney Young becomes the president of the Urban League in North Omaha. During his tenure he helps get Black workers into jobs previously Whites-only jobs and triples the chapter’s number of paying members. While in Omaha, Young taught at the University of Nebraska and Creighton University. He was named Executive Director of the National Urban League in 1961. His secretary is the daughter of the lady that helped hide Malcolm X as a baby.
1950 The NCAA moved the College World Series to Rosenblatt Stadium, (then known as Omaha Municipal Stadium).
1950s Development of highways and new housing led White middle class families to settle in West Omaha. Unfair lending practices, real estate covenants and redlining keep non-White families from purchasing homes in the area.
1952 Hilltop Homes and Spencer Homes were part of the same construction project on both sides of 30th and Lake Streets. Intended as housing for Black and European immigrants, with time they became completely segregated. Hilltop was demolished in 1995, replaced by Salem Baptist Church. Spencer Homes will be demolished and replaced in 2020 as part of $25 million “Choice Neighborhoods Initiative” HUD grant.
1953 Pleasantview Public Housing Projects are opened on North 30th Street. Includes a 6-story, 51-unit apartment building intended for childless, elderly residents. The other 184 units are two-story buildings spread across 14 acres.
1956 Harold C. Whiteside opened his Skeet’s BBQ restaurant at 2201 N. 24th St. David Deal took over in 1978 and it remained open until his death in 2019.