In 2020, calls for racial justice finally found the wider audience advocates had long tried to capture. At The Reader we’ve long tried to represent these stories across the paper’s 26-year history, but last year served as a reminder that the past only serves as a prologue for so many. These stories offer some insight into the people and issues that make up the Black history of Omaha’s past, present and ever evolving future.

The Revolution Has Only Begun

Chris Bowling, Jan. 2021

Even though it was hard for protesters to call anything that happened in 2020 a win, the movement has just started. 

“2020 was a reminder that we haven’t made any gains of consequences for Black people and the rights we have as human beings,” Ja Keen Fox said. “And there needs to be radical change that really speaks to the urgency of our issues and that there have to be people who are willing to enact that radical change.”

Not So Nebraska Nice

You’ll Never Believe What Happened To Lacy, book review Beau Berry Jan. 2021

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey is a book you can’t put down. A delicious mixture of memoir and storytelling and it doesn’t hurt that it’s absolutely hilarious too. I want everyone I know to read this book. Especially everyone I know in Omaha. 

Amber Ruffin Is Not Holding Back

Paul B. Allen IV, Nov. 2020
THE AMBER RUFFIN SHOW — “September 25, 2020” Episode 101 — Pictured: Amber Ruffin — (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/Peacock)

Omaha native Amber Ruffin made a name for herself as a Black midwesterner who called out systematic racism on TV shows filmed in the heart of New York City. Now with a new show, name recognition and a wider audience engaged with racial justice, she’s got big plans for the future.

Police Intimidation and Harassment Attempts to “Silence First Amendment Rights,” Protesters Say

Alex Preston, Oct. 2020
Traffic moves slowly through the intersection of Howard and 11th streets on Aug. 29, 2o20 forcing drivers to acknowledge the protestors.

Protestors in Omaha believe that police have shown a clear pattern of targeted intimidation and harassment during recent demonstrations, part of which has become the basis of a lawsuit filed against the city by the ACLU of Nebraska. During weekly protests in the Old Market, police stops, searches and citations have become regular occurrences. Protesters feel Omaha police are sending a clear message: dissent is not welcome.

“They’re trying to silence our First Amendment right, and they’re trying to silence any form of criticism,” proBLAC organizer Bear Matthews said.

Omaha Explained: Redlining

Video, Cameron Logsdon Oct. 2020

Though it was outlawed formally in the ’60s, redlining lives on today in the segregated neighborhoods of Omaha.

James Scurlock, Out of Omaha and the Machinery of White Supremacy

Ryan Johnston, Voices Aug. 2020
Photo by Andre Sessions

Liberation Square Lives On: “We’re Not Going Away”

Alex Preston, Aug. 2020
Protestors gathered at 11th and Howard Streets on Aug. 29. Photo by Alex Preston.

Over the summer, protesters found a home in the Old Market. The corner, which they dubbed “Liberation Square,” served as a highly visible opportunity to continue putting their message in front of people.

Without True Revolution, Oppression Just Changes Shape

Katherine MacHolmes, July 2020
Author Katherine MacHolmes is Program Partner for Community Outreach at Inclusive Communities and a member of New Leaders Council.

“As Black Lives Matter signs go up and Confederate flags come down with maddening ease, systemic change seems possible, but my hope is measured. Deep grief accompanies these changes because they are born of the deaths of countless Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and their incalculable loss remains heavy. We owe them, our ancestors, and future generations the struggle of liberation. To newly emboldened revolutionaries and familiar comrades, I offer these notes and collective imagining.”

Dismantle The Political Empire

Morgann Freeman, July 2020 
Morgann Freeman

“I understand that many people feel that the political system can’t be changed.

It can. It has to.

And most importantly, it will not take generations to achieve it. Throughout American history we’ve seen what happens when communities of people mobilize around collective demands. Right now, our demand is to defund and disband the police as it exists today. That means a lot of things.”

“How are we to believe that the city of Omaha has any regard for the lives of its Black citizens when a case of this magnitude, with so many competing narratives, can be decided so quickly? Why does Omaha’s media appear so subservient to police narratives, and so disinterested in those of Omaha’s Black citizens and leaders?”

Where do We Go From Here?

Chris Bowling July 2020
Protests on 72nd and Dodge on May 30, 2020. Photo by Chris Bowling.

For some, 2020 felt like a wake-up call. The systems that govern minority communities in America are not only fundamentally racist but have made little progress after years of supposed big wins in civil rights. Some say this is the last chance for systems to change before oppressed communities separate and create their own structures.

For others, those ideas — defunding the police, creating independent systems that would care for people’s health and education — come from a place of emotion, not pragmatism. 

Down for the Cause, Not Down for the Count

Chris Bowling March 2020, for The Omaha Star
Photo collage by Ken Guthrie.

In 2019, The Omaha Star endeavored to follow Omaha’s challenging racist history through the years. This story aims to summarize those efforts to inform existing patterns of discrimination and how they influences modern issues like gentrification, particularly as the area sees escalating interest in investment and development.

Taking Malcolm X’s Mission into The Future

Leo Adam Biga, Nov. 2019

Since the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation’s start in 1971, its leadership has moved from founder Rowena Moore to board presidents Johnny Rodgers and Sharif Liwaru to newly elected board president Leo Louis II.

In succeeding Liwaru, who had a two-decade run as board president, Louis is following a leader who became closely identified with the organization. The 36-year-old Louis is a well-known community organizer in his own right. His association with MXMF goes back to 2010.

Red Summer: History That Deserves To Be Honored

Salvador Robles, Oct. 2019

In 2019, the Bluebarn Theatre hosted “Red Summer,” a play set during a violent summer in Omaha exactly one century in the past. The historical fiction retelling follows the life of Will Brown, a Black immigrant who found employment in the South Omaha meatpacking plants.

Women Still Calling The Shots at the Omaha Star After 81 Years

Leo A. Biga, Aug. 2019
The Omaha Star.

As the paper steps into the future, Brown’s matriarchal presence still looms large. The apartment-office she kept at the Star is a shrine in this National Register of Historic Places building. The loud, proud Brown was often the only woman present in the circle of power she convened there.

“She was performing in a man’s role,” Williams said, “and did it very well.”

A Firsthand Account of School Suspension and Trauma

Tunette Powell, July 2019

“When I was three 3 years old, I was expelled from preschool because — as my mother remembers it — I was “acting too grown.”

“I was a preschool dropout.”

For black families throughout the United States, this has become the norm as black children have become the most suspended students in the country.

Coming Home Is Sweet For Media Giant Cathy Hughes

Leo A. Biga March 2019
Cathy Hughes

Despite a media footprint rivaling Oprah and a personal net worth of half a billion dollars, Cathy Hughes Black media market niche didn’t register with the general public. Until 2019. Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Rodgers marshaled coverage for street renaming, Empowerment Network and Omaha Press Club recognitions.

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Chris Bowling

Chris has worked for The Reader since January 2020. As an investigative reporter and news editor he’s taken deep dives into topics such as police transparency, affordable housing and COVID-19. Originally...

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