The Omaha race riot occurred in Omaha, Nebraska, September 28–29,
1919. The race riot resulted in the brutal lynching of Will Brown, a
black worker; the death of two white men; the attempted hanging of
Mayor Edward Parsons Smith; and a public rampage by thousands of
whites who set fire to the Douglas County Courthouse in downtown
Omaha. It followed more than 20 race riots that occurred in major
industrial cities of the
1 Background 2 Beginning 3 Riot 4 Escalation 5 The first hanging 6 Siege of the courthouse 7 Lynching 8 Aftermath 9 Causes and consequences
9.1 IWW 9.2 Newspapers 9.3 Tom Dennison 9.4 Racial tension
10 Legacy 11 See also 12 References 13 External links
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Three weeks before the riot, federal investigators had noted that "a clash was imminent owing to ill-feeling between white and black workers in the stockyards." The number of blacks in Omaha doubled during the decade 1910–1920, as they were recruited to work in the meatpacking industry, and competing workers noticed. In 1910, Omaha had the third largest black population among the new western cities that had become destinations following Reconstruction. By 1920, the black population more than doubled to over 10,000, second only to Los Angeles with nearly 16,000. It was ahead of San Francisco, Oakland, Topeka, and Denver. The major meatpacking plants hired blacks as strikebreakers in 1917. South Omaha's working-class whites, showed great hostility toward black strikebreakers. By this time, the ethnic Irish—the largest and earliest group of immigrants—had established their power base in the city. Several years earlier, following the death of an Irish policeman, ethnic Irish had led a mob in an attack on Greektown, driving the Greek community from Omaha. The city's criminal establishment, led by Tom Dennison and teamed with the Omaha Business Men's Association, created a formidable challenge for the moralistic administration of first-term reform mayor Edward Parsons Smith. With little support from the Omaha City Council or the city's labor unions, Smith wearily worked through his reform agenda. Following several strikes throughout the previous year, two detectives with Omaha Police Department's "morals squad" shot and killed an African American bellhop on September 11. Sensationalized local media reports of the alleged rape of 19-year-old Agnes Loebeck on September 25, 1919 triggered the violence associated with Will Brown's lynching. The following day, police arrested 41-year-old Will Brown as a suspect. Loebeck identified Brown as her rapist, however during questioning, Brown stated that Loebeck did not make positive identification, which Loebeck later refuted. There was an unsuccessful attempt to lynch Brown on the day of his arrest. The Omaha Bee, which published a series of sensational articles alleging many incidents of black outrages, publicized the incident as one of a series of alleged attacks on white women by black men. A political machine opposed to the newly elected reform administration of Mayor Smith controlled the Omaha Bee.:8 It highlighted alleged incidents of "black criminality" to embarrass the new administration.:157 Beginning At about 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 28, 1919, a large group of white youths gathered near the Bancroft School in South Omaha and began a march to the Douglas County Courthouse, where Brown was being held. The march was intercepted by John T. Dunn, chief of the Omaha Detective Bureau, and his subordinates. Dunn attempted to disperse the crowd, but they ignored his warning and marched on. Thirty police officers were guarding the courthouse when the marchers arrived. By 4:00 p.m., the crowd had grown much larger. Members of the crowd bantered with the officers until the police were convinced that the crowd posed no serious threat. A report to that effect was made to the central police station, and the captain in charge sent fifty reserve officers home for the day. Riot
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By 5:00 p.m., a mob of about 4,000 whites had crowded into the
street on the south side of the Douglas County Courthouse. They began
to assault the police officers, pushing one through a pane of glass in
a door and attacking two others who had wielded clubs at the mob. At
5:15 p.m., officers deployed fire hoses to dispel the crowd, but
they responded with a shower of bricks and sticks. Nearly every window
on the south side of the courthouse was broken. The crowd stormed the
lower doors of the courthouse, and the police inside discharged their
weapons down an elevator shaft in an attempt to frighten them, but
this further incited the mob. They again rushed the police who were
standing guard outside the building, broke through their lines, and
entered the courthouse through a broken basement door.
It was at this moment that Marshal Eberstein, chief of police,
arrived. He asked leaders of the mob to give him a chance to talk to
the crowd. He mounted to one of the window sills. Beside him was a
recognized chief of the mob. At the request of its leader, the crowd
stilled its clamor for a few minutes. Chief Eberstein tried to tell
the mob that its mission would best be served by letting justice take
its course. The crowd refused to listen. Its members howled so that
the chief's voice did not carry more than a few feet. Eberstein ceased
his attempt to talk and entered the besieged building.
By 6 p.m., throngs swarmed about the courthouse on all sides. The
crowd wrestled revolvers, badges and caps from policemen. They chased
and beat every African American who ventured into the vicinity. White
men who attempted to rescue innocent blacks from unmerited punishment
were subjected to physical abuse. The police had lost control of the
By 7 p.m., most of the policemen had withdrawn to the interior of the
courthouse. There, they joined forces with Michael Clark, sheriff of
Douglas County, who had summoned his deputies to the building with the
hope of preventing the capture of Brown. The policemen and sheriffs
formed their line of last resistance on the fourth floor of the
The police were not successful in their efforts. Before 8 p.m., they
discovered that the crowd had set the courthouse building on fire. Its
leaders had tapped a nearby gasoline filling station and saturated the
lower floors with the flammable liquid.
Shots were fired as the mob pillaged hardware stores in the business
district and entered pawnshops, seeking firearms. Police records
showed that more than 1,000 revolvers and shotguns were stolen that
night. The mob shot at any policeman; seven officers received gunshot
wounds, although none of the wounds were serious.
Louis Young, 16 years old, was fatally shot in the stomach while
leading a gang up to the fourth floor of the building. Witnesses said
the youth was the most intrepid of the mob's leaders.
Pandemonium reigned outside the building. At Seventeenth and Douglas
Streets, one block from the courthouse, James Hiykel, a 34-year-old
businessman, was shot and killed.
The crowd continued to strike the courthouse with bullets and rocks.
Spectators were shot. Participants inflicted minor wounds upon
themselves. Women were thrown to the ground and trampled. Blacks were
dragged from streetcars and beaten.
The first hanging
About 11 o'clock, when the frenzy was at its height, Mayor Edward
Smith came out of the east door of the courthouse into Seventeenth
Street. He had been in the burning building for hours. As he emerged
from the doorway, a shot rang out.
"He shot me. Mayor Smith shot me," a young man in the uniform of a
Will Brown is lynched, and his body mutilated and burned by a white crowd.
Photograph taken from a different angle showing the body of Will Brown after being burned by a white crowd.
Then three slips of paper were thrown from the fourth floor on the
west side of the building. On one piece was scrawled: "The judge says
he will give up Negro Brown. He is in dungeon. There are 100 white
prisoners on the roof. Save them."
Another note read: "Come to the fourth floor of the building and we
will hand the negro over to you."
The mob in the street shrieked its delight at the last message. Boys
and young men placed firemen's ladders against the building. They
mounted to the second story. One man had a heavy coil of new rope on
his back. Another had a shotgun.
Two or three minutes after the unidentified athletes had climbed to
the fourth floor, a mighty shout and a fusillade of shots were heard
from the south side of the building.
Will Brown had been captured. A few minutes later, his lifeless body
was hanging from a telephone post at Eighteenth and Harney Streets.
Hundreds of revolvers and shotguns were fired at the corpse as it
dangled in mid-air. Then, the rope was cut. Brown's body was tied to
the rear end of an automobile. It was dragged through the streets to
Seventeenth and Dodge Streets, four blocks away. The oil from red
lanterns used as danger signals for street repairs was poured on the
corpse. It was burned. Members of the mob hauled the charred remains
through the business district for several hours.
Sheriff Clark said that Negro prisoners hurled Brown into the hands of
the mob as its leaders approached the stairway leading to the county
jail. Clark also reported that Brown moaned "I am innocent, I never
did it; my God, I am innocent," as he was surrendered to the mob.
Newspapers have quoted alleged leaders of the mob as saying that Brown
was shoved at them through a blinding smoke by persons whom they could
The lawlessness continued for several hours after Brown had been
lynched. The police patrol was burned. The police emergency automobile
was burned. Three times, the mob went to the city jail. The third time
its leaders announced that they were going to burn it. Soldiers
arrived before they could carry out their threat.
The riot lasted until 3 a.m., on the morning of September 29. At that
hour, federal troops, under command of
“ It is a shame that it took these deaths and others to raise public consciousness and effect the changes that we enjoy today. When I discovered that William Brown was buried in a pauper's grave, I did not want William Brown to be forgotten. I wanted him to have a headstone to let people know that it was because of people like him that we enjoy our freedoms today. The lesson learned from his death should be taught to all. That is, we cannot have the protections guaranteed by the Constitution without law. There is no place for vigilantism in our society. ”
Wilmington insurrection of 1898 Crime in Omaha King assassination riots Mass racial violence in the United States Racial equality proposal, 1919 Racial tension in Omaha, Nebraska Civil Rights Movement in Omaha, Nebraska Greek Town riot
References This article incorporates text from Pamphlet, by The Educational Publishing Company, a publication from 1919 now in the public domain in the United States.
^ a b "For action on race riot peril", The New York Times, 5 Oct 1919,
^ Quintard Taylor, In Search Of The Racial Frontier: African Americans
in the American West, 1528-1990, New York: W.W. Norton & Co.,
1998, pp.193 and 205, accessed 14 Aug 208
^ Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community, Seattle: U of
Washington Press, 1994, p. 56,- Google Book Search, accessed 20 Aug
^ a b Lawson, Michael L (1977). "Omaha, A City in Ferment: Summer of
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Ethnic groups in Omaha, Nebraska
African Americans American Indians Asians Canadians Czechs Danes Germans Greeks Irish Italians Jews Latinos Mexicans Poles Slovaks Sudanese Swedes Ukrainians
Greek Town Little Bohemia Little Italy Near North Side Sheelytown South 24th Street
Czechoslovak Museum El Museo Latino Great Plains Black History Museum Little Ukrainian Catholic Church Lithuanian Bakery Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame Omaha Jewish Community Center St. John's Greek Orthodox Church
Timeline of racial tension in Omaha, Nebraska Timeline of riots and civil unrest in Omaha, Nebraska Omaha race riot of 1919 Greek Town riot
Racial tension in Omaha, Nebraska
Civil Rights Movement in Omaha, Nebraska
A Time for Burning
History of slavery in Nebraska
Public school controversy
Meyer v. Nebraska
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North Omaha, Nebraska
Timeline Racial tension Civil Rights Movement
Squatter's Row Gophertown Benson Dundee Bemis Park Gifford Park Gold Coast Kountze Place Miller Park Walnut Hill Orchard Hill Florence East Omaha Saratoga Scriptown Casey's Row Near North Side
Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition 1960s/70s riots Rice/Poindexter case
Kountze Park Omaha Driving Park Omaha University Redick Mansion Logan Fontenelle Housing Project Dreamland Ballroom Fort Lisa Cutler's Park Winter Quarters Prospect Hill Cemetery Fort Omaha General Crook House Storz Brewery Bank of Florence The Sherman Broomfield Rowhouse Carter Lake Minne Lusa Theater
List of people from North Omaha German Irish Jewish African American
Fair Deal Cafe Carver Savings and Loan Association Dreamland Ballroom Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame Native Omaha Days Omaha Blues, Jazz & Gospel Festival Florence Days Stone Soul Picnic
Howard Kennedy School Lake School Kellom School Lothrop School Long School Tech High North High Central High School Florence Elementary School Central Park Elementary School Druid Hill Elementary School Fontenelle Elementary School Monroe Middle School Benson High Franklin Elementary School Hartman Elementary School Kellom Elementary School Lothrop Magnet Center Miller Park Elementary School Minne Lusa Elementary School Sherman Elementary School Skinner Magnet Center Walnut Hill Elementary School
Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church Holy Family Catholic Church Pearl Memorial United Methodist Church Sacred Heart Catholic Church Salem Baptist Church St. Cecilia Cathedral St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church Zion Baptist Church
North Freeway/US 75
List of African-American historic places
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American Crusade Against Lynching
Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching
James Allen (collector)
The Ox-Bow Incident