The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, April 01, 1968, Image 1

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Daily Nebraskan j
Monday, April 1, 1968 The Daily Nebraskan Vol. 91, No. 91
watched not
APR 1 19u3
to boil
Omaha, 1968
Omaha is plain, broad-shouldered, traditional. In many ways
it lags carefully behind the avant-garde ways of the cities on either
coast. But like every large city in America, Omaha is on the verge
of being splintered by racial strife. Nebraskan editors and pho
tographers spent several days moving through the city, from the
near north side to city hall and back, gathering the moods, im
pressions, and predictions of the men who will decide the city's
by Jack Todd
Managing Editor
As the polarization of the races contin
ues, it would appear that a seasonal divi
sion is taking place. Winter is becoming
whitey's time, and the long hot summers
aire becoming the exclusive property of
the American Negro.
Sandwiched between the white man's
winter and the black man's summer is the
restless interlude of spring. While residents
cf such major trouble spots as Detroit were
still buying guns and muttering about the
summer ahead, Omaha rocked with the
season's first outbreak of major racial vio
lence. The watched pot had begun to boil
The master chef who whipped up this
disturbance was ex-Governor George Wall
lace of Alabama. On Sunday, March 3,
Wallace stepped off his plane at Eppley
Airport and told reporters, "People are go
ing to be surprised tomorrow night."
Wallace should win the Pulitzer Prize
for understatement By the time his little
surprise had run its course, it had resulted
in one death, 19 injuries, nine arrests and
more than 65 incidents of vandalism.
George Wallace was not only the spark
that set off this disturbance. He was also
the embodiment of what the President's
Riot Commission termed the underlying
cause of all last summer's riots: white
racism. Perhaps the second great cause of
the Omaha riots was the equal and oppo
site reaction to the first: black racism. As
Mayor A. V. Sorenson of Omaha indicated,
black racism was perhaps the one glaring
omission of the Riot Commission's report.
In the social make-up of Omaha, black
racism has not been omitted.
When Wallace came to Omaha, black
and white racism met head-on. This time
ft was merely a skirmish in a much larg
er war, but it was sufficient to indicate
some of the failures of the alphabet soup
. f anti-poverty- agencies that have sprung
up in the past decade to combat racial ten
sion in the city. After the disturbances had
dwindled to an uneasy peace the afternoon
of Wednesday, March 5, leaders on both
sides began a major reassessment of their
policies, past and present Their conrhj.
sions are as different as the factions they
"I try to tefl them they're
taking from the hands of the
poor what litUe power tbey .
hare. But they don't hear.
They don't hear," Father
John O. McCaslin on the
transfer of the Greater
Omaha Community Action
(GOCA) agency to city con
trol Father John McCaslin of tbe Holy Fam
ily Church in Omaha is moderately tall,
thin, and handsome. He is while. On the
Bight of the Wallace convention he wore a
Black Power sweatshirt and accompanied
tbe protestors to the Civic Auditorium. The
youths with McCaslin became increasingly
vehement in their protests until they and
the Willice supporters clashed in a chair
throwing, bead-crunching melee. Neither
McCaslin nor Rev. Robert Bums of Creigh
ton University took part in cor encouraged
the violence. Both priests were charged with
disrupting a public meeting.
McCaslin is one of the few whites who
is accepted on tbe near north side. As the
most outspoken advocate of Negro politi
cal power, he is a continual thorn is the
side of city hall
At present McCaslia has ( crusades
underway against the city. One is to pre
vent the takeover of GOCA by city ad
ministrators. GOCA is an Office of Econom
ic Opportunity project, and as being taken
over by the city ia compliance with a fed
eral order. The congressional Green amend
ment requires that city administrations take
over these agencies in order to "give the
poor a greater active part in the admin
istration of their program."
Someone forgot to ask tbe poor what
they wanted before tbe Green amendment
was passed, says Father McCaslin. GOCA
cat had a keg uphill battle in gaining
toe confidence of the poor since it came
to Omaha. GOCA, the March riot notwith
standing, has finally begun to relate to
ghetto residents in the estimation of many
of Omaha's leaders.
Father McCaslin believes all that will
come to aa end if -the city takes over. For
a variety of reasons, the city administra
tors have come to be regarded among the
Negro poor as the number one enemy. Mc
Caslin and other militant leaders have at
tempted to encourage this. Their rationale
is that tbe spirit of the Negro has been so
badly kicked around by 300 years of white
domination that some enemy must be de
signated, and some ""gut issue picked to
give tbe ghetto poor a rallying point
Oae sack issue b tbe locatWa of the
lw S
The trucks are now quartered in the resi
dential area of tbe near north side. Before
tbe mayor asked the company to move tbe
trucks. McCaslin pinpointed this as a typi
cal problem, a typical point at which the
people 'MY people, he calls them
can be rallied.
"Well move those trucks if we have to
chain ourselves to the gates so they can't
get in," McCaslin said. Apparently, some
one believed him.
"Omaha lags in black na
tionalism by four or five
years. Before blacks can deal
on equal terms with the
white society they must have
. . . black power." Father
The "Black Power" sign stencilled on
Father McCaslin's sweatshirt the night of
the Wallace convention obviously meant
something very different than it means to
most Americans.
McCaslin's concept of black power is
social, political and economic bargaining
power. It is the negro bloc vote, the suc
cessful Negro businessman. It is a way of
giving boots to the Negro poor so that they
can begin pulling themselves up by the
bootstraps. It is becoming first the equiva
lent and then the equal, of the wrhite
McCaslin differs with those who say un
equivocally that militance is not a means
to the ends he seeks. McCaslin cited the ex
ample of Father James Groppi's open hous
ing marches in Milwaukee last year as a
means of letting off steam and banking the
fires to prevent outbreaks such as the one
in Detroit
"This is the best way I know to call
attention it tbe fires," McCaslin said.
The dilemma of those assigned to put
ting out the fires is almost larger than life.
Walk down North 24th street in Omaha,
talk to housewives in project apartments,
eat in Negro cafes. The urgency, hope
lessness and despair of the Negro boils
through surface hostility.
Men stripped of their pride by years
of low-paying menial jobs or unemployment
look at white intruders carefully, glare for
a split second, and turn away.
A white salvation army worker starts
to enter a Negro barbershop. One of tbe
barbers springs to bar her way. "We dont
want you in bere."
Four Negro men stand in an alle, pass
a pint of whiskey around until it's empty,
and move on down the street laughing.
Yob lose your individuality en Omaha's
near north side. You have nothing to dis
inguish you but color. You are black or
white. It is not comfortable to be white.
But in Omaha there is hope. The symbol
for hope appears in a variety of places
the lettering on a recreation center sign,
the pictures in innumerable buildings. Jus
tifiably or otherwise, the symbol is John
F. Kennedy. In Ernie Chamber's barber
shop his picture occupies a place of honor
next to that of Malcolm X.
Hope has also translated itself into a
variety of action agencies. In tbe estimation
of most of the city's leaders, the most prom
ising of these at present is GOCA's step
child, the OIC or Opportunities Industrial
ization Center.
The OIC is staffed with many Negroes
who are themselves products of the ghetto,
including Barry Goodlett, the Executive
Director. The OIC in Omaha has begun a
surprisingly well-accepted, concrete pro
gram designed to give the Negro precisely
tbe kind of ""Black Power" that Father
McCaslin seeks.
The dropout rate at tbe OIC is amazing
ly low. At present 75 of those who enroll
in OICs clerical trainirg programs gradu
ate, a much higher percentage than any
other such job-training programs have been
able to maintain.
The reason for OICs remarkable suc
cess is apparently its ability to relate to
tbe Negro. The agency has no ethnic bar
riers, but ft is very successful in develop
ing an active black consciousness among
its trainees. Within the next three months
OIC leaders hope to expand their program
to include training in sheet metal work.
machine tool operations, welding, electron
ics and other fields.
To see black people
helping black people does
more for the ghetto than any
thing, but when these people
see fat-bellied politicians try
ing to get into the picture
when they weren't interested
before, it makes people
angry. Our people aren't
stupid enough to let it hap
pen. Barry Goodlett
Goodlefs militancy is reflected by his
lieutenants. Clarence Brisco, a mild-mannered,
stoop-shouldered counsellor, asd
Wayne Harris, tbe job placement director
of the OIC, organized groups of "inter
ested citizens' to patrol the streets after
tbe Wallace convention to prevent Ntgrs
youths from getting into trouble.
The two agree for the most part on the
position of the Negro in a white-dominated
society, but differ fundamentally on a point
that separates many Negroes. Brisco feels
that something must be done, and done
quickly, to prevent the further polarization
of the races. To Wayne Harris, there is only
one way the Negro can survive in a
completely separate society.
"There is only one way to go in the
next couple of years," Harris says. "We are
at a crossroads. The only survival for the
Negro is by separation."
Harris sneers at the attempts of white
liberals to help the Negro. "We don't need
those 'liberals' out here. Why aren't they
up on the west side educating those crack
ers, telling them what's going on down
The grievances Harris and Brisco ex
press parallel the major problems of the
Negro outlined is the President's Riot Com
mission report. Over and over, the prob
lems of housing discrimination, under or un
employment and police tactics enter the dis
cussion. Open housing is a very sore spot in
Omaha. According to one estimate, only
about 80 Negro families live outside the
ghetto area on Omaha's near north side.
For those who have escaped the ghetto
area, the road out has been a difficult one.
Housing discrimination is one of the
more subtle forms of discrimination, how
ever, and it is unlikely that housing can
ever become a rallying point for a riot.
Police practices and the question of police
brutality, however, present a very different
The night after the Wallace convention,
a crowd of about 50 persons tore off the
metal bars protecting the windows of the
Crosstown Loan Company at 1819 North 24th
Street The shop owner hired Patrolman
James Abbott of the Omaha Police force
to protect the shop during his off-duty hours.
At about 2:30 Tuesday morning, Abbott
saw a Negro youth crawling through a
window into a display area of the shop.
Abbott ordered the youth to halt The boy
failed to comply. Abbott fired once with
his 12-gauge riot gun, killing the boy.
Tbe youth, 16-year-old Howard L. Stev
enson, had participated in a summer camp
ing program designed to improve police
community relations. So had Patrolman Ab
bott "The second (problem) is
the justification for the use
of deadly force against
crimes like looting. There is
a question whether bullets
are the correct response to
offenses of this sort against
property. Major General
George Gelslon (of the Na
tional Guard) told the ("am
ission: I am not going to
order a man killed for steal
ing a six-pack of beer or a
television set" U.S. Riot
Commission Report.
More than 600 Negroes, most of them
under 20, crammed the Robinson's Memor
ial church in Omaha for the funeral of
Howard Stevenson. Nearly a hundred more
stood outside tbe church. Grief-stricken
young Negroes wavered between bitterness
and tears.
Bishop B. T. McDankl said in perform
ing the services: "This shooting of young
people by trigger-happy policemen must
stop. Who knows whose son may be next."
Howard Stevenson had dropped out of
Technical High School a month before he
died. His background had not been heroic,
his problems and shortcomings typical of
the ghetto youth. To 5'oung Negroes on
Omaha's near north side, be is now a martyr.
City officials are now laced with a prob
lem in triplicate. First is the garbage truck
squabble, which Mayor Sorenson is attempt
ing to solve. Second is the wide-spread re
sentment among Negro militants over the
change in GOCA's administration. Tbe last
and most volatile problem involves the
death of Stevenson. Militants are dissatis
field with the city's investigation; white
groups are unhappy with the mayor for
ordering an investigation of the case in
tbe first place.
Tbe office f tbe mas who is ultimately
responsible for resolving these problems is
quiet spacious, removed. Tbe sounds of
hammering that cut into the interviews at
the OIC are absent as is the old wino who
hovered outside Father McCashn s door.
The chief concern of tbe man who sits
in the mayor's office is that the recent
violence in the cities will make communi
cation between toe white and Negro com
munities impossible, eliminating all possi
bilities of progress.
To prevent a communications gap. May
or Sorenson said be is seeking to achieve
a "meaningful dialogue" between white and
.Negro leaders.
In many areas it appears that Sorenson
and his aides are knocking themselves out
to prove the Chamber of Commerce state
ment: "Omaha Can Do." Sorenson prom
ised that jobs will be found for the 1500
men ((50 of them Negro ) who win be laid
closes. Sorenson appears genuinely con
cerned with implementing the Omaha Hous
ing Code and getting the Unicameral to
pass an Open Housing law. Tbe obstacles
in both areas are considerable.
Sorenson pointed out that many people
in the ghetto area want better housing,
but will not move from their neighborhood
to housing which is available in other areas
of the city. 'Tbey don't to
their old neighborhood,
be says,
you can't blame them."
As long as Negroes remain almost ex
clusively on the near north side, Omaha
wiH have a ghetto. Apparently the admin
istration faces a long hard fight lefore a
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"Men who've lost their pride
for their salvation." Father John
sufficient number of Negro families can be
moved into other areas of the city to break
up the ghetto and erase all the problems
which arise from a strict division of neigh
borhoods. Breaking up a ghetto is a long
term project. Summer is less than three
months away.
"The duty of the police
... is to use legal force to
overcome illegal force. Some
people in our community
. . . under the pretense of at
tempting to advance civil
rights, promote disorder and
intolerance for the rights of
others. They must share the
responsibility for what oc
curred." L, K. Smith,
Omaha Public Safety Di
In 1966, 2.056 guns were registered in
Omaha. In 1967, registrations climbed to
3.019. Only guns with a barrel shorter than
16 inches must be registered, so the figures
do not include shot-guns, rifles, or anti
tank guns. Even so, the increase is far more
than can be explained by population in
creases. ...
L.K. Smith is charged with protecting
the safety of the Omaha public. Under his
administration, the Police Department has
undertaken a fairlv eTiv wv---- "t
improve police-community relations. The
department is involves wua a i-a, v. ,
sponsoring softball and basketball leagues,
and holding a summer camping program
funded through GOCA. Like other leaders,
Smith indicated his department is taking
a "new look" at their present policies and
programs as a result of the Wallace dis
turbance. Before existing programs can take ef
fect in tbe cities, Smith says, there must be
a fundamental change in attitudes. Many
militant leaders are now attempting to jus
tify the riot that took place early this
month, according to Smith.
"The result of this justification is that
many impressionable young people involved
in the disturbance are led to approve their
own acts," Smith said. "There is no ques
tion of Wallace's right to come here and
hold his convention," Smith added.
In Smith's estimation the police handled
the riot very welL 'Their job is to re
store order," he said. "They discharged
their function."
In tbe March riot, police shared respon
sibility for restoring order with school ad
ministrators. Most of the violence on Tues
day and Wednesday centered around Hor
ace Mann Junior High, and Technical, North
and Central High schools. Superintendent
Owen A. Knutzen was at Mann Junior High
when a rock-throwing, shoving, nameaii
ing match broke out
Knutzen met reporters a week after the
riot in the stately library of the appropriately-named
"castle", headquarters of the
Omaha school system.
Knutzen is witholding most of what he
knows about the disturbances to publish in
his own book. He speaks of "mob dynam
ics" and the unique social position of the
press. While he talks, his public relations
assistant, Barney Geiger, hops around be
hind him repeating over and over, "He
was there when it happened, he was there
when it happened."
Your superintendent be
ing constantly in the area of
turmoil devoted his efforts
to working with members of
tbe staff, students and citi
zens who were making a con
structive effort to establish a
normal situation . . . While
in these buDdings . . . your
superintendent was able to
observe and gain a complete
insight and understanding of
tbe dynamics of mob activi
ty. public relations release
from Owen Knutzen,
There are many in Orraha who feel that
the time is coming when more than an un
derstanding of mob dynamics will be re
quired V3 mamlajn a semDiance of peace
in the city. To some, the efforts of the
various agencies cover an area a mile wide
and an inch deep. In the process, they fail
to dispel the fears and hatreds of people
on both sides .
You can drive down North 241b street
turn to women, crime, or just alcohol
a dozen times without noticing the offices
of GOCA or the OIC. You see the bars,
the endless small groups of Negroes stand
ing or milling around, the boarded-up win
dows of small shops and drugstores.
At times tcn the hatred is visible.
It hangs in the air or darts like a flash
of lightning from black to white, from poor
to rich. Nowhere is it more visible, more
oppressive, than in the Spencer Street Bar
ber Shop.
The barber shop at Spencer Street rare
ly goes by that name. Though Ernie
Chambers has the third chair in the shop,
he has given it his name. The shop is
squeezed into a group of buildings on Nortli
24th. Y'ou have to look twice to see it.
Half of the rather small picture window
in front is plywood, where a shot run blast
ripped through shortly after the riot.
Inside the walls are covered with signs,
clippings, cartoons and pictures: most of
them urging b3ack power or depicting a
southern sheriff turning his docs loose on
helpless Negroes.
Oj the back wall of the shop a picture
of John F. Kennedy hangs between por
traits of Malcolm X and Floyd Patterson.
The barbers are not particularly hostile,
but no white man can sit in the shoa with
out being painfully conscieair of his coior.
Chambers is both the most militant and
the most well-known Negro in Omaha.
His view of the disturbance at the Wal
lace convention emphasizes many of t h e
problems of communication that exist be
tween city hall and the militant Nez.
The Muslim organ Muhammad Speaks
quotes Chambers thus: "They hit any Black
person they saw on the main floor," Cham
bers related, then hit some nuns and priest s
who had joined the demonstrators. Then
the white men in the audience started hit
ting young Black men and women with
chairs. The TV7 later showed a Black girl
knocked down by a white member of the
audience. A nearby cop did nothing."
"If a Black man tried to come to the
aid of a Negro otnan. he was smashed
from all directions until he could help no
one. Still the police did nothing. The cops
had removed their name plates and badges
so they could not be identified. "
The interpretation Chambers gives, if
not a distortion, is certainly very differ
ent fom the official view. The difference
indicates one of the dangers inherent ia
any clash between the police and the Ne
gro the white population gets one inter,
pretation, the Negro another. The result,
inevitably, is polarization.
"Black people of Omaha
are reaching tbe end of their
patience. If things don't
change here, I fear terrible,
far-reaching consequences.
Ernie Chambers
Peace has at least a temporary reign
in Omaha now. Every organization from the
Police Department to the OIC is working
overtime to head off violence in tbe future.
Even Ernie Chambers is talking to Negro
3'oulhs in an attempt to dissuade them from,
violence this summer. But no one is con
fident that an insurrection can be avoided.
The increase in gun sales is very indica
tive of Omaha's mood try to prevent it,
hut be ready to fight if it comes.
Probably the most significant devejojv
ment among toe Negro population is what
the Riot Commission terms "a climate that
tends toward approval of violence." Atti
tudes of many young Negroes are such that
violence in the context of racial strife n
longer appears wrong. The same is true
of a small but growing segmevA of the white
Omaha nai roughly 2&Q.90S people, of
w hich about 4200 are Negro. Already this
year one Hegro boy has been killed and
city hall has clashed seriously with the
ghetto over the administration of GOCA.
Father McCasU. says that Negrs ex
tremists, imported from Watts or other
big-city ghettos, are now "training" ia
Omaha for this summer. These m&tanti
are unknon-n to most of the ghetto popula
tion at present. McCaslin said. He describ
ed their presence in the city as "scary.
L. K. Smith denied that any such militants
are now in Omaha.
Omaha, however, is aot afraid to nme.
It's kaders are very aware of the sita
ation. The problems are not insurmountable,
but the majority of Omaha's kaders agree
with OIC Director Barry Goodlett who con
cluded bis observations of the racial prob
lem by saying, "Professionally, I'm fright'
ened to death."
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