Image provided by: University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries, Lincoln, NE
About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Jan. 14, 1999)
" • ?
Local survivors of segregation
remember storied legacy of King
REMEMBERING from page 1
“I came here in die pursuit of finding freedom
from racial discrimination,” said the 69-year-old
Bullock. “It was interesting that we had so much
hope and belief- that Americans really believed in
justice and believed in democracy.
“And here in 1999, Nebraska is more racist
than Mississippi was in the lj940s when I was
In Lincoln, where she joined her husband,
Hugh, in 1950, Bullock didn’t see any colored
only signs. Jim Crow laws stopped at die Mason
Dixon line. No curtain separated white stares from
Bullock’s eyes on the bus.
“You could sit anywhere, and of course being
from Mississippi I sat right up in front,” she said.
But those were minor changes.
In her Southern accent, she sits in her living
room at her house near 73rd and Havelock streets
and talks about the disappointment and ignorance
that she moved into.
As the celebration of King’s birthday nears,
Bullock, bom four days after King, reflects on the
more than half a century she has spent in Lincoln,
and growing up in Mississippi in the 1940s.
Her light-brown face, framed by tight, white
curly hair, shows years of struggle.
Her walls are symbols of her black pride,
grace and strength.
She has a painting on her wall with a version
of Mt. Rushmore in which Malcolm X, Harriet
Tubman, Thurgood Marshall and King’s heads are
on the mountain peering down at the specks of
black people visiting the monument.
one nous as sue taucs aooux now race relations
have not changed in the 31 years since King was
assassinated. She talks about a white supremacy
that pervades American society. A need for white
people to scapegoat their problems onto black
The 1950s in Lincoln still brought dirty looks,
sub-standard housing and a black ghetto for
“We don’t hire Negroes here,” was what she
was told when she applied at her neighborhood
Laundromat near 23™ and T streets.
Three months later she was the first black
salesperson at Gold’s Galleria department store
By 1960, she was president of the Lincoln i,
chapter of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People.
She went on to head countless freedom
marches in Lincoln as a response to violations of
civil rights across the country. She staged lunch
counter sit-ins and picketed Woolworth’s, drawing
attention to racist hiring and serving practices.
The nation was a stormy place at that time.
* * *
Nine black high school students - the Little
Rock Nine — test the waters of integration at
Central High School in Little Rock, Ark, five years
after the U.S. Supreme Court declared separate
but equal schools illegal. Repeated tries to enter
the school result in armed National Guard escorts
and crowds of angry white students.
Several months later, Mirmijean Brown, one of
the Little Rock Nine, dumps a bowl of chili on a
jeering white student in the school cafeteria. She is
suspended for six days.
It was 1957.
The Rev. Don Coleman, who went to school in
the 1950s in Dayton, Ohio, did not study with
other black students, even though it was then legal
Coleman, who now heads the Lincoln chapter
of MAD DADS, went through school for 12 years
as the only black student.
“Once I reached the third and fourth grade, I
got spoken around like I wasn’t even in class... we
were encouraged to drop out of school in the sixth
grade,” Coleman said.
“The teachers would tel| us we wouldn’t
amount to nothing.”
Alter graduation, Coleman joined the military
and was stationed in Primasens, Germany, as a
staff sergeant teletype repairman.
But the ocean drd not separate white hate and
“There was the superiority of die Caucasian
soldiers, and there was a lot of the Ku Khix Klan
thing,” Coleman said. “They used to put
swastikas. They used to put ‘KKKs’. They used to
do a lot of that in the barracks.”
Back home his family told him stories of riots,
violence and upheaval of societal norms.
^ At the same time, black police officers were
only allowed to patrol certain parts of towns and
could not arrest white people. Black people
worked as janitors and
* * *
A crowd of350,000
people gathers in
Washington, D.C., to
support civil rights,
equality and freedom.
From the steps of the
King shares a dream,
as his passionate voice ■
floats out over a silent
It was 1963.
a 70-year-old who has
lived in Lincoln for
more than 30 years, was there.
“Among fee 350,000 people, you could hear a
pin drop... fee whole time,” Henderson said of fee
atmosphere during King’s speech. “People lis
tened to his speech wife great concern about what
he was saying.
“When you were standing there ... from fee
Lincoln Memorial to the Washington
(Monument), people were fixed. You couldn’t get
up anywhere near fee podium, there were so many
What King told fee thousands of multiracial
faces that August was something that would be
repeated over and over again, inspiring some;
drawing mockery from others.
“The presentation of that speech rocked fee
country,” Henderson said.
After graduating from Nebraska Wesleyan
University in 1957, Henderson tried to get a pro
motion at fee dairy factory in Grand Island where
he worked through high school and college.
He told his employer he was ready to work full
It never happened.
“The manager was very diplomatic,” he said.
“‘Gerry,’ he says, ‘I think you’ve gone as far as you
can go as a Negro wife this company.’”
Henderson then moved to the South. He
moved to the heart and soul of the civil rights
He doesn’t like to talk about what he saw dur
ing that time. Most black people don’t he said.
“When you see a 13-year-old young lady
hosed - fire hosed - and she is lifted and pushed
through a store window, that leaves bad memories
in your mind,” Henderson said.
The peaceful-turned-brutal sit-ins, demon
strations and marches aside, Henderson had day
While visiting a relative in the 1950s in
Oklahoma City, he went to a movie.
He entered fee theater through an alley and
watched the movie in the balcony behind a glass
The floors of most Southern train stations
were painted according to color - one half black,
one half white.
Black people did not step on fee white half.
Henderson remembers driving through a
small, Southern town in the 1950s. A large
billboard greeted him and other black peo
“Nigger, don’t let the sun set on you,” it
Out of the South, in Lincoln, Henderson
and his wite, Josephine, bought a house in a white
neighborhood in northwest Lincoln in 1961.
People threatened to bum the house down.
Neighbors offered to buy it But the Hendersons
Nearly the entire neighborhood moved
Similar to Bullock, after living decades in
Lincoln, Henderson fails to see a real difference
between theNorth and the South.
“Students ask me because I lived in the North
most of my life, and they always say, ‘Isn’t the
North better than the South?’ And I have to say
* * *
For his undying effort to bring the message of
unarmed social progress and brotherly love, for
trudging through imprisonment and firebomb
attacks on his house, andfor managing to stand on
top of a growing movement of nonviolence in the
United States, King is awarded the Nobel Peace
It was 1964.
“The amount of things
that have been
are great, but there
that could be
The Rev. Don Coleman
MAD DADS director
Tensions were on
razor’s edge in Omaha
during the 1960s.
As a young black
photographer for the
Rudy Smith took pic
tures of the north
Omaha riots in the
He almost lost his
Smith’s dark skiiT
color allowed him to
sneak past signs to take
pictures in predomi
nantly black north
Omaha, which the
National Guard had
designated as oir-limits.
Blacks were rioting because a young black girl
in Omaha was killed as she was playing with a
friend. The police officer that shot her was white.
In a calm voice, the 52-year-old Smith, who is
still a photographer for the newspaper, recalls a
frightening moment during that time.
“I was spotted by a couple of National
Guardsmen. They called me over as they pointed a
gun at me,” Smith said.
“They told me to come here, called me some
“They said, ‘We’re gonna kill us one.’”
Smith was aided by people in the area and
escaped death, but there would be other times that
summer when he would fear for his life.
The upheaval in Omaha mirrored the rest of
the country at that time.
“The same problems affecting people in
Alabama, Boston, Oklahoma City and Los
Angeles were affecting people here in Omaha,”
Smith said. “We were not excluded from dealing
with these problems.
“Racism was a part of our culture. Segregation
was a part of our culture.”
Smith was a part of the solution.
As a regional director of the Omaha NAACP
youth council from 1963-67, Smith trained young
people to march, to sit in peacefully and to
respond to any attacks by police or others.
Smith went on to become the first black per
son to graduate with a journalism degree from the
University of Nebraska at Omaha. Years later, he
taught photography there. The model for the class
was used at die University of Nebraska-Lincoln,
At that time, about 50 miles west of Omaha,
Paul Olson, a UNL English professor since 1957,
was doing more than teaching.
He said the university regarded him as a very
dangerous person because he was a staunch, out
spoken believer in civil rights.
Olson is white.
He was a valuable peace-keeper during that
Olson remembers one year in the 1960s when
he was on a fishing trip with his family in UtalL He
got a call from the then-dean of the College of Arts
and Sciences asking him how soon he could get
back to Lincoln.
A day later, Olson returned to find out that a
UNL sociology student had appeared at a rally in
Omaha with now-Sen. Ernie Chambers and Black
Panther Eldridge Cleaver.
The student was a teaching assistant at the
time. Administrators attempted to fire him, but
civil rights groups protected him. The student was
re-assigned as a research assistant
“That’s how threatened (university adminis
trators) were by somebody who felt an alliance
with the black movement,” Olson said.
“If you looked at die university where it stood
institutionally in the mid-to-late ’60s, it was
deeply committed to white supremacy,” he said.
* * *
A single bullet fired from an assassin s gun
pierces the back of King s neck as he stands on his
hotel balcony in Memphis, Tenn. He was 39 years
It was April 4,1968.
After King’s shooting a police bulletin was put
out for a “young, white male, well dressed.”
Riots followed in major U.S. cities from coast
to coast ^——
Thousands of miles north in Lincoln, Bullock
lost all the feeling in her body.
“I remember going in the store, and somebody
said, ‘That Dr. King died’and I said ‘Uh, uh,’ so I
turned around and went home.
“And I was kind of numbuntil he was buried.”
The day he was buried, April 9,1968, about 60
UNL students - some white, some black, some
wearing black armbands as a symbol of mourning
- marched from Mueller Tower on campus to
Across the Atlantic Ocean, Colenfan was
stunned. For him the world stopped.
After he heard the news, he gathered with the
families of his company in Germany. They hud
dled together and prayed for peace.
“For a man to win the Nobel Peace Prize, for a
man to speak peace, for a man to march for justice
for everybody, (for) a man who has sat with kings?
and queens and presidents, and then to die for
some garbage collectors,” he said.
“So it wasn’t just for the black man, Dr. King
was there for all the races, for everybody. No mat
ter where you sit in the food chain, you are some
.ttjuiougn me memory oi rang is viviu in ms
mind, Coleman said the dream is still not realized.
There is still more work to do.
“The amount of things that have been accom
plished are great, but there are more that could be
done,” Coleman said. ,
Henderson thinks more could be done, too.
Tuesday he returned from Atlanta, where he
spoke with a group of black college students.
He was upset by what he heard.
“(Young people) are able to buy houses any
where they want They are able to get good jobs,”
“So, therefore, they are too busy acquiring
material rtic kinds of things to look at the social
aspect of what they need to do in terms of com
* * *
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life
... but I’m not concerned about that. I just want to
do God s will, and He has allowed me to go up the
mountain, and I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the
“I may not get there with you, but I want you to
know tonight that we as a people will get to the
promised land. So I am happy tonight. I’m not
worried about anything.”
King was speaking at a garbage strike rally. It
was April 5,1968, the night before he died.
Streets, avenues and boulevards across the
country bear his name. High schools, museums
and awards are named after him. His peaceful face
shows up on T-shirts, posters and framed pictures
on coffee tables in homes such as Bullock’s.
Since 1985, many U.S. citizens don’t have to
come in for work on his birthday. For die first time
at UNL, classes are canceled.
Smith believes these things are just a small ~
part of whatrKing has left behind.
“As far as Dr. Martin Luther King is con
cerned, his legacy is alive and well,” Smith said
“His contributions are very present in the mind of
progressive blacks and.young people.
“We will never, ever let our youth nor our race
forget, not only the contributions he made, but the
“Fqr the struggle is not over.
Powered by Open ONI