[Ppnews] The Omaha Two story, part 2, the 1919 race riot

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Mar 12 10:21:01 EST 2011


Will Brown's body burns in downtown Omaha after being lynched in 1919
Photo: Public Domain

Omaha’s ugly racial history includes a 1919 downtown lynching and mob riot

Omaha Two story:  Sept. 28, 1919

The Omaha Two, 
Poindexter and 
we Langa (formerly David Rice), were both born 
and raised in Omaha, Nebraska.  Both men had 
personal experiences with Omaha’s racist climate 
and joined the Black Panthers to address problems they witnessed.

Fifty years before the Black Panthers formed in 
Omaha, a 
riot in downtown Omaha had to be put down by the 
United States Army.  Before the Army was able to 
restore order, a white mob of thousands sacked 
and burned the Douglas County Courthouse to seize 
a prisoner, 
Brown, accused of sexual assault.

Will Brown, 40, was accused of rape by a 19 
year-old woman from South Omaha.  The Omaha Bee 
newspaper published inflammatory articles about 
the case and three days after the alleged crime a 
frenzied, alcohol-fueled mob from South Omaha 
descended on the downtown and demanded Brown be 
released from his cell for a street lynching.

When officials refused to release Brown the mob 
began attacking the courthouse to gain entry to 
the jail on the top floor.  The mob broke into 
the courthouse and stormed a police line in the 
building.  While the sheriff and his men were 
barricading the fourth floor of the courthouse 
the mob raided a gas station and doused the lower 
floors of the building with gasoline.

After the fire started the mob armed itself with 
guns stolen from looted hardware stores and 
pawnshops.  A thousand guns were reported stolen that terrible night in Omaha.

Omaha Mayor Ed Smith tried to stop the mob but he 
was hauled to a streetlight on Harney Street near 
the courthouse where a noose was placed around 
his neck and he was hoisted in the air.  Swift 
intervention by a state policeman who cut down Smith saved the mayor’s life.

Sheriff Michael Clark led the 121 prisoners to 
the roof of the building as the fire burned 
upward.  Ladders where placed against the 
courthouse as the mob sought access to the 
roof.  Within minutes shots rang out and the 
crowd seized Brown.  The unfortunate mob victim 
was immediately beaten and his clothing ripped 
from his body.  Brown may have already been dead 
by the time he was lynched at the corner of 18th and Harney.

After the crowd used the corpse for target 
practice the bloody body was taken down and towed 
behind a car four blocks to 17th and Dodge Street 
where oil was poured on Brown’s body and it was set on fire.

Rioting continued until 3 a.m. when federal 
troops from Fort Omaha arrived with machine 
guns.  It took 1,600 soldiers to bring order to the city.

Despite photographs that allowed authorities to 
identify several hundred of the lynch mob 
including the chief agitators, no one was ever 
prosecuted for the crimes committed that fearful night.

Actor Henry Fonda lived in Omaha at the time and 
his father ran a business across from the 
courthouse.  Fonda would later describe the horror:

“It was the most horrendous sight I’d ever 
We locked the plant, went    downstairs, and 
drove home in silence.  My hands were wet and there were tears
in my eyes.  All I could think of was that young 
black man dangling at the end of a rope.”

Within years of the riot Omaha would see the 
growth of the Ku Klux Klan in the city.  Omaha 
was a segregated city with the black population 
largely confined to the Near North Side.

The Near North Side was the home of both Ed 
Poindexter and Mondo we Langa and also the 
neighborhood where patrolman 
Minard. Sr. would lose his life on August 17, 1970 in an ambush bombing.

The Omaha Two are serving life sentences in the 
Nebraska State Penitentiary for the murder of 
Minard but continue to deny any role in the crime 
40 years later.  The two men say they were 
victims of 
Edgar Hoover’s illegal 
operation that targeted the Black Panthers with a lethal ferocity.

Omaha never really recovered from the 1919 riot 
and its ugly legacy led to a community now 
divided over the conviction of the Omaha Two.

To read all the Omaha Two story articles click 

Permission granted to reprint

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