Flashback Friday: Then The Burnings Began: Omaha’s Urban Revolts and the Meaning of Political Violence

In August 2014 many Americans were alarmed by the scenes of fire and destruction following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the prevalence of violence in American history, the protest in this Midwestern suburb took many by surprise Midwestern attitude and a deep belief that racism was long over. The Ferguson uprising shook many citizens’ white and black, wide awake.

Nearly fifty years prior, while the streets of Detroit’s black enclave still glowed red from five days of rioting. On Saturday evening, July, 2nd, 1966 a group of 100 to 200 black youths congregated in the parking lot of a Safeway grocery store.

At 12:49 a.m. a neighborhood woman called the police to report a group of teenagers lighting fireworks in the parking lot. Two policemen arrived at the scene to investigate. The bored and frustrated teenagers responded by throwing rocks at the patrol car, breaking the rear window. The youth then proceeded to throw cherry bombs at the scene, the officers left the scene, returning later with reinforcement.

Property violence began at 1 a.m. as rumors of police-initiated brutality began to circulate among the crowd. The group began to disperse from the parking lot and poured onto the main strip.  They released their anger, frustration, and helplessness in fires and shattered glass along North Twenty-Fourth Street.

As North Omaha Sun reporter Charles Hein noted, “While this was not an organized civil rights protest in the established sense of the term, the civil rights undercurrent was strong, and still is.” The uprising participants echoed the grievances that African American advocated had been making for years.

Then, President Lyndon Baines Johnson established the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder on July, 29, 1967. The commission sought to answer three basic questions: “What happened?” Why did it happen?” and ‘What can be done to prevent it from happening again?”

To find out more check out the summer 2017 issue of Nebraska

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