African American Owned Businesses
What were some of the numerous purposes black-owned businesses served in the North Omaha community, and how did they change over time?
Unity in the Community
Robins Drug store was located at 2306 N. 24th St in 1936.
(Photo courtesy of the Durham Western Heritage Museum, Omaha)
Have you ever walked down 24th Street and wondered about the history behind it? During the 1930s, N. 24th Street transitioned from a predominantly Jewish community to a largely African American neighborhood. During the 1930s, there were several local African American-owned businesses, such as Myers Funeral Home (pictured below), Robins Drug (pictured right), and Harris Grocery Store (pictured below). During the Civil Rights movement of the fifties and sixties, several African American-owned restaurants opened and became significant community centers, such as Skeets Barbecue and Time Out Chicken, where we did our oral history. Civil Rights activists gathered at the Fair Deal Café.
But the riots of the Civil Rights movement caused many thriving businesses to be burned. Today, with the growth of North Downtown, North Omaha has a chance to get back on its feet. Several businesses have taken over as important community institutions and social centers, such as Youngblood's Barber Shop (pictured below), Nared's Peewee Palace (pictured below), and Thomas Funeral Home. Many people believe that North Omaha will pick up again, including one businesswoman, Diane Mercer of Time Out Chicken. We agree because of the growth of North Downtown, the new stadium, and the proximity to the North Omaha business district.
Harris Grocery Store
This is the Harris Grocery Store in 1930. This picture was taken on 5306 S. 30th St.
(Photo courtesy of the Durham Western Heritage Museum)
Myers Funeral Home
Myers has been a part of North Omaha's business community for 90 years, but sadly, it closed its doors earlier in 2011. Larry Myers was the 3rd generation of directors from the same family. This is significant because it is unusual for a business to be a part of a family for that long. Myers has also been in the same location, 22nd and Lake Street, for the whole 90 years.
Fair Deal Cafe was opened in 1953 by Charles Hall. It's a place where you can get a "square meal for a fair deal." During the 1960s it also served as a meeting place for activists in the Civil Rights movement. This is significant because it promoted unity in the African American community.
Photo courtesy of the Omaha World-Herald (Feb. 2001) and the Douglas County Historical Society.
Time Out Take Out Chicken
This picture is of the menu to Time Out Take Out Chicken circa 1969. The prices on this menu are a lot cheaper than present-day prices at Time Out Chicken. The top part of the menu is an advertisement for the new "Big Frank" hot dog. The Big Bob Burger, named after professional sports stars Bob Boozer and Bob Gibson, had already been established. This menu is from around the time Diane Mercer's parents purchased the restaurant. Time Out Chicken has been at 30th and Evans, in North Omaha, for 43 years. It has had some competition from other fried chicken restaurants but continues to do well. During the past years, it has been passed down from Ms. Mercer's parents to her and her brother, who currently run the restaurant.
Youngblood's Barber Shop
Youngblood's opened in 1977 on 40th and Ames. It is still open for business today.
Nared's Pee Wee Palace
Nared's Pee Wee Palace Day Care, on 36th and Crown Point. The daycare opened in 1979.
Courtney, Julianna, and Jaylen trace the history of African American-owned businesses from the 1930s to the present day, even though the first black migrants arrived in Nebraska from southern states as early as the 1850s. Businesses owned by urban African Americans began to crop up along and near North 24th Street after 1920 when residential segregation created a clearly-defined African American neighborhood, and many white employers’ discriminatory policies made it difficult for blacks to hold lasting jobs. Segregation created a market for neighborhood family businesses, and “encouraged a distinct and flourishing black culture on Omaha’s Near North Side” (Ashley Howard).
As of October 1932, there were ninety-four individual businesses, formal and informal, conducted by African Americans, including drug and grocery stores, tailors, gas stations, “expressmen,” restaurants, barbershops and beauty parlors, newspapers, taxi services, real estate agencies, and undertakers. This long list gives the impression of great success in the nascent black business community, but the average lifespan of a black-owned business during that time was two years, the exception being the Myers Funeral Home, which had already been in business twelve years at the time of the 1932 study and survived until early 2011.
The author of the study listed several reasons that it was difficult for blacks in the 1930s to begin and maintain businesses, a prominent one being the lack of capital and difficulty in securing loans. When the students interviewed Ms. Diane Mercer of Time Out Chicken, she informed them that lending was the main challenge for her business in 1972, forty years later.
This is where the students pick up the story, explaining the decline of the Near North Side because of race riots that caused many buildings to be burned all throughout the Near North Side, but especially along North 24th Street in the 1960s. North Omaha experienced its years of glory in the early twentieth century, and it can rise out of the aftermath of the turbulent sixties into a strong business community and neighborhood.
"My image of North Omaha has changed dramatically. It isn't just a place where crimes and killings happen; it's a place that was vibrant and alive. I believe it can get back to that. With this website and word of mouth, we can change North Omaha for the better."
- Julianna C.
"My understanding of the North Omaha neighborhood and Omaha's African American history has changed because now I feel closer to this area. I have gotten firsthand information from a businesswoman, and now I think about how 24th Street used to be, more than how it is now. 24th Street used to be lively and full of excitement, a fun community where everyone felt they belonged. Because many people moved away, this area faced some struggles, but I truly believe that it can return to what it used to be."
- Courtney K.
"I used to see North 24th Street as just a regular street, but now that I have done this camp, I think of N. 24th St. as a very important part of Omaha. This camp has changed my view of things drastically; I now wonder how much history is still hidden. I would like to see a revitalization of N. 24th St., and I believe that one day it will change."
- Jaylen F.
Howard, Ashley M. "Then the Burning Began: Omaha, Riots, and the Growth of Black Radicalism 1966–1969." Master's thesis, University of Nebraska at Omaha, 2006.
Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission. "Chapter II: A Brief History of North Omaha." In Patterns on the Landscape: Heritage Conservation in North Omaha, 6-65. Omaha, NE: The Comission, 1984.
Sullenger, T. Earl and Harvey Kerns. Industrial and Business Life of Negroes in Omaha. Omaha, NE: Municipal University of Omaha and Urban League, 1932.
Workers of the Writers’ Program, Works Progress Administration (WPA), Nebraska. The Negroes of Nebraska. Lincoln, NE: Woodruff Printing Company, 1940.
Research compiled by: Courtney K., Julianna C., Jaylen F.