1950s -1960s African American Civil Rights Organizations
What were the various goals, strategies, and tactics used by different groups to advance civil rights and Black Power, and how effective do you think each group was?
Fight for Rights
Zion Baptist Church is located at 22nd and Grant. Its minister in 1963 was one of the founding leaders of the 4CL.
Civil Rights: Tactics and Strategy for Change
Segregation. Discrimination. Unfair. These are the words that were commonly used by the North Omaha Black community in the 1950s and 1960s to describe the struggles of minorities. These words would thrive in a new era, The Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement was made up of citizens who wanted to achieve equality, to take charge of their lives, and to do something to make things right, not only for Blacks, but other ethnic groups as well. Some groups were non-violent, such as the 4CL (the Citizens Coordinating Committee for Civil Liberties) and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Others were more radical, such as the Black Panthers. However, they all shared a common goal: Civil Rights.
A 6:19 video in 2011 interviewing Archie Godfrey about his work integrating Peony Park through the NAACP Youth Council.
The DePorres Club was a Civil Rights organization of Black and White Creighton University students started in 1947. The sponsor of the club was Father John Markoe. Markoe believed that racism was a sin against God. Therefore, he decided to do something about it. The group's main focus was the desegregation of businesses. One of the most commonly used strategies was holding campaigns against local businesses. An example of this was the Reed Ice Cream Campaign to pressure the company to allow Blacks to work there. The DePorres Club thought the employment policy was unfair, because Blacks were the best customers at Reed's. So they hosted sit-ins and picketed the stores. The club also ran campaigns to get the streetcar company to hire Black drivers and the Coca-Cola Company to open employment to minorities. The DePorres Club did a lot of demonstrations, initiated court cases, and helped desegregate schools. After the 4CL was formed in 1963, the DePorres Club slowly faded into the background. They should be remembered because they played a big part in the early years of the civil rights movement in Omaha.
The Citizens' Coordinating Committee for Civil Liberties (4CL) was another civil rights group, formed in 1963. Although the group was militant, they were non-violent in their civil disobedience. Two of the men who founded the group were Rev. Rudolph McNair, pastor of Zion Baptist Church, and Rev. Kelsey Jones. One of their biggest focuses was fair housing, and they held numerous sit-ins and marches. One tactic the committee did that got a lot of publicity, was at a city council meeting in 1963. The group had a sing-in, and many were arrested for singing protest songs. The 4CL said that what the Black community wanted was for someone to care, so they stepped up to the plate. The group was significant because it persistently pressured Omaha’s government to hold true to its promises of equality. They encouraged more African Americans to get involved, especially those who were not satisfied with the NAACP’s tactics. It was a way of unifying many in the Near North Side community. (Douglas County Historical Society Archive Photo)
Not the Best Summer for Peony Park
Peony Park was a popular recreation site near 76th and Cass streets with an amusement park and a large sandy beach swimming facility. In the summer of 1963, the NAACP Youth Council competently fought the discriminatory practice of excluding Blacks from the swimming area. The group organized non-violent protests until justice was served. One of the things they did was to keep their cars at the only entrance to the park, thus backing up the lines, causing others to not be admitted. Archie Godfrey, former president of the Youth Council, said that protection was always an important factor when organizing these non-violent protests. As a safety precaution, the youth decided it would be best to get the media there, so anything that happened would be caught on film. With the help of Rudy Smith, the first Black photographer for the Omaha World-Herald, they were able to accomplish that.
The owner of the park, Joseph Malec, struck back by re-opening the park as a “private club”; to get into the park people needed a membership, but this was not a permanent solution. On a Sunday afternoon, 20 young African Americans were given membership applications. A dozen filled them out and turned them in. They still were not allowed into Peony Park. They decided to take matters to court. According to a July 25, 1963 article in the Omaha Sun, “ The law is clear. ' All persons,' says a Nebraska statute, are entitled to equal accommodations at 'inns, restaurants, public conveyances, barber shops, theaters, and other places of amusement.’” Through their persistence, Archie Godfrey and the NAACP Youth Council won the battle of desegregating Peony Park.
(In the picture: The building attached to St. Benedict's Church, where they held debates about whether to protest Peony Park or not. Location: 2423 Grant Street)
Most people who think about the Black Panthers Party do not really know its history, especially that of the party in Omaha. Black power is, for the most part, political power and economic power exercised by Blacks. The Black Panthers were known as a radical group that focused on helping the community. For example, they held a Free Breakfast Program to feed underprivileged kids. Their main goals were fair housing, more jobs for minorities, equality in education. The goals were much the same as those of other civil rights activists at the time, but the Panthers also advocated armed self-defense of the community.
Their tactics to accomplish equality included having huge rallies, and having sponsors speak to the community. In the Omaha Black Panthers Party, the leader was Eddie Bolden. He was expelled in 1969 for unknown reasons, and as a result, the Black Panthers disbanded. A new group developed called the National Committee to Combat Fascism followed the same agenda as the Black Panthers. The group came under fire in 1970 when an Omaha police officer was killed in an explosion. Group members David Rice and Edward Poindexter were convicted of the murder. Although the Black Panthers attracted a lot of controversy, an important part of their legacy is showing the many different ways that African Americans tried to achieve equality.
(Douglas County Historical Society Archive Photo)
Omaha is full of history. The tactics and strategies used in Omaha in the 1950s and 1960s to achieve local civil rights mirror those used by some of the most important figures in American history. We are all familiar with Martin Luther King and his “I Have a Dream” speech, Rosa Parks, and her refusal to give up her seat on the bus, and Freedom Riders who courageously stood up for what they believed in. It is important to remember the famous strategies and tactics used to obtain equal rights. It is also important to commemorate other heroes and leaders that were important on a local level who fought for equality in Omaha. The DePorres Club, Youth NAACP, 4CL, and Black Panthers shaped our city and its civil rights movement.
The DePorres Club was a unique group of white and Black students working together in order to achieve equality, including desegregation. The DePorres Club leader, Father John Markoe, said, “racism is a sin against God.” Their tactics included meetings and they tried to open employment opportunities to Blacks, through campaigns, demonstrations and litigation.
The discrimination practiced by the owners of Peony Park and the Youth NAACP's response to it is a memorable moment in Omaha's civil rights history. Peony Park's management refused to let Blacks into the pool. The NAACP Youth Council decided to work to desegregate the pool and held protests in front of the park. The park's policies and the protests caused a great deal of controversy. In the end, the NAACP Youth Council's protests were successful: Peony Park began admitting Blacks into its facilities. As part of the Making Invisible Histories Visible program, OPS students conducted an interview (featured in the video on this webpage) with Archie Godfrey, who was a leader of the NAACP Youth Council. Godfrey provides a first-hand account of his experience trying to integrate Peony Park and the reasons why it was important to protest and stop the racism that was so prevalent.
Zion Baptist Church in North Omaha was where the 4CL- the Citizens Coordinating Committee for Civil Liberties met. The group's main focus was fair housing and, through their encouragement, more African Americans were involved in unifying the Near North Side community. Finally, the Black Panthers was a group that formed, and although they had similar goals, such as more employment and educational opportunities for Blacks and fair housing, they also advocated self-defense. Godfrey said that the Black Panthers served as a self-help program. They fed the poor, educated the young, but were better known for violence and guns, as this was their way of protecting the community against the police.
The students discovered many things about civil rights and the tactics and strategies that were used to end racism, segregation and discrimination. On their historical journey through Omaha, they visited the Douglas County Historical Society and, with extensive research, they learned that Omaha has a rich and vibrant history that is sometimes not known and can be easily forgotten. This program allowed them to discover that rich past and make this invisible history, once again, visible.
2011 MIHV Project
"What I learned about myself is that I am really interested in African American history especially Omaha's. I never knew they fought so much for our rights."
— Jennifer B.
"I've learned a lot about myself over this past week. Looking back on everything I've learned, and everything I've seen I truly believe I would not be strong enough to go through what African Americans went through at that time."
— Deziree R.
"I learned that you can do anything no matter what age you are."
— Jontayvia S.
Douglas County Historical Society, Newspaper clippings archives.
Godfrey, Archie. Personal Interview. July 19, 2011, Omaha, Nebraska.
Howard, Ashley M. Then the Burning Began: Omaha Riots, and the Growth of Black
Radicalism, 1966-1969. MA Thesis, University of Nebraska-Omaha, 2006.
Smith, J. C., Jr. The Citizens’ Coordinating Committee for Civil Liberties: History, Public Opinion, Analysis. MA Thesis, Creighton University, 1964.
Smith, Jeffrey Harrison. The Omaha DePorres Club. MA Thesis, Creighton University, 1967.
Zurowski, Cory. “Bloodletting: The Minard Murder, the FBI, and the end of Omaha’s Black Panther Party.” The Reader. Volume 14. May 24-30 2007
Special thanks to:
Douglas County Historical Society
Research compiled by: Deziree R., Jennifer B., Jontayvia S.