Charles B. Washington - Journalist and Civil Rights Leader
How did Charles Washington unite his work and service to the community in pursuit of the same set of goals?
A Voice for North Omaha.
Charles B. Washington was an important man to the North Omaha community. Washington was born in Omaha, Nebraska on Dec. 1, 1923. As a child, he went to Howard Kennedy Elementary for grammar school and later went to Omaha Central and Omaha North High Schools. As a young man, Washington was a paperboy for The Omaha Star Newspaper, an all-African American run business. As a young adult, Washington wasn’t only a journalist and mentor, but he was also a civil rights activist. When the people of North Omaha had problems or questions, they would turn to Washington for answers. Throughout his life, he helped young people in the North Omaha community in multiple ways, including: providing financial support, giving advice, and connecting people with other resources. This earned him the nickname of “The Godfather of North Omaha.” Washington respected those around him and taught his pupils to respect everyone. Charles B. Washington is remembered as a strong fighter for equality among races. He was a man truly deserving of the honor of being memorialized in his community.
Video: 4 minute video interviewing photojournalist Rudy Smith who was a friend and mentee of Charles B. Washington. He shares the impact Washington had on the African American community and the Civil Rights movement.
"Journalism at its finest"
This is a picture of The Omaha Star located in Omaha at 2216 N. 24th St. It was established in 1938. In this historic building, journalists published and wrote stories about the African American community. This is where Charles B. Washington worked as a journalist during the civil rights era.
A "Tree Shaker"
This newspaper article is a prime example of how the Omaha community looked at Washington. The article is an interview with him about interactions he had with people in the community. The title selection describes Washington and state senator Ernie Chambers as ‘Tree Shakers,” comparing their advocacy style to the act of shaking trees violently, trying to make whatever is at the top fall.
(Photograph courtesy of Charles B Washington Branch Library)
Charles B. Washington was not only a civil rights activist and a journalist, he was also a mentor for young adults. Washington supported his students with financial aid if they couldn’t provide it for themselves. In this picture, Washington is enjoying the time that he is spending with young adults. Washington has a book, and it looks like he just taught the young adults. (Photograph courtesy of memories.ne.gov)
Charles B. Washington did many things for the North Omaha community, but mentoring was one of the most important ways for him to help his community. Washington was a mentor to young adults in North Omaha and taught his pupils many things. Washington emphasized perseverance, the importance of hard work, and the need to endure any adversity that challenged them. Johnny Rodgers and Bob Gibson, who both became successful athletes, were pupils of Washington. Jennifer Keyes, who became a community leader, was another pupil of Washington. Washington was a man who cared for future generations and wanted kids to grow up knowing they deserved equal rights. Washington loved spending time with young people. In fact, his favorite place to be was his home full of young people; former Mayor of Omaha Mike Boyle recalls several occasions seeing Washington mentoring young adults at his North Omaha home. Washington's impact on the North Omaha community made people realize that they can do so much for the community. Charles B. Washington was appreciated and loved in the North Omaha community and his work lives on through his great students.
As a young man, Washington worked for The Omaha Star delivering newspapers. He was also a reader of the paper and loved to read about current events. After graduating from high school, he was employed as a journalist at The Omaha Star. Washington acquired the skills necessary to be a journalist without a formal college education in the field of journalism. Using his position as a writer, he published stories about the African American community in North Omaha. Some of his articles were about political disputes, sports, and racial issues. In order to get content to write his articles, Washington spoke to the community about their concerns; he also wrote about his own observations. Through his writing, Washington informed readers about the happenings in North Omaha. His position as a journalist reinforced his other work that he did as a civil rights activist and a youth mentor.
Charles B. Washington is remembered for fighting strongly for equality among races. Washington was very active in the community of North Omaha, and he always listened to and voiced the opinions of people who talked to him. Washington was a non-violent, yet aggressive fighter for Black rights. Washington once spoke at a UNO hearing that would decide whether or not the Black Studies Department would become a much smaller program. Washington called for the resignation of Julien Lafontant, the man responsible for the budget cuts. He asked him to stand up, but he wasn’t in attendance. When Washington discovered this, he brought it to the attention of the audience. Washington spoke for the large Black community in North Omaha, and it wouldn’t be the same today without his extremely important contributions.
A 2015 MIHV Project
"What I am getting from this program is information that other people don’t know. I learned that Charles B Washington was a leader and a voice for the African American community. I’m excited that I had the chance to present this information to the rest of my peers."
- Devin B.
"Making Invisible Histories Visible has been an educational experience that I have been through in the last two weeks. I learned many things while doing the program. In fact, I never knew who Charles B. Washington was until I began the program. I have also met new people to work with and gotten to know more about those people. Being in the Making Invisible Histories Visible program has made me think more like a historian."
- Patrick N.
"Making Invisible Histories Visible has probably been the best learning experience I’ve ever had. The people are very diverse and cool and there are constant field trips around Omaha to keep things interesting. MIHV was the first opportunity to perform an actual interview, and my first time editing towards a goal more professional than a personal YouTube video."
- Jordan B.
Charles B. Washington Surrounded by Children. Digital image. Nebraska Memories. Omaha Public Library, n.d. Web. 24` July 2015.
Charles B. Washington Funeral Program. Apr. 1986. Omaha.
Boyle, Michael. "Charles B. Washington Library." Message to Larry King. 17 Aug. 2014. E-mail.
Boyle, Michael. "Mike Boyle Interview." Personal interview. 21 July 2015.
Smith, Rudy. "Rudy Smith Interview." Personal interview. 20 July 2015
"Charles B. Washington Collection." Nebraska Memories. Nebraska State Government, n.d. Web. July 2015.
Steinauer, BIll. "Washington Is a Tree Shaker." Omaha Sun 29 Aug. 2015: 1B-4B. Print.
Mangen, Chris. "UNO Supporters Fill Auditorium to Protest Cuts." The Gateway [Omaha] 22 Feb. 1984, 83rd ed., sec. 41: n. pag. Print.
Smith, Alonzo N. "Charles B. Washington." Black Nebraskans Interviews From the Nebraska Black Oral History Project II. Omaha: Black Studies Department, U of Nebraska at Omaha, 1982. 36-37. Print.
Research compiled by: Patrick N., Devin B., and Jordan B.