Omaha Race Riot

    The “Omaha Race Riot” was a riot that occurred in the city of Omaha, Nebraska from September 28th-29th during the year of 1919. The riot took place during the time period known as “The Red Summer”, which involved a series of race riots in dozens of cities across the country during the summer and early autumn. These riots resulted in hundreds of deaths focused largely around the rights of African American citizens. But before diving into the significance of “The Red Summer” and how the ripple effects of it affected society for decades to come it is important to discuss how “The Omaha Race Riot” fits perfectly into the timeline of the chain of events that took place in The United States at this time. 1.

(Map of the Major Race Riots and lynchings during the Red Summer of 1919) 2. “History: Red Summer Begins, Emmett Till Born.” The Clarion Ledger. July 21, 2015. Accessed March 19, 2019.

   The root of issue brings us back to September 25th of 1919 which was three days prior to the incident. Keep in mind at this time in history World War One was just wrapping up and many African Americans serving in the United States military were now returning to their homes. After just winning the war these men came home with a certain type of confidence determined to continue to fight for freedom at home and attain basic civil rights as their white counterparts. As W.E.B. Du Bois proclaimed in his editorial around the year of 1919’s racial violence, Returning Soldiers, “We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting. Before World War I, the NAACP had just 9000 members nationwide and only 300 in the South, but by the early 1920s, national membership had risen to 100,000, with Southern chapters constituting a slight majority. African Americans had returned home from the war with new and contagious confidence and assertiveness.” 3. 

(The arrival of the 369th Black infantry regiment in New York after World War I, Undated) 4.  Williams, Chad. “What Came After World War I for African-American Veterans.” Time. November 12, 2018. Accessed March 19, 2019.

    But let us rewind back to the night of September 25th at around twelve in the morning. Milton Hoffman and Agnes Loback, both white, just left a late movie when they were assaulted by a man at gunpoint. They claimed that this man proceeded to rob Hoffman for all his jewelry, watch, money, and a couple of other items before he grabbed the nineteen-year-old Agnes into a back alley and proceeded to rape her. It was the next day when a newspaper company known as “The Omaha Bee”, which was infamously notorious for yellow journalism, reported that a “black beast” was the one responsible for the incident. Following this police, investigators, and 400 armed men swarmed under the control Agnes’ brother Joseph looking for the man responsible. After polling everyone Agnes knew, one of her neighbors made light of a “suspicious negro”, known as Will Brown, who lived a few houses down with another white woman and black man. They arrived at the scene with Brown hiding under his bed and dragged him out with a shotgun held to his cheek all the way to the house of the alleged victims. They claimed to have recognized Brown as the attacker responsible from the night prior. 5.

(Photograph of Will Brown, 1919) 6. “RED SUMMER REVISITED.” Accessed March 19, 2019.           

In 1919, there was widespread tension between “White America,” and African Americans seeking more rights and freedoms at this time. People were not ready for change and this was the biggest factor leading to all these race riots during the summer of 1919. There was a political battle in the city of Omaha itself between those who wanted to see progression in the rights of black citizens and those who did not. And the “Omaha Bee” was notorious was the main source for all of these “brand new racial crimes” popping off all over out of the blue. They had an agenda they wanted readers and followers in Omaha to follow and by putting it into writing fueled everyone’s desire to resist the incorporation of African-Americans into society. In simpler terms they gave people the ammunition they needed to stir the pot no matter how exaggerated or even fake the news story may be. The paper had tons of political ties as well which was no help as well. One of the biggest factors these racially dividing stories had was that they all shared was the idea of “big scary black men” preying on “innocent small white women.” It was an easy target that most people would find easy to believe at this time with all the racial prejudices this time period had. 7.

(In September 1919, “doughboys” trained in WWI came to protect African Americans in North Omaha from white rioters.) 8.   Sasse, Adam Fletcher. “The Lynching of Will Brown.” North Omaha History. March 06, 2019. Accessed March 19, 2019.

    Will Brown was arrested, and spent the night at the local police station for a night before being sent to the courthouse jail shortly after that Sunday morning on September 28th. The situation did not seem to be that dangerous initially, but things changed for the worse. It began with a crowd of a mere 300 outside the courthouse, to nearly 4,000 as the day grew on. The crowd was furious and wanted them to release Brown to them and do as they please to make him pay for the terrible acts they believed he committed. They began to set fire to the building and eventually broke into the building with force and by the use of weapons. The Mayor, Edward P. Smith tried to restore order but almost fell victim to the mob as well before being rescued because he was trying to defend Brown. Shortly after the rioters finally got to Brown and they brought him to the leaders of the riot but by the time they got him to the bottom floor he was already beaten to death. But his death was not enough for the mob. They wanted more to make things even for the evil crimes he committed. They wanted to make an example of Will Brown for any other African American who wanted to act out of line with all the other race riots going on around the nation transpiring. His corpse was swayed onto a high rope and was then pelted with bullets. But even this was not enough. The crowd took the body of Will Brown down the road to be burned for everyone to see on display. They then took whatever remained of his body and paraded it around the city of Omaha as some type of trophy to prove a point that they achieved their goal. 9.

(The Remains of Will Brown being burned in the streets of Omaha Nebraska, September 28, 2019) 10. Thiscruelwar. “Of Mobs, Testimony and Stumbling into a White Girl – This Week in Historical Lynchings.” This Cruel                         War. September 06, 2016. Accessed March 19, 2019.

        With all of this in mind it brings up an important question. Why does this matter and how does this fit in with “The Red Summer of 1919?” As I previously stated, this time period from the early summer to early autumn was one of the most pivotal racial summers in our nation’s history. The name itself refers to the 25 plus “anti-black riots” that took place across the nation in cities like Houston, Chicago, Washington D.C. and more just to name a few. Like I also previously stated many of the African Americans coming home from World War One were coming back ready to fight the racial battle at the home-front of the country they just risked their lives fighting for. They wanted change from all the racial inequality, discrimination, and segregation that were taking place and they were determining to play a big role in stopping it. White citizens as a result responded with these race riots against any progressive movement. Around 100,000 black veterans had to move north where they still encountered segregation. 11. Anti-black riots were nothing new, but the black resistance was. “In Washington and Chicago, they set up barricades to protect their neighborhoods while marksmen “manned rooftops with rifles.” In Knoxville, Tenn., armed blacks established a perimeter at their community’s edge and shot out street lights to impede white attackers. The New York Times found that “practically every one of the 10,000 Negroes in Omaha was armed and . . . ready to fight for his life and home” “according to the Chicago Tribune. One of the most important factors was the NAACP in fighting for the rights of Black Americans. Their enrollment jumped to over 85,000 in these race riots across America. 12.

(Omaha Herald headline in 1919 after the lynching of Will Brown) 13. Writer, Micah Mertesworld-Herald Staff. “THE LYNCHING OF WILL BROWN.” August 27, 2017.Accessed March 25, 2019.

     All in all, the impact and significance of race riots goes far beyond the number of casualties or how awful they seemed to be. They started a movement like we have never seen before in our nation’s history. These race riots across the country, just like in Omaha, awakened Black America politically, socially, and agriculturally like we have never seen before. One might say that something similar happened during the Civil War. But this was different. The Civil War was fought between predominantly between the North and the South over the right of slavery, but it was not African-Americans who led these movements for the most part. And even after the war it gave black Americans only minimal rights as racism, segregation, and the treatment to them as second-class citizens were not enough. With these primary movements during the “Red Summer” of 1919 was Black America finally starting to form their own identity we see to this day. It was African-Americans beginning to finally realize, and then act over the mistreatment they have been taking for centuries was enough. A shift was undoubtedly beginning to formalize. It was the beginning of the dismantlement of the institutional prejudice that is so deeply rooted in American society which began with the slave trips sent to Africa to capture natives and make them slaves in the new world. 1919 and all of the race riots that took place was the earlier beginning of what would be eventually known as the “Civil Right Era” we saw began to form in the 1960’s led by activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and many others. This was the time period that finally corrected the foundational inequality that our nation has had since its birth. Although the progress was very minimal and was not very noticeable it did play a huge role in placing the framework for the beginning of African-Americans rights. It was the birth of Black America’s fight to say enough was enough. It gave everyone who came after them the confidence to build off their work and make it even better as each decade would past. It is what led us to the Civil Rights Era in the 1960’s as I previously stated along with eventually to getting where we are today in society. It even still is a work in progress to this day but the progress in fixing America’s institutional racism was certainly started by “The Red Summer” of 1919 with riots such as the Chicago, D.C. and in this case with the “Omaha Race Riot”. It was the formation of something special on the horizon. It was the coming out party for Civil Rights one might say. 14.




1. Omaha’s Riot in Story and Picture – 1919. Accessed March 19, 2019.


2. “History: Red Summer Begins, Emmett Till Born.” The

                Clarion Ledger. July 21, 2015. Accessed March 19, 2019.                     



3. “Red Summer of 1919.” Equal Justice Initiative. Accessed March 19, 2019.



4.  Williams, Chad. “What Came After World War I for African-American Veterans.” Time.

                   November 12, 2018. Accessed March 19, 2019.


5. “Lest We Forget: The Lynching of Will Brown, Omaha’s 1919 Race Riot.” History Nebraska.

                   Accessed March 19, 2019.’s-1919-race-                          riot.


6. “RED SUMMER REVISITED.” Accessed March 19, 2019.



7.   Ibid, “Lest We Forget:”.


8.   Sasse, Adam Fletcher. “The Lynching of Will Brown.” North Omaha History. March 06, 2019. Accessed March 19, 2019.



9.  “Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.” Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | OMAHA RACE RIOT. Accessed March 19, 2019.



10. Thiscruelwar. “Of Mobs, Testimony and Stumbling into a White Girl – This Week in Historical Lynchings.” This Cruel

                        War. September 06, 2016. Accessed March 19, 2019.


11. Ibid, “Red Summer of 1919”.


12. Arnesen, Eric. “‘Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America’ by Cameron McWhirter.”

                September 05, 2018. Accessed March 25, 2019.   




13. Writer, Micah Mertesworld-Herald Staff. “THE LYNCHING OF WILL BROWN.” August 27, 2017.

Accessed March 25, 2019.



14.  Krugler, David Frederick. 1919, the Year of Racial Violence: How African Americans Fought Back. New York, NY: Cambridge

University Press, 2015.

1 Comment

  • Shanda Boyd (Shanda Taylor Zachariah-Walker) December 13, 2022 at 5:41 am Reply

    Wow! This is remarkable information. I have noticed that the photo of Mr. Brown is nearly identical to my Great Uncle Zachariah Walker’s photo. Uncle Zach was burned alive in Coatesville, PA (my hometown) in 1911.

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