Lest We Forget: Omaha, Creighton Remember Lynching of Will Brown

Lest We Forget: Omaha, Creighton Remember Lynching of Will Brown

Creighton President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD, joined other Creighton representatives, government officials, community leaders and a crowd of several hundred people outside the Douglas County Courthouse in Omaha on Sept. 28 to mark the 100th anniversary of the horrific lynching of William “Will” Brown in the courthouse square.

The murder of Brown occurred during nationwide race riots that swept across the United States in the spring, summer and fall of 1919 as white Americans attacked black citizens who sought employment and equal status in the wake of their participation in World War I.

The lynching of Brown, one of more than 150 that occurred across the United States in 1919, is considered among the most brutal.

“During the middle months of 1919, dozens of race riots shocked the United States,” Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said. “Much to our shame, one of the worst was right here in Omaha.”

Fr. Hendrickson, in his invocation, asked for divine forgiveness and that society be freed of “the evil of racism and inequality.”

“Aid us, we pray, in overcoming the sin of racism, grant us your grace in eliminating this blight from our hearts, our communities, our social and civic institutions,” he prayed.

“Wake us up so that the evil of racism finds no home within us.”

At the end of the ceremony, soil from the Douglas County Courthouse was distributed into several jars, one of which will be displayed at The Legacy Museum, a project of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. The others will be displayed at various historical locations throughout Omaha.

The event was sponsored by the City of Omaha, Douglas County and the Omaha Community Council for Racial Justice and Reconciliation.

In addition to this community commemoration, Creighton’s Kingfisher Institute for the Liberal Arts and Professions hosted events this fall related to its inaugural theme of Race in America: 1919-2019.

David Blight, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, delivered a public lecture on campus on Sept. 19. And on Sept. 5, Creighton alumnus and author Theodore Wheeler, MA’08, MFA’15, read from his historical novel Kings of Broken Things, followed by a panel discussion on the history of racial violence.  

Kings of Broken Things is set in Omaha and takes place against the backdrop of the 1919 race riots and the lynching of Brown.

“Many people thought that things like this only happened in Alabama or Georgia, never Nebraska,” Wheeler said. “This happened in Omaha, too, and we have to face that.”