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City Council, County Board 'recommit to eradicating' racism, express remorse for 1919 Omaha lynching

City Council, County Board 'recommit to eradicating' racism, express remorse for 1919 Omaha lynching

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The Omaha City Council and Douglas County Board officially expressed remorse Tuesday for the 1919 lynching of African American laborer Will Brown by a white mob outside the Douglas County Courthouse.

The City Council and County Board both voted to pass a resolution for the 100th anniversary of the lynching and race riots, in which thousands of white people stormed the courthouse, set it on fire, lynched Brown and desecrated his body and tried to hang the Omaha mayor when he attempted to stop them.

The resolution says the County Board and council “recognize the racially motivated and unlawful lynching of Mr. William Brown by a lawless white mob on the doorsteps of the Douglas County Courthouse on Sept. 28, 1919.”

It said the council and County Board “express great remorse to extended and surviving family members of Mr. Brown, Omaha’s African-American community and the public at large.”

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The resolution also pledged the elected officials to “recommit to eradicating racist acts and sense of privilege that remain today and led to Mr. Brown’s lynching 100 years ago.”

It didn’t stop there. Reflecting efforts to use the anniversary as “a doorway” to deeper dialogue on race, as Omaha’s human rights and relations director put it, the resolution went on to say: “The Douglas County Board and the Omaha City Council are committed to enacting public policy that will reduce racial disparities and inequities in our community and dismantling the structural inequality unearthed in our jurisdictions of local government.”

Both legislative bodies passed the resolution unanimously, 7-0. It’s one of numerous acknowledgments of Omaha’s darkest hour.

In another, an official Community Remembrance Ceremony will take place on the north steps of the courthouse, at 17th and Farnam Streets in downtown Omaha. It’s scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday.

Soil will be collected from the courthouse lawn to go to the Equal Justice Initiative’s national memorial to lynching victims in Montgomery, Alabama. The ceremony is one of several events being coordinated by the Omaha Community Council for Racial Justice and Reconciliation.

Members of the council, including its chairperson, Omaha NAACP President Vickie Young and former State Sen. Brenda Council, were on hand for the votes Tuesday.

On that day in 1919, “Bad people used race hatred to divide us, and in the process, murder Will Brown,” County Board member Jim Cavanaugh said. “And they got away with it.”

He told Young, “You’re helping us to remember what was done to divide us, so that it doesn’t happen again.”

City Council member Ben Gray urged his fellow legislators to focus on a particular part of the resolution.

“We ought not forget, but more importantly, we have to address what we see going on today,” Gray said. “This happened 100 years ago, and today, we still have individuals and organizations and people and some elected officials who are attempting to turn the clock back on us. We cannot allow that to happen.”

World-Herald staff writer Aaron Sanderford contributed to this report.