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Chatelain: Brendan Sullivan's dedication and vision helped capture spirit of North Omaha

Chatelain: Brendan Sullivan's dedication and vision helped capture spirit of North Omaha

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The stories are distinct, but their origin is the same: a neighborhood so vibrant, so unified that individual accomplishments and devastations touched every house from Tech High to Kountze Park. A neighborhood where, depending on the night, they might see Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Ray Charles, James Brown, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens or Jackie Robinson – just walking down 24th Street. A neighborhood despite its humble size and remote location in middle America, became a progressive beacon in the national protest movement, recognized by would-be presidents and would-be revolutionaries.

I hit the wall near Mound City.

It was almost midnight and we’d been on the road since 7 a.m. I reclined the passenger seat and nodded off, trusting Brendan Sullivan to pilot us home.

This was summer 2019, a few days before the 4th of July. Brendan, already an ace World-Herald photographer, was starting a companion documentary to the World-Herald book, “24th & Glory.” A portrait of Nebraska’s greatest generation of athletes who came of age during the Civil Rights Movement.

We faced several obstacles in producing a documentary, including the declining health of our main characters. When I suggested traveling to St. Louis to interview a critical source, Brendan didn’t hesitate. We drove 430 miles, set up a studio in Rodney Wead’s living room, conducted a 3-hour interview with him, then drove 430 miles back.

I woke up near Council Bluffs and Brendan asked if I could drive as we crossed the Missouri River. He wanted to get a night-time shot of downtown.

That’s the kind of dedication and vision that makes Sullivan such a great journalist. And that’s what makes his new “24th & Glory” documentary such a joy to watch. Sullivan captures the spirit and humanity of North Omaha, connecting past and present with fresh perspective.

The book told the story mostly through the eyes of the athletes — Gibby, Booz, Gale, Roger, Marlin, Boone and Johnny. The documentary tells the story mostly through community members like Dan Goodwin, Preston Love Jr., Ben Gray, Jerry Bartee, Brenda Council and John Beasley. In their faces and voices, you feel the neighborhood’s pride and pain.

The film is bolstered by Jon Nyatawa’s narration, Matt Haney’s illustrations, archival footage of the South Omaha stockyards and a treasure trove of World-Herald photographs. But the highlight is Sullivan’s gorgeous videography.

Time and time again, Sullivan delivers powerful images of Omaha’s Black community. From a Juneteenth parade to a street-naming ceremony to the solemn observance of Will Brown 100 years after a white mob lynched him outside the courthouse.

Sullivan completed the documentary last spring before social justice protests swept the country. The film is even more resonant now.

“No one knew what 2020 would soon present us with,” Sullivan said. “It’s been overwhelming for everyone.”

Sullivan now lives in Kentucky, where he works at Bellarmine University. His departure — coupled with COVID-19 — left The World-Herald with a conundrum. Where and how do we release the documentary?

Sullivan’s work deserves a formal premiere at a jam-packed Omaha theatre. Hopefully someday. For now, you can watch the documentary at the top of the page .

Bonus content: More stories from the '24th & Glory' series

There were so many great stories to tell as part of our "24th & Glory" project, we couldn't get all of them into the series. Check out these articles for more interesting facts related to the Omaha civil rights movement and the extraordinary athletes who came out of the city during that time.

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This is why the "24th & Glory" series is so important, and took so long to put together.

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Three months after Joe Louis whacked Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium, the heavyweight champion whiffed in Omaha.

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In 1942, Robinson had just been drafted into the Army and assigned to a segregated unit at Fort Riley, Kansas, alongside Joe Louis. 

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The best way to land one free housing project in the depths of the Great Depression? Shoot for two.

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Creighton University was a long way from the Deep South, but the Rev. John Markoe recognized sin when he saw it.

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Deacon Jones didn’t have an address in North Omaha. But the two-time Olympian always had a dinner plate.

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Dave Rimington may be the greatest college center ever. He’s also a testament to South Omaha’s punch-the-clock culture.

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Sayers had signed a grant-in-aid agreement to Nebraska in June, but a recruiting visit to Lincoln still bothered him.

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Before Bob Boozer ever dunked a basketball, he dreamed of wearing a gold medal.

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From the city’s founding through the 1880s, North Omaha featured a collection of estates and acreages outside the city limits. Then Herman Kountze raised the bar.

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Omaha’s location as a railroad hub in the middle of the country made it convenient to performers.

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The letter to the editor does not state the man’s age or race. Simply his name: “Ernest Chambers.”

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In a span of 24 hours, two white adults in authoritative positions let Bartee down, prompting more reflection. More questions.

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Of the countless audacious ideas hatched inside Spencer Street Barber Shop over the years, this one ranked among the wildest.

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If Bob Gibson had played for the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers, he might have left Omaha for good.


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Reporter - Sports

Dirk writes stories and columns about Husker football in addition to covering general assignments and enterprise for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @dirkchatelain. Phone: 402-444-1062.

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