Valuable History of the Most Invaluable part of town

Cory Griffen, Opinion Writer

iffen North Omaha, once being the busiest business district in the city, is now defined by the run down buildings and the lost memories of a prosperous neighborhood.

Once being a cultural center, the area had an influx of immigrants from the late 1880s all the way up to the mid 1910s, leading to an increase in workers and shoppers, which made the community strong.

The place was a melting pot, full of grocery stores, hardware shops and barbers, as well as doctors and dentists. It prospered during World War I, providing jobs to needy families and new opportunities for African Americans and women.

When World War I ended, it was the first time white middle class men had to compete for jobs, which led to unrest and eventually a riot in the summer of 1919.

John Brown, an African American accused of a rape that he did not commit because he was physically impaired, was hung on a light post, shot hundreds of times, then burned. The rioters pillaged the courthouse where he was held for trial, and attempted to murder the mayor. This is just the beginning of racism and segregation, and an ultimate failure to tend back to the north Omaha community.

From then on, borders that the African Americans could not cross were enforced, called redlining. The city of Omaha denied services, especially bank loans, and ensured that African Americans would only move to the Near North Side, an area just north of downtown. The African American population doubled. North Omaha, although torn apart, still prospered with music and business, including a miniature golf course near 30th Street and Ames Avenue.

A railroad line brought new opportunity to open factories near Fort Omaha. These provided jobs to many of the residents, including the Overland Trail Rubber Factory, and a cookie and cracker factory, that still stands today and is owned by Omaha Public Schools.

After World War II, north Omaha was at its prime, with thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of residents. Car dealerships opened, as well as new houses were built. During this time new parks and new schools were built to compensate the influx of people into the neighborhood.

After the rapid growth, quickly it stagnated, and the population began to drop. Riots drove back people from entering, scaring Caucasian residents out. In the 1960s, the redlining was still in place, and the people who were forced to live within those borders have had enough.

Many of the businesses burned during the tough times and were forced to close. Because of a lack of business, the railroad pulled up its ties, forcing even more factories to shut down. Jobs were lost, and sources of income were now diminished. Poverty was at its highest on record.

Many of the workers in downtown were tired of seeing this destroyed neighborhood, and wanted a way to commute through the neighborhood without seeing the new influx of violence and drugs. The north freeway was proposed.

It was controversial for many reasons, the route would destroy factories, churches, homes, schools, and businesses. When it was proposed, Florence was an area of concern, because the freeway was originally planned to be built to Interstate 680. Most importantly, it would split the neighborhood in two, taking away business, and further ensuring that it is just a forgotten blip on the map.

The houses were cleared, the churches demolished, the kids were sent home from school permanently for the demolition of their educational hubs. Many were underpaid not for the value of their homes, but because their homes were not worth as much as the others on the market, making relocation hard to pay for.

By the end, 180 businesses were displaced, and 1,121 employees lost their jobs. Today the freeway is a painful reminder of how a city can completely uproot a community, and make it nearly impossible to fix. But it is an opportunity for those that can see it

on the topic of north Omaha. Undoubtedly the freeway is a prime spot for illegal material transport, including drugs and guns.

A recent New York Times national survey shows that 44% of panhandlers will spend their money on alcohol or drugs. Marijuana is the #1 go to drug, even illegally. North Omaha has a high panhandling population.

It is not uncommon today to hear about violence today in the north Omaha area. A good portion is because of drug or alcohol influence. Many Omaha residents avoid the area because of fear that one of these brutal things may happen to them, or they will subject their children to the grim truth of the broken neighborhood.

Whole blocks of development have been torn down because they’re condemned or abandoned. The US Census Bureau has reported a decline in population of the region north of Dodge Street and east of 72nd Street since the 1970s. If the trend continues, North Omaha will not be able to be saved.

A big reason for the lack of people, is the lack of nearby jobs. Without jobs, there is no incentive to move in, so the neighborhoods suffer. The city of Omaha is doing a good job of building new houses, but nobody productive will move in unless they focus on jobs. If they focus on incentives for those businesses, then the houses will build themselves, and the neighborhood will naturally revitalize.

The problem in north Omaha could be easily fixed if the city would provide an incentive for jobs. It is time to tell the city what we want, because it has a very high chance that it will not be able to be fixed if we wait too much longer.