Will Brown was due in court on September 28, 1919 after being accused of raping a white woman.
As he was in the Douglas County Courthouse jail, denying his involvement and awaiting trial, a mob stormed into the courthouse and Brown was dragged to the square, where he was then lynched.
A hundred years later, last Saturday, hundreds in Omaha gathered for a remembrance for Will Brown and the lynchings. The remembrance was held at the same spot as the lynching; in front of the courthouse.
“During the middle months of 1919, dozens of race riots shocked the United States, and much to our shame, one of the worst was right here in Omaha,” Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said at the event. “The riot and murder of Will Brown was a terrible end result of a collision of humanity’s failures.”
Stothert went on to say that the lynching was “one of the darkest days in our history.”
According to a Creighton news release, race riots were happening throughout the U.S. in 1919. The lynching of Brown was one of more than 150 occurring in the U.S. that year.
“White supremacy created a black beast. Then, white supremacy created fear around that black beast. White supremacy used lynchings as justifiable homicide as a way of dealing with that fear,” Cynthia Robinson, chair of the Department of Black Studies at UNO, said in her speech. “Lynching was criminal justice. In its day, lynching was law enforcement.”
The Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J., gave an invocation at the event, which featured many of Omaha’s top leaders to speak.
Stothert and Robinson joined Hendrickson as speakers, along with U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, Black Votes Matter President Preston Love and Franklin Thompson, who represented Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts.
According to a Creighton news release, Hendrickson led a prayer during his invocation.
“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 said. “Wake us up so that the evil of racism finds no home with us.”