History Highlights: Education

Omaha native Eugene Skinner became the first African American to hold the positions of principal and assistant superintendent with the Omaha Public Schools (OPS). In his long and distinguished OPS career, he helped ensure implementation of a 1976 court-ordered desegregation plan, and he worked to bring more black educators into the district.

In 1895, Lucinda Gamble was hired as the first African-American teacher by Omaha Public Schools.

Edmae Swain changed the face of local public education when, in 1964, she became the first African-American female principal in OPS.

Katherine Fletcher was the first African-American OPS principal west of 72nd Street and an influential leader who inspired a new generation of educators.

Ramona and Jerry Bartee were among Omaha’s leading education couples. Ramona was an OPS principal before working for Creighton University. Jerry was a principal and athletic director before becoming the first African American to serve on the Nebraska School Activities Association board. He retired as an OPS assistant superintendent.

In the 1960s, OPS recruited black Southern educators to integrate its teacher ranks and several of these new hires went on to be educational and community leaders. The late Thomas Harvey came from Louisiana and served as principal at North High and McMillan Magnet Middle School. The academic success North enjoyed under his tenure earned the school national attention. Current North principal Gene Haynes, who came from Mississippi, has continued Harvey’s good work. Tommie Wilson, from Texas, became a popular music teacher before running the in-school suspension program at Lewis and Clark Junior High and the Stay in School alternative program at the Wesley House.

Omaha has been blessed with outstanding educators at every level and leaders who have been committed to the success of children. Katherine Fletcher, Eugene W. Skinner, James Freeman, Dr. Gladys Styles Johnson, Kathy J. Trotter, Edwardene Armstrong, Dr. Don Benning, Edmae Swain, Warren Taylor, Thomas Harvey, Jerry Bartee, Dr. Carol Mitchell, Dr. Mary Mudd, Janice Gilmore, Z. Clarence Barbee, Freddie J. Gray, Elmer and Velma Crumbley, John R. Pierce, Dr. Minne R. Dacus, and Dr. Cynthia Gooch have all been recognized with the African-American Leadership Award because of their significant contributions in the field of education and investments in preparing students for success.