History Highlights: Places

North Omaha was a popular stop for countless black music legends when the community boasted a vibrant nightlife scene where these musicians jammed into the wee hours.

Up and down North 24th Street or the Deuce Four sat clubs and bars featuring live performances. The epicenter of it all was 24th and Lake, the cultural and business hub of the African-American community. Just north of there, the Carnation Ballroom packed them in. Just south, the Dreamland Ballroom reigned supreme. Visiting music greats stayed at area boardinghouses and private residences.

What’s been called the Street of Dreams has seen it all. That strip is where people congregated on weekend nights, going from spot to spot. In the heart of it all, the Omaha Star operated and its crusading publisher Mildred Brown held court wearing her ever-present hat and carnation. North 24th Street has been home to civil rights and social action groups. It abounded with retail shops, professional offices and entertainment venues – from grocery and hardware stores to pharmacist, dentist and doctor offices, to eateries to barber shops, pool halls and taxi stands, to movie theaters, rec centers and churches. Businesses were variously Jewish and Black owned.

This heartbeat of the community is where the Fair Deal Cafe not only served authentic soul food but hosted community meetings, thus earning the nickname, Omaha’s Black City Hall.

Easter Sundays, families in their finest church clothes promenaded down 24th. People lined both sides of the Deuce Four for Native Omaha Days parades. A big crowd gathered to hear presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy make a campaign speech. Late ‘60s civil unrest left physical and psychological scars that the area is still recovering from today.

Nearby, the historic Webster Telephone Exchange Building has been an integral part of North Omaha. It became the Urban League of Nebraska headquarters. With grant funding, community activist and historian Bertha Calloway and her husband James Calloway, purchased the structure and repurposed it as the Great Plains Black History Museum. Its extensive collections are highly regarded.