North Omaha has been home to people of various races, cultures and ethnicities, but is most commonly known as the traditional heart of the African-American community. Even today most people use North Omaha and African-American community interchangeably, although North Omaha is incredibly diverse and less than 50% of African-Americans live in the traditional boundaries of North Omaha.
The same pattern followed by immigrants—moving into South Omaha for job opportunities and then migrating to North Omaha and then West Omaha—was followed by most groups for decades. Through redlining and other forms of discrimination, African-Americans were segregated and restricted to what was once referred to as the Near Northside.
The forced segregation caused the creation of a separate community complete with a closed loop economy, social scene and culturally rich spaces. Despite the discrimination, a strong and thriving neighborhood was created capitalizing on the rich culture of the residents, tourists and business owners.
As jobs in the meatpacking, manufacturing and other industries disappeared and open housing allowed upwardly mobile African-Americans to move west, concentrated poverty, poor housing conditions and low performing schools were left behind. The spiral was accelerated as protests and fires in response to racial incidents and a police shooting decimated the business district. Development of Highway 75 not only separated North Omaha and relocated thousands of residents; it shifted traffic away from businesses on North 24th and North 30th Street. Business owners decided not to rebuild, generating more isolation for struggling families and creating an environment ripe for drugs and eventually gun violence.
Through it all, residents, community leaders, pastors, educators and others worked hard to build on the assets of the community. As waves of migration took place, thousands upon thousands left their neighborhoods, but those who remained supported each other through challenging times.
When residents of North Omaha are asked about their neighborhoods, they talk about their love for the people, they talk about the rich history of the area, how they came together during tough times and made sure children and families had the best opportunities they could provide. They share stories of men and women who worked all day and would come home to the community to volunteer with after school programs, in their churches and in their neighborhood associations to create unique events, celebrations and programs for youth and families.
Long-term residents are increasingly talking about recent developments in North Omaha. A growing number share their expectations and excitement about what’s happening in their beloved community. While issues remain and much more work lies ahead, residents are resilient overcomers and prepared to make North Omaha a thriving community of diverse neighborhoods once again.