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Murdered in: Omaha | Sept 28, 1919
Will Brown, a severe rheumatic, was a 41-year old worker in one of the city's meatpacking plants. He was probably among the many African Americans who had migrated from the
South after Reconstruction looking for a better life free from the stifling and dangerous constrictions of Jim Crow.
In 1910, Omaha had the third largest black population among the new western cities that had become destinations following Reconstruction. The meatpacking industry in Omaha actively recruited black workers between 1910-1920. In 1917 black workers were hired as strikebreakers by the industry. This made them very unpopular with the white working class, many of whom were European immigrants who found themselves competing for jobs with blacks for the first time. By 1920, the black population more than doubled to over 10,000, second only to Los Angeles with nearly 16,000.
The Omaha Bee newspaper printed sensationalistic articles about black men "outraging" white women, highlighting alleged incidents of "black criminality." On September 25, 1919, a young white woman named Agnes Loebeck reported that she had been raped by a black man.
The headline was: "Black Beast First Stick-up Couple."
"The most daring attack on a white woman ever perpetrated in Omaha occurred one block south of Bancroft street near Scenic Avenue in Gibson last night."
Coverage in the World-Herald was slightly less inflammatory:
"Pretty little Agnes Loebeck ... was assaulted ... by an unidentified negro at twelve O'clock last night, while she was returning to her home in company with Millard [sic] Hoffman, a cripple."
Although Ms. Loebeck was unable to identify her assailant, police arrested Brown. Two days later a group of white youths gathered outside the Omaha courthouse. The crowd grew to 5000-15,000 spectators and began firing guns into the courthouse. They set it on fire. Mayor Edward Smith came out to calm the crowd and was hanged. (He was cut down before he could die and recovered in the hospital.) Police took prisoners to the roof of the fourth floor, but eventually members of the mob scaled the building and capture Will Brown. They beat him unconscious, stripped him naked, hanged him, dragged his body through the streets behind a car, poured gasoline on him, burned his body, and passed out souvenirs. They also posed for this photo, as the riot continued for several hours more.
Omaha's was just one of many murderous riots that took place during the "Red Summer of 1919" in some three dozen cities around the country. The photo of this spectacle lynching is one of the most famous.
For a video and more information, click here.
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