What Happened to Omaha's Liberation School? By Dawaune Hayes
14-year-old Vivian Strong was killed by police on June 24, 1969.
According to Vivian’s sister Carol Larry, the girl was attending a party at a vacant unit in the Fontenelle Logan housing project. “I know some of the kids had gone into the empty apartment, and they were playing music,” Larry said. “They were just dancing.”
Police arrived stating they were called under suspicion of robbery. Larry went to alert her sister and the party when everyone ran out the backdoor. Not long after, Larry said she heard a sound like firecrackers and saw a crowd gather from where it came. Vivian had been shot in the head by white officer James Loder. Upon her death, unrest ensued for three days along North 24th Street.
After flames subsided, distrust of police and government remained high. The Civil Rights Act had been enacted 5 years prior, but with slow moving policy and racism still pervasive, many were still fighting to have their rights recognized and protected.
One of those rights was access to quality education. Segregation in schools was federally illegal but its effects held tight, especially within African American communities. The disparity in transportation, supplies, and resources left Black families with limited choices for quality instruction compared to their white counterparts. The Black Panther Party (BPP), and similar groups, recognized this gap across the country and implemented survival programs to address the need. A key program was the development of liberation schools.
The BPP ten-point program declared the party's platform. Point number five stated,“We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.”
Liberation schools were a form of community education taught and run by members of the Panthers. Ericka Huggins, a former party leader and director of the Oakland Community School in California, one of the most successful liberation schools, said the Panthers were building a model for education that was to be replicable anywhere.
Mondo Eyen we Langa, formerly David Rice, one of the founding members of the Omaha BPP, lived at 2616 Parker Street where he started the Vivian Strong Memorial Liberation School the summer of Strong’s death.
In 2013, we Langa wrote, “At the school, located in the house that was our chapter headquarters, we taught African children and youth and fed them. To put it another way, we fed their minds and their stomachs. We gave lessons on politics and history, spelling and so forth. We encouraged them to discuss topics, to express themselves, to become thinking sisters and brothers. With the history, we strove to instill pride in these students. At the time, we called this ‘Black’ pride.” Teachings included the writings of Eldridge Cleaver and Huey P. Newton. A guiding principle of the schools nationwide was to use the world as the classroom and for children to “learn how, not what, to think.”
In August of 1969, the Omaha BPP chapter was dissolved by the Oakland-based central committee. Within days we Langa and Poindexter, with other former Panthers, reformed as the United Front Against Fascism. Congressional testimony from Omaha police in 1970 indicated that the school taught upwards of 12 children and may have operated for only a week.
Fall of ‘69 the school was investigated and we Langa was called before a grand jury to explain its purpose and was told to close the school. Within eight months of that trial, we Langa and Poindexter were implicated in the murder of Officer Larry Minard by Duane Peak. Both were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Today the site at 2616 Parker Street is a vacant lot where neighbors park their cars. Neighbors say the owner of the lot, Bernard Morello of Mobeco Industries, gave them permission to park there as long as they maintained the grass.
Morello was called for information about the lot but said he knew nothing of its history or when the house was torn down. He mentioned his records could have the name of the previous landowners but said he did not have the capacity to find such records at the time of contact.
Investigation of the school’s duration, participants, and when the home was torn down and by whom is continuing. If you have knowledge regarding the Vivian Strong Liberation School, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org