Black Votes Matter Essay Winner Honors Will Brown
The Face to Face with Black History Tour took place in June 16-22. Tour stops included Memphis, Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, and Atlanta. 96 people attended including 65 young people and an assortment of chaperones, elders, and congregants of local united methodist churches.
A brunch was held on August 1 for tour participants and supports to reflect on the experience, see photos during the trip taken by photographer Michael Clark, and announce the winner of an essay contest. The essay prompt asked students who attended the Face to Face with Black History Tour to write about the 1919 lynching of Will Brown.
Prompt: “After having toured the Lynching History Museum, do you feel that the lynching of Will Brown could be considered a “spectacle lynching”, or an early form of terrorism? What did you learn about Will Brown and lynching? How does Omaha atone for this violence 100 years again?”
The contest received six entries and three placed winners were chosen to receive cash prizes and Amazon gift cards.
Third Place: Lauren Burris, Second Place: Nora Graham, and First Place: Keyaira McKell
Read the winning essay by Keyaira McKell
A Spectacle Lynching: Story of Will Brown
Will Brown was a forty-one-year-old African American man living in Omaha Nebraska in the early nineteenth century. Brown had migrated from the south in search of a better life and freedom during times of reconstruction after the Civil War. He worked at a local meatpacking plant, for the meatpacking industry was an active recruiter of Black workers. Brown was relatively innocent and already struggling with the challenges of being a black man in the United States, although, he was accused of assault against a white woman that ensued in his brutal and untimely death.
Race riots were an issue throughout cities in Texas, Illinois, Georgia, and Nebraska, especially in September; and on September 28th, 1919, Will Brown was lynched and burned to death by an angry racist mob full of white supremacists. Agnes Loebeck, a white woman, had reported that she had been assaulted by an unidentified black man. The Omaha Daily Bee newspaper claimed the incident to be “the most daring attack on a white woman ever perpetrated in Omaha.” Loebeck and her boyfriend identified the man as a black worker at the packinghouse— and accusation fell upon Will Brown. Already, a vicious mob had formed and was waiting to seize him.
A crowd of fifteen thousand people had gathered around the courthouse to view such a spectacle event. The mob shot guns at the courthouse and set fire to the building, as well as loot nearby stores, in an atrocious uproar. Inside the building, Will Brown sat with Sheriff Mike Clark guilelessly affirming, “I am innocent, I never did it, my God, I am innocent (“A Horrible Lynching”).” The mayor, Edward Parsons Smith, was at the scene for a while, and he had tried to reason with the mob, but they had knocked him out and sent him to a lamppost to be hung. Mayor Smith did not die because he had been rescued, but he did suffer from severe head injuries. Next, Will Brown was captured by the mob. They had beat him, hung him from a lamppost, and drug his dead body down the street before they burned his corpse.
Such a tragedy most definitely deserves the title as being an act of terrorism. First of all, Will Brown was not guilty, but there were no efforts made to prove the accusation wrong and fight for Will’s case; he never even got the chance to take it to court. The mob was allowed to target Will Brown and carry out their dirty deeds to execute him— where there should have been authorities, there were only witnesses, and they were either anticipating Will’s death or in disbelief of the horror. It was not until after they killed him that the army units arrived and set up command posts.
The lynching of Will Brown is a part of Omaha’s history, and it has been one hundred years since. To this day, Omaha is bumbling with activity and the city is on the rise. While there are buildings that get renovated, there are historical buildings that remain untouched. Also, there are memories shared to keep stories alive. Youth are offered opportunities to learn their history, such as the ‘Black Votes Matter’ tour we just went on. Though the city has not dwelled over this tragedy, the city has not forgotten its history.
The Omaha Community Council for Racial Justice and Reconciliation is coordinating a soil ceremony commemoration of Will Brown and George Smith on September 28, 2019. Then on October 14, a monument will be installed near the Douglas County Courthouse. The monument will come from the Equal Justice Initiative’s Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.