A North Omaha Reflection


A North Omaha Reflection

 A post by Adam Fletcher Sasse on the popular Facebook group site Forgotten Omaha –
prodded me to make this post of my own because it stirred some things in me I feel very strongly about.
Adam, who has a great online site called North Omaha History Blog –
wrote:
“The last 50 years haven’t been kind to North Omaha. Here’s the Conestoga Place neighborhood from 1941 to 2013. — thinking about the way things used to be at North Omaha, Nebraska.”
And the aerial photos he posted provide stark evidence of how North Omaha, where I grew up and lived most of my life and where my heart still is, has undergone a devastation usually only associated with war. There are many complex reasons explaining what took place but it all gets back to the fact that North Omaha, and here I mean northeast Omaha, has been predominantly African-American for 75-plus years and the well-documented inequities and issues that disproportionately affect the area and its residents are inextricably tied to racism.

 

Here are my reflections on his post:

Adam Fletcher Sasse, your Forgotten Omaha posts tonight about the way things used to be in North Omaha, using the example of Conestoga Place Neighborhood as an illustration, touches a nerve with residents, past and present. The segregation and confinement of African-Americans in North Omaha had mixed results for blacks and the community as a whole. There is no doubt that at every level of public and private leadership, North O was systematically drained of its resources or denied the resources that other districts enjoyed. With everything working against it, North O, by which I mean northeast Omaha for the purposes of this opinion piece, the neighborhood devolved. Using a living organism analogy, once businesses left en masse, once the packinghouse and railroad jobs disappeared, once the riots left physical and psychological scars, once aspirational and disenchanted blacks fled for greener pastures, once the North Freeway and other urban renewal projects ruptured the community and displaced hundreds, if not thousands more residents, once the gang culture took root, well, you see, North O got sicker and weaker and no longer had enough of an immune system (infrastructure, amenities, jobs, professional class middle class) to heal itself and fend off the poison. There is no doubt the powers that be, including the Great White Fathers who controlled the city then and still control it now, implicity and explicity allowed it to happen and in some cases instigated or directed the very forces that infected and spread this disease of despair and ruin. The wasteland that became sections and swaths of North O did not have to happen and even if there was no stopping it there is no rationale or justiiable reason why redevelopment waited, stalled or occurred in feeble fits and starts and in pockets that only made the contrast between ghetto and renewal more glaring and disturbing. North O’s woes were and are a public health problem and the strong intervening treatments needed have been sorely lacking. As many of us believe, the revitalization underway there today is badly, sadly long overdue. It is appreciated for sure but it is still far too conservative and slow and small compared to the outsized needs. And it may not have happened at all if not for the Great White Fathers being embarrased by Omaha’s shockingly high poverty rates and all the attendant problems associated with poor living conditions, limited opportunities and hopeless attitudes. If not for North Downtown’s emergence, the connecting corridors of North 30th, North 24th and North 16th Streets would likely still be languishing in neglect. Seeing images of what was once a thriving Conestoga neighborhood gone to seed says more than my words could ever say and the sad truth of the matter is is that Adam could post dozens more images of other North O neighborhoods or blocks that suffered the same fate. So much commerce and potential has been lost there. What about reparations for North O? The couple hundred million dollars of recent and in progress construction and the infusion of some new businesses is a drop in the bucket compared to what was lost, stolen, sucked dry, displaced, denied, diverted, misspent, wasted. I know hundreds more millions of dollars are slated to be invested there, but it’s still not getting the job done. It’s like a slow drip IV managing the pain rather than healing the patient. I know that the infusion of money and development are not the only fixes, but it is absolutely necessary and the patient can’t get well and prosper unless there’s enough of it and unless it’s delivered on time. I just hope it’s not too little too late. And like many North Omahans, I’d feel better if residents had more of a say in how their/our community gets redeveloped. I’d feel better if we controlled the pursestrings. We are the stakeholders. Beware of the carpetbaggers.

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  1. Chris Norden
    June 3, 2016 at 6:22 am

    AMEN. Thank you, Leo!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 3, 2016 at 6:24 am

      Chris, thank you so much for this comment and for your extensive comments about the Southern Road Trip post. Thank you too for catching that mistake. You are the gentle reader every writer needs.

      Like

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