Black Print with a White Carnation
Mildred Brown and the Omaha Star Newspaper, 1938-1989
Publication Year: 2014
Mildred Dee Brown (1905–89) was the cofounder of Nebraska’s Omaha Star, the longest running black newspaper founded by an African American woman in the United States. Known for her trademark white carnation corsage, Brown was the matriarch of Omaha’s Near North Side—a historically black part of town—and an iconic city leader. Her remarkable life, a product of the Reconstruction era and Jim Crow, reflects a larger American history that includes the Great Migration, the Red Scare of the post–World War era, civil rights and black power movements, desegregation, and urban renewal.
Within the context of African American and women’s history studies, Amy Helene Forss’s Black Print with a White Carnation examines the impact of the black press through the narrative of Brown’s life and work. Forss draws on more than 150 oral histories, numerous black newspapers, and government documents to illuminate African American history during the political and social upheaval of the twentieth century. During Brown’s fifty-one-year tenure, the Omaha Star became a channel of communication between black and white residents of the city, as well as an arena for positive weekly news in the black community. Brown and her newspaper led successful challenges to racial discrimination, unfair employment practices, restrictive housing covenants, and a segregated public school system, placing the woman with the white carnation at the center of America’s changing racial landscape.
Published by: University of Nebraska Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Over the past two centuries several dozen black women have improved the newspaper business, but very few of their accomplishments reside in monographs. This book is a step toward rectifying their over-looked situation. It examines the historic life of Mildred Dee Brown, cofounder, owner, publisher, and editor of the Omaha Star newspaper, ...
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The adage it takes a village to raise a child is also true for a book. I started with Mildred Brown: I visited her grave, formally introduced myself, and asked for her permission to do this project. Then I con-tacted her relatives, who were scattered throughout the United States. They extended courtesies to me far surpassing Mildred’s southern hos-...
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On June 1, 1984, Mildred Brown slowly walked onto the stage dais of the Red Lion Inn, the finest downtown hotel in Omaha, Nebraska. She looked out at the multitude of white and black citizens facing her and said, “Am I dreaming?” Standing at the podium, serenaded by the sounds of the famous Preston Love Sr. Band, she looked radi-...
Part 1: Laying the Foundation
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1. A Family of Fighters
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The jury reached their decision. After nine hours of deliberation, Fore-man C. T. Burt read the one- sentence verdict written on the torn scrap of lined legal paper: “We the jury find for the plaintiff and that the will is valid.” The twelve white jurors concurred that William Breed-ing did indeed write his last will and testament while he was of sound ...
2. Involving the Community
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On the morning of July 9, 1938, Near North Side black residents wish-ing to read about local and national news had the usual option of buying a copy of Charles Chapman Galloway’s Omaha Guide black weekly or, for the first time, an edition of Dr. Shirley Edward and Mildred Brown Gilbert’s Omaha Star newspaper. Those who chose ...
3. Politics of Respectability
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...“Wake up! Wake up! And give these future citizens an opportunity to develop into the kind of men and women to which you can point to with pride.” Like a mother shaking her offspring, Mildred Brown Gilbert scolded her readers for not paying enough attention to them-selves and their children. It was time to stop “expecting God and white ...
Part 2: Ensuring Her Success
4. Working within Her Space
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Mildred Brown saw her work at the Omaha Star as a ministry. She believed God had given her a calling, and being the publisher of the newspaper “gave her a pretty powerful calling card.” Like other black female newspaper women, Brown saw journalism as a profession, but it was more of a community torch she took up specifically and explic-...
5. Collective Activism and the De Porres Club
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Precisely at 10:00 a.m. on June 20, 1952, a stylishly dressed Mildred Brown urged Omaha’s city council to “do all in their power to see that Negroes were hired as bus drivers and therefore end the lily- white hir-ing practices of the Omaha & Council Bluffs Streetcar Company.” Speaking slowly, enunciating each word and standing at her tallest five ...
6. Restricted Housing and ’Rithmetic
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The back of the postcard bore an insidious message: “If you want to stop communism in the USA see that restrictive covenants are enforced!” The mailed memorandum informed Omaha’s Kountze Place residents in 1950 that it was their duty to keep the neighborhood free from a black invasion. Home owners could not afford to stay neutral. “Protec-...
Part 3: Transferring Ownership to the Community
7. Changing Strategies for Changing Times
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Music blared from the doorway of the dilapidated empty unit in the Logan Fontenelle Housing Project. It was the summer of 1969, the year following the Fair Housing Act, which finally gave northern Omaha residents open housing, the right to choose where they wanted to live in the city. However, like many other impoverished black resi-...
8. The Death of an Icon
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Driving past the corner of Twenty- Fourth and Lake Streets, one can almost imagine the thriving Near North Side community before it perished in the burning and destruction of the 1969 race rebellion. Today, the Near North Side remains only a shadow of its former poten-tial. However, evidence of its upbeat past lingers on a one- block sec-...
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pp. Plate 1-Plate 12
...1. Mildred Brown in front of the Omaha Star building, circa 1985. plaque to Mildred Brown, June 1, 1984. Reprinted with permission 5. (top) Miles Memorial College, Fairfield, Alabama, 2008. Photograph by the author.6. (bottom) Malone AME Church, Sioux City, Iowa, 2009. Photograph by the author.7. Downtown Omaha, Nebraska, circa 1900. Reprinted with permission ...
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Other Works in the Series
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Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2014