Ernest Chambers, Black Power, and the Politics of Race
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Texas Tech University Press
Title Page, Copyright
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Free radical: (noun)
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...“An especially reactive atom or group of atoms that has one or electron and existing for a brief period of time before reacting to “Because of their odd electrons, free radicals are usually highly reactive. Certain free radicals are stabilized by their peculiar structure; they exist for appreciable lengths of time, given the ...
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ILLUSTRATIONS, following p. 154
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Aerial view of North 24th Street in Omaha during the uprising that fol-Chambers’s victory celebration after he was elected to the Nebraska state Chambers wearing a “Rea gan Hood: from the needy to the greedy” T-shirtDemonstration by North Omahans on the steps of the Douglas County ...
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For thirty-eight years Senator Ernie Chambers represented the Elev-enth Legislative District in Omaha in Nebraska’s unicameral legisla-ture. This was the area where Malcolm X was born in 1925. The two men met briefl y when Malcolm visited Omaha in 1964. That district in North Omaha was in many ways a classic ghetto before, during, and after Chambers’s many years in oﬃ ce. Chambers recognized and fought against its ghetto-like conditions that stemmed from unemployment, poverty, and ...
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On April 15, 2006, the New York Times ran a story by Sam Dillon en-titled “Law to Segregate Omaha Schools Divides Nebraska.” It was true, a school reor ga ni za tion bill had polarized the city of Omaha and divided the African American community internally, as well as expand-ed fractures in the politics of the larger white population. The pandemoni-um began with a simple act: Senator Ernie Chambers attached an amend-ment to a school district reor ga ni za tion bill (LB 1024), sponsored by his ...
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New scholars of the Civil Rights Era have critiqued the tendency of researchers to privilege the images of high-profi le leaders while missing the larger picture of freedom work carried out by whole communities. In such cases, struggles are reduced to “personality.” Ernest Chambers’s Machiavellian mind, “melodious” voice, rhetorical style, wide-ranging interests, battles, defeats, and signifi cant successes easily place him within the “great person” paradigm. On the other hand, the limitation of ...
1—Education of a Radical
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I’m just a Barber, that’s all. I’m just a person who lives and works down here in the ghetto, and everyday I see people who are hurting. I see children who don’t have what they need in the way of clothing and food and educa-tional opportunities. . . . Our people are just too concerned about getting the necessities to stay alive. They can’t be dreamers or poets....
2—Man of the People
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The civil rights and black power struggles began unfolding in the United States contemporaneously with anticolonial organizing in Africa, and by the mid-1940s they had become chrysalises of the full-blown movements. By some accounts these eﬀ orts reinforced each other, as news of valor and boldness in liberation work traveled from west to east and from east to west across the Atlantic, symbiotically infusing confi dence into activists and warriors. Africanists, like Chambers, considered the various ...
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Ernest Chambers’s father, Malcolm Chambers, had spent most of his life working as a laborer in the meatpacking industry. The el der Chambers belonged to a generation of men from North Omaha who relied heavily on negotiations with “the better class of whites” for the prog-ress of black people. Improvements in race relations were considered as synonymous with increases in educational and employment opportunities, and progress and regression were calculated by the advancement and noto-...
4—The Power of One
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When Secretary of State Allen Beermann published the results of the general elections in 1972, Richard Nixon was being returned to oﬃ ce for what turned out to be an abbreviated second term. Former Nebraska state senator Terry Carpenter had been defeated by Carl T. Curtis in his race for a seat in the U.S. Senate, and Charlie Thone was seated in the U.S. House of Representatives from the Omaha District. In the spring of 1972, Rowena Moore, president of the Nebraska Black Political Caucus, ...
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Chambers’s evolution as a lawmaker was nothing less than magnifi -cent. He and Senator Steve Fowler’s divestment resolution literally started a domino eﬀ ect, as one state after another followed Nebras-ka’s lead in ending economic support for apartheid. The Anti-Apartheid Movement swept though the nation and the world, drawing its strength from regular community folk, and enjoying widespread participation in North Omaha. It would leave behind changes in the political consciousness ...
6—“Defender of the Downtrodden”
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Turbulent economic times in the 1980s and early 1990s were accom-panied by a lessening of public trust in high-level oﬃ cials. The Ne-braska state legislature would accumulate its share of the fallout, and Chambers, along with his fellow senators, would stumble through the debris. The Commonwealth Savings and Loan of Lincoln had collapsed ear-ly in the decade, and Chambers fought to make the state cover depositors’ losses. When the Franklin Credit Union, located in the heart of Chambers’s ...
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Considered a pariah by many Nebraskans, Chambers’s importance in select international circles held little sway in his home state. It was undeniable, though, that his contributions to the Black Power and Anti-Apartheid Movements had created a place for him in history. Fittingly, Chambers’s name would appear with those of Julian Bond, Benjamin Cha-vis, Jr., David Dinkins, Carol Mosely Braun, Randall Robinson, and thirty-nine others in a “Statement on the Announcement of Elections and the Call ...
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Funeral of Vivian Strong at the Greater Bethlehem Temple in Omaha (July 1, 1969). (above) Chambers arrested by Omaha police (c. 1960s). Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Journal Star. (below) Chambers (left) cuts hair in Dan Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barbershop with Bill Armstrong and Goodwin (far right) (February 1968). Chambers’s victory celebration after he was elected to the Nebraska State Legisla-...
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His career in the Unicameral behind him, the former state senator would now turn his attention to the Douglas/Sarpy County learn-ing community. The body, to which Chambers was duly elected, formed after passage of the controversial School District Reform Bill (LB 1046). Chambers was sworn in on January 9, 2009, and at seventy-one years of age, set his hands to improving Omaha’s public schools for all chil-dren.1 A day earlier, on January 8, the fi rst day of the 2009 legislative ses-...
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The following individuals and agencies deserve recognition for their helpfulness in making this research possible. Thanks to the staﬀ at the Charles B. Washington Branch Library in Omaha, Nebraska, for making sure that I had access to all of the available historical documents on North Omaha. Karen F. Koka, former curator of manuscripts, Library/Ar-chives Division of the Nebraska State Historical Society, trained me in the processing of manuscript collections. Diana Bridges, legislative records his-...
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About the Author
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Tekla Agbala Ali Johnson, born in North Omaha, Nebraska, is assistant professor of history at Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. ...
Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2012
Series Title: Plains Histories