The 1960s Remembered: How National Events Shaped University of Omaha Students

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Part 2 What a Time to be Alive: Politics in the 1960s

The 1960s were also shaped by an increasing number of political movements at the national level, including the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the Anti-Vietnam War protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s. These national movements and protests trickled down to Omaha and helped shape the political climate surrounding UO. 1963 was an extremely active year for civil rights protests in Omaha. In 1963, Omaha saw non-violent protests conducted by Herb Rhodes, Betty Jo Moreland, Dale Anders, and other NAACP Youth Council members, advocating for increasing and recognizing the civil rights of African American citizens in Omaha (Rea 110). The young protestors succeeded in opening up Omaha’s Peony Park swimming pool to African American youths and their families for the first time (Rea 110). Later, in 1963, 2,000 African American Omahans gathered at the Omaha City Hall to urge city council to ban housing and employment discrimination within the city (Rea 110).  In addition, toward the end of 1963, Charles B. Washington, an Omaha civil rights activist, staged a sit-in protest at the Woolworth & Co. store in Omaha hoping to change private store policies on public discrimination of African American consumers (Rea 110).

All of these protests related to civil rights for African American citizens had an effect on the Omaha community and UNO. The most striking civil rights-related protest on the university campus occurred on November 7, 1969. On that date, more than 40 members of the Black Liberators for Action on Campus (BLAC) staged a nonviolent protest in University President Naylor’s office (Rea 115). This sit-in was a first of its kind, and during the sit-in, they presented a list of demands for the university and university staff that were compiled and written by black students to President Naylor (Rea 115; Gateway 1969, 1).  The students called for the following demands: the resignation of the director of student activities and his assistant; student control of the Student Center and its staff; a voice in the “Black Studies” curriculum and selection of “Black speakers and instructors”; an “extension of certain privileges to all athletes including training table or meal card, and assistance in finding meaningful employment”; an explanation for the 95 percent reduction in the budget for “Black oriented student activities”; and finally, the addition of a Black policeman and “ticket taker” on university staff (Gateway 1). The sit-in was dissolved peacefully, but many of the students participating in this sit-in were arrested and booked on “a state charge of unlawful assembly” (Gateway 1). Unfortunately, Naylor did not respond to any of these demands. The staff remained unchanged, the control of the Student Center was not given to the students, and the Black Studies’ curriculum, speakers, and instructor policies remained the same. Furthermore, Naylor directed grievances with the athletic policy to the athletic committee and stated that there was no such thing as the “black oriented student activities budget” (Gateway 2).

Although a student like Gail Cody was not directly involved with this protest on the UO campus, this protest was extremely visible to everyone in the UO community. The news coverage of the BLAC student protest took up the first half of the Gateway’s November 12, 1969 issue, and it went on to be recorded as one of the major events in Omaha on the Douglas County Historical Society’s timeline of Omaha history. I think it is safe to assume that a student teaching faculty member at UO, such as Cody, would have heard about this protest. I also believe that  the message that these students presented to the University President, about their feelings of being discriminated against because of their race, could have moved her and helped shape her teaching philosophy and desire to serve underserved populations as a teacher. Later in her life, once she returned to Omaha, Cody spent 11 years teaching fifth grade at Walnut Hill Elementary and another eight years serving and teaching as an instructional facilitator at Mount View Elementary School (Cody Interview).  Both Walnut Hill Elementary and Mount View Elementary schools are located in North Omaha. From the 1960s to present day, the white flight (the movement of white Omahans) from North Omaha to West Omaha and southern suburbs of Bellevue and Papillion has created a predominantly African American community in the North Omaha areas where these schools are located. Due to these population movements, the majority of the students in her classroom over the past 20 years have been African American students who were often from impoverished backgrounds (Cody Interview).  As a lifelong educator, Cody feels strongly about the need for well-trained primary school teachers to come into this community to help to give these struggling, underserved youngsters a good start and a bright educational future (Cody Interview).

 

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Part Three Who Are You People?: Major Population Changes

Civil rights issues were not the only major issue to change the UO campus and Omaha community-wide dynamics. From 1960 to 1970, the population of Douglas, Sarpy, and Pottawattamie counties increased from 310,249 inhabitants to 542,646 inhabitants (Rea 108-120). This dramatic increase in population also affected UO. In 1961, Cody’s incoming class of 1965 pushed enrollment records to a new high of 8,100 students (Gateway 1). In 1968, another record was set when 10,600 students enrolled at UO, and out of those students, more than 6,000 were full-time students (Gateway 1). This increased enrollment at UO/ UNO throughout the 1960s also meant that an increasing number of women were attending the university as compared to past generations. According to the Gateway, Cody’s 1965 graduating class had 904 students who received their degrees at the 56th Annual Commencement, with 98 of