A History of Omaha's Citizens Civic Committee for Civil Liberties, or 4CL

"This town is sick... I'm not speaking of open sores, either — nothing as simple as the ghetto on the 'Near North Side,' where all but a handful of 30,000 Omaha Negroes live. No, our sickness is in the bloodstream — in our inner posture. We are an undemocratic city." - Rev. James T. Stewart, director of Social Action for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha in 1963.

Across the United States today, there is a re-emerging awareness among white people that white privilege, structural racism, segregation, and systemic discrimination are all still hard at work in the U.S. However, people of color have never known anything but those realities.

More than a 50 years ago, a group of African American activists banded together to form a group that would challenge those structures in Omaha. The Citizens Civic Committee for Civil Liberties, called 4CL, they were focused the future of the Black community in Omaha, and for the future of democracy in the United States.

In 1947, a group of students gathered to form the De Porres Club with a Catholic priest, Father John DeMarkoe. Practicing nonviolent protest before Dr. King and the Birmingham campaign, the De Porres Club slowly folded after 4CL launched and their once-young members joined the new group.

Omaha's civil rights movement was coordinated by 4CL, and they set the agenda for action throughout the city. They had three main goals to be achieved through the Nebraska Legislature: 
  • To ensure equal housing opportunities 
  • To create equal job opportunities for African Americans 
  • To secure integrated schools through busing for all African American students. 

A local newspaper covers a 4CL picket over segregation at the S.S. Kresge Co. store in downtown Omaha.

Civil Rights Campaigns

A period magazine article reported that "according to Elizabeth Davis Pittman, an attractive Negro attorney,
'The powers in this city are not so much angry as they are resentful because it is their consciences that are being picketed.'"

Starting in 1963, 4CL held rallies around Omaha to end segregation. Picketing, stand-ins during city council meetings and other efforts were among their methods. Some of their campaigns included:
  • July 1963 - A pray-in is held at Omaha City Hall to promote the establishment of a local equal opportunity employment ordinance.
  • 1963 - Rev. Rudolph McNair leads a 4CL march of 150 against the creation of t Omaha Human Rights Commission (HRC)
  • Desegregating Peony Park
  • Desegregating Reed's Ice Cream
  • Desegregating the local Coca Cola bottler
  • Starting the City of Omaha Human Rights Commission
  • Desegregating Fair housing sing-ins
  • Desegregating Harkert CafĂ©
  • Desegregating Edholm-Sherman Laundry
  • Desegregating the Omaha and Council Bluffs Streetcar Company
  • Desegregating the S.S. Kresge Co. store

The leaders of the 4CL gathering in the 1960s.

The 4CL met regularly at Zion Baptist Church, gathering African Americans and unifying the Near North Side community. There were four pastors that led 4CL, including Rev. Rudolph McNair of Zion and Rev. R.F. Jenkins. Omaha Civil Rights leader Dorothy Eure was also active in 

The City of Omaha created a "Bi-racial Committee" in 1963 in response to the 4CL being formed. The mayor appointed everyone on the committee, mostly very influential white people. They held a rally of more than 10,000 people later that year. However, the 4CL and other groups were suspicious of what became known as the Human Rights Commission, largely because they saw it as a stalling tactic.

According to a recent interview one former member said,
"We integrated different places and we petitioned for jobs and open housing. We marched on city hall. We did things like this that brought about some changes. We were considered troublemakers and that’s what it takes to get the changes."

I can't figure out what happened to 4CL. Rev. Jenkins died in 1980. Apparently, 4CL stopped making news after 1982, when the Omaha World-Herald stopped reporting on them. The Omaha Star reported on them just a few years ago, but I can't afford the subscription cost for their archives.

If you know anymore about the Citizens Civic Committee for Civil Liberties, please share in the comments below! Thank you!