Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Harl Dalstrom

Second Advisor

Dr. Michael Tate

Third Advisor

Dr. JoAnn Carrigan


This work is a history of the black experience in the fifteen most densely black populated counties in Nebraska, excluding Douglas, from 1854 through 1920. Beginning with the formation of Nebraska Territory in 1854, the thesis studies the population, employment, and social status of blacks living in Nebraska throughout the frontier and postfrontier eras. Slavery and suffrage are critically examined throughout the territorial period. Following statehood, the impact of black migration into the state is studied, especially during the years 1879 and 1880. Massive migration of southern blacks into northern states occurred during those years, a result of the termination of military reconstruction in the South. The reactions of some Nebraska communities are analyzed as blacks began to migrate to their localities in the late 1870s. During the 1880s Nebraskans witnessed a steady but minimal flow of blacks into the state, as they settled primarily in towns along railroads, on farms, and at military forts. The prosperity in Nebraska at that time allowed for a lessening of some social and political restraints upon blacks. However, the depression of the early 1890s curbed those restraints as blacks were suffering severely from the worsening economic conditions. During that time blacks faced increased racism and declining social status, forcing some of them to leave the state. It was not until after the turn of the century that blacks again began to return to the state, searching to improve their economic condition. After 1900, blacks throughout Nebraska increasingly found employment as hotel porters, restaurant cooks and waiters, and general laborers. The black population within the state continued to increase gradually as larger percentages of blacks settled in Omaha and Lincoln, a trend similar to that of other Nebraskans who were moving away from the state's rural areas. Among other things, this thesis provides a comprehensive bibliography for students of black history in Nebraska. In short, this thesis concludes that as blacks ventured to Nebraska from various locations and often of similar economic circumstances they usually found employment in occupations deemed suitable for their race. Black settlement often stimulated anxiety and prejudice among many of Nebraska's citizens. Although most Nebraskans during the period were never engaged in direct overt acts of discrimination, prejudices among some Nebraskans at times manifested violent acts by the white majority against the much smaller black population. As a result, blacks in Nebraska often faced social and political prejudices similar to those simultaneously experienced by other members of their race throughout the United States.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of History and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright, 1989 James D. Bish

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