story by Michael Todd | illustration by Lance Heybrock
"If you must hang somebody, then let it be me," the mayor said.
It was after 11 p.m. on Sept. 28, 1919, after a growing mob had marched to the courthouse in the early afternoon to demand that Will Brown be given to the crowd. This was after threats on the life of Brown, a black worker, had begun following the alleged rape of 19-year-old Agnes Loebeck on Sept. 25, after the Red Summer of 1919 when race riots occurred in more than three dozen cities across the country.
This was Omaha, Nebraska, and this building, with its windows broken, its walls riddled with bullets and its lower floors burning, was the Douglas County Courthouse. Mayor Edward Smith, who was newly elected, had sought to reform a corrupt city that had fallen into ruin under the political power of Tom Dennison. Now a noose encircled Smith's neck, and the mob hung him from a traffic light. City detectives drove a car through the crowd and rescued the mayor, who would slowly recover over a few days in the hospital.
Brown was not saved. He was captured from the fourth floor of the courthouse, hung from a telephone post, shot by hundreds of guns, tied to the back of a car, dragged through the streets and burned. Today, an Omaha rapper wants Brown and the moral-minded Smith to live again.
Conchance talks about how he came to know of the Omaha Race Riot of 1919, what it means for the city to have such unconscionable violence as part of its history and why he chose to highlight a dark past in "Will Brown and Edward Smith":
Peace to the dead family
Death was met when soul’s spirit set sailing
Whole check to forget
Forty-four vets, fully loaded with hoes with techs
What side of the city you come from
Take it back when slaves were sold to build cities for rum
Back when a city die for what thy divy to none
Conny with the business under his tongue
Yes, witness the jury deliver peace in ones
Piss on complainants nay sayer say nater murk decks for fun
I say his merkings, worth learning the records, one unearth pun
Hun, smile her name the vision she birth a verb the fuck forgiveness
Def.’s beauty murfed the blunt
Like put that shit out, relearning earth to son
Be afraid of the bird chirp, that chipped to fund
Bum ass business
Like his chop teach cop geeks, to read run
Count on movement to feature the bookie’s jux put to pose
Nookies tasted say, end product nuts on nose
This is no domino effect
Mathematics made men make sense
Mad men take lefts
Old men play bets
Whole family know why
Why my business pay rent
Michael Todd is Hear Nebraska's managing editor. These are the stories he wants to tell. Reach him at email@example.com.