in broad daylight, specifically in schools.
A Molotov cocktail exploded in a North High hallway. Tech students threw rocks at Cuming Street traffic. Central students engaged in fights and walkouts. Horace Mann students tried to break into Lothrop and Saratoga Schools during classes.
Absentees exceeded 60% at Tech, Central and North the rest of the week. Panic gripped white suburban students who worried that blacks might attack — many families left the city until tensions cooled. Ten white mothers visited the Mayor's Office demanding more security at North High. "We want protection and until we get it our children aren't going back to school."
On streets, blacks attacked whites with pop bottles, tire irons and razors. Two blocks east of North High — at 2:30 p.m. — a 15-year-old white girl brandished a shotgun and charged at 30 blacks. Her sister stepped in and stopped a potential massacre.
Gun sales in early March tripled from the year before. J.C. Penney alone sold 255 more rifles and shotguns that week. Pistol registrations quadrupled. When a new Kmart store opened at 71st and Ames, 10 handguns sold in the first few hours. "Customers weren't buying them for target practice," a spokesman said.
Mayor Sorensen, the man who defended blacks during the 1966 riot, even lecturing U.S. senators in Washington about conditions in the ghetto, switched sides.
He blistered protesters for harassing "Mr. Wallace." He defended officers' "superb" response at the Civic. He criticized the Kerner Commission, blaming "a very small group of minority citizens who apparently feel that progress will come through the type of antagonism reflected at the Auditorium."
The protests angered Omahans. "Many people are truly disturbed and I confess I am one of them," Sorensen said.
Gov. Tiemann had a different take on Wallace, saying his visit was "like throwing gasoline on a fire." Wallace set the stage for a confrontation. Police should've put all demonstrators in the balcony or escorted them out before Wallace took the mic, he said.
Tiemann prompted swift backlash from constituents when he called Wallace "that nut from Alabama."
By week's end, the damage included 44 cars, 32 buildings, 17 injuries and 55 arrests, including the Rev. John McCaslin of Holy Family Church, a white priest who advocated Black Power. "There was a real thin line between right and wrong," Alvin Mitchell said.
But one teenager became the face of the 1968 disturbances — forever synonymous with George Wallace.
Late Tuesday night, 26 hours after Wallace fled Omaha, three white police officers stopped a car at 19th and Sprague and arrested six black males — ages 1626 — for possession of flammable liquid-filled bottles. Molotov cocktails.
Dwaine Dillard was in the front seat.
* * *
The flame flickered inside for a long time before that night.
High school standouts Johnny Rodgers and Ernie Britt had little interest in politics or protests. But Dillard was more socially conscious. Certainly more rebellious.
Like Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali, he seemed to believe that black athletes could (and should) champion the cause of black freedom.
"We were chasing girls," Rodgers said. "He was chasing civil rights. And girls."
When Dillard listened to Ernie Chambers' speeches, he felt inspiration and anger. Maybe he felt invincible, too.
The night of Wallace's speech, Dillard occupied the street outside the Civic Auditorium. The next day, standing in a Central High stairwell landing, he lighted a match and dropped it in a trash can. He threw a hamburger bun at a music instructor before walking out of class. He joined an after-school fistfight when he should've been lacing up for practice.
Tuesday night, March 5, Dillard played basketball at Bryant Center until 11 p.m., as he often did. His buddies, including Rodgers and Britt, headed home — the state tournament was 48 hours away.
But Dillard got in Nathaniel Goodwin's blue '66 Rambler. An hour later, he saw the flashing lights. His mom and minister picked him up Wednesday morning from police headquarters. Chambers was there, too, vowing to keep Dillard in line.
His face appeared on the front page of the Wednesday afternoon World-Herald. Local newscasts featured his arrest. Even Cronkite covered the unrest.
Dillard said he was just getting a ride home. His friends said the police lied about the explosives and roughed them up. But he'd lost control of his reputation — and his version of the truth. As World-Herald sports columnist Wally Provost wrote:
"Dillard was not just another boy in trouble. He was a Symbol. To some people he was an accused criminal who should be dealt with firmly and promptly. He symbolized all that they feared from lawlessness. To another faction he was a school athletic hero, perhaps even an idolized rebel. Considering the extreme emotions of the city, this was a hot one; anybody who touched it could expect to get burned."
As Dillard stirred public debate, Mayor Sorensen stewed over the next big event at the Civic Auditorium: the state Class A boys basketball state tournament. It had moved from Lincoln to Omaha in 1965. But Sorensen feared that returning to the source of unrest would invite more protests and more violence.
The Nebraska School Activities Association agreed and moved Class A to Lincoln. Central would play Thursday at 9:30 a.m. to minimize chances of violence.
Would the state's best player be in uniform? Coach Warren Marquiss, in his last season before retirement and his last chance to win Central's first state championship since 1912, argued Dillard should be eligible — you can't punish a student before a fair trial. The superintendent and principal deferred to his judgment.
The decision didn't satisfy angry strangers who called Marquiss' home so often that the coach disconnected his phone.
PROLOGUE:Bob Gibson's 17 strikeouts and setting the stage for the rise and fall of North Omaha
PART ONE:Josh Gibson and the birth and history of North Omaha as a segregated neighborhood
PART TWO:Bob Boozer and discrimination at the dawn of the civil rights movement in the early '50s
PART THREE:Life inside the packinghouse motivated athletes like Marlin Briscoe
PART FOUR:How the North Omaha safety net — and one critical coach — saved athletes like Gale and Roger Sayers
PART FIVE:Defeat and tragedy, on and off the court, produced a wave of bitterness
PART SIX:A homecoming for a World Series MVP and growing unrest on North 24th Street
PART SEVEN:Not even star power could open up housing beyond North Omaha