On a sun-splashed June day, when blue skies reflected back all that is good and possible in the world, a who’s who of Omaha’s black community gathered to celebrate a man who represents all that is good and possible in their neighborhood.
Eighty-seven-year-old Dan Goodwin Sr. is many things: barber, businessman, friend, father, grandfather, veteran, activist, mentor. But in a world where being a black man can mean you’ve got a target on your back and doors close in front of you, Goodwin is revered, not just because he succeeded, but because he has devoted his life to helping others succeed along with him and because he has provided an example of how to live a life unbowed.
Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barbershop at 24th and Spencer Streets functions as a community center, civil rights and political headquarters, athletic training center and more. One speaker described it as “Omaha’s Black City Hall.” Another speaker described it as “a place where a black man can mean something.”
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On Monday, the stretch of 24th Street in front of the barbershop was given the honorary designation of Dan Goodwin Sr. Street.
At a time when blacks had difficulty getting help from banks, Goodwin’s customers and neighbors turned to him for loans for rent, car payments, food or to start a business. The barbershop was the place where Nebraska’s longest-serving state legislator, Ernie Chambers, got his start. Chambers cut hair in Goodwin’s barbershop, and the shop became the campaign headquarters for Chambers’ successful run for the Legislature.
In the civil rights era, Goodwin joined others in the black community in advocating for better conditions. In 1963, he attended the March on Washington, in which Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1964, he helped bring civil rights leader Malcolm X to Omaha to speak.
In 1969, when rioting broke out after a white police officer shot a 14-year-old black girl, Vivian Strong, in the back of the head, the barbershop provided a place of quiet and reason, but not of backing down. In a daring action for the time, Goodwin and Chambers spoke out on the radio against the shooting. They then found themselves followed by police and arrested.
Goodwin’s son, Dan Jr., recounted his father’s story at the dedication ceremony:
Goodwin joined the Navy at age 17 and got his training as a barber through the GI Bill. Even that required him to persevere. An Omaha Public Schools administrator tried to discourage him from going back to Tech High School for the training. He opened his barbershop in 1955.
On Monday, his son reminded those gathered what times were like in 1955. That same year, a teenager, Emmett Till, was brutalized and murdered in Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman. Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger.
Monday’s ceremony drew about 150 people. Seated next to Goodwin was his wife of 63 years, Andrea, who said afterward that she was awestruck by the comments. Her husband told those gathered that he was humbled and appreciative.
Andrea Goodwin said their life was one of hard work and sacrifice, with much of it aimed at guaranteeing that their four children got a good education. Their two sons and two daughters all obtained college degrees. Their 50-plus grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue on that same path. One granddaughter came by, gave her grandmother a kiss, and said she was headed to class.
Of her grandfather, Tamara Newson said, “He’s the perfect example of building something amidst the worst conditions possible — a business that is respected, that is a pillar of the community. And that’s how it is relevant today. You don’t stop if someone tells you no. You keep going.”
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Dodge Street: Dodge was believed to be named for U.S. Sen. Augustus Caesar Dodge, of Iowa, who championed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 — along with Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, for whom Douglas Street is named. The 1854 act established the two territories, opened new lands, repealed the 1820 Missouri Compromise and allowed new settlers to decide whether they would allow slavery. But, over the years, it became less clear of the origin of the street name, and many took issue with what they called Augustus Caesar Dodge's pro-slavery stances. And so, in 2016, an effort was launched to officially name Dodge Street in honor of Civil War Brig. Gen. Grenville Mellen Dodge and his brother, real estate pioneer N.P. Dodge. Those efforts were approved by the city, county and state in 2016.
Jones Street: Alfred D. Jones did Omaha City’s first survey in 1854. It was said that, as Omaha’s first postmaster, the lawyer carried the mail in his hat.
Johnny Rodgers Street: Marlin Briscoe, left, and Johnny Rodgers pose for a photo before a ceremony to rename a section of Burt Street, between 30th and 33rd Streets, Johnny Rodgers Street on July 30, 2015. Read more
Capitol Avenue: This route led from the Missouri River to the second Nebraska territorial capitol, located on top of a hill near 20th and Dodge Streets. That building was replaced by Omaha High School in 1872, then by the school’s second building, which was completed in 1912. Omaha High School is now known as Omaha Central High School.
Mike Fahey Street: Fahey, pictured in 2009 at the ceremony renaming seven blocks of Webster Street from 10th Street to Creighton University as Mike Fahey Street, was the city’s longest-serving mayor since the City Charter was approved by voters in 1956.
A.V. Sorensen Parkway: Omaha businessman Axel Vergman Sorensen, mayor from 1965 to 1969, chaired a convention in 1956 that wrote the city’s current governing charter.
Farnam Street: Originally the main drag in Omaha, Farnam Street was named for railroad promoter Henry Farnam.
Bob Gibson Boulevard: Bob Gibson speaks after the unveiling of the street named after him in 1999. Deer Park Boulevard near Rosenblatt Stadium was renamed Bob Gibson Boulevard after the former St. Louis Cardinal pitching great and Hall of Fame member. Read more
Neal Mosser Boulevard: The stretch of Cuming Street from 30th to 33rd Streets was named after longtime Tech High basketball coach Neal Mosser in 2005. His coaching tenure stretched from 1948 to the late 1960s, and he was recognized as a positive influence on countless athletes, including Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson and NBA star and Olympic gold medalist Bob Boozer.
Bud Crawford Street: Larimore Avenue between 31st Avenue and 33rd Street was designated Terence "Bud" Crawford Street. The professional boxer was born and raised on that stretch of Larimore. Read more
Millard Avenue: Ezra Millard was president of the Omaha National Bank, which he organized in 1866. In 1871, he bought the land that was to become Millard.
Carol Van Metre Lane: Named in honor of the late Carol Van Metre, who worked to help ensure that the children of Omaha had parks and fields in which to play. It winds east from 24th Street at Woolworth Avenue and leads to Columbus Park, the Columbus Community Center, and Van Metre Field, which is named for Carol’s husband, Dave. Read more
College World Series Avenue: The section of 13th Street between Cuming Street and Mike Fahey Street was renamed College World Series Avenue in 2011 as a permanent reminder that TD Ameritrade Park is the home of the CWS. Read more
Dave Rimington Street: Mayor Mike Fahey with football great and philanthropist Dave Rimington, an Omaha South grad, during the dedication of the 20th Street to 24th Street section of L Street as Dave Rimington Street in 2002. Rimington redefined the center position at Nebraska, winning two Outland Trophies and a Lombardi Award before launching a seven-year NFL career. Read more
Boyd Street: James E. Boyd was twice mayor of Omaha in the 1880s. The Irish immigrant became governor of Nebraska in 1890.
California Street: Gold seekers headed west for California landed near this street after crossing the Missouri River.
Cuming Street: Secretary of the Nebraska Territory and acting Gov. Thomas B. Cuming convened the first Nebraska Territorial Legislature in Omaha in 1854, making Omaha the capital.
Harney Street: At the outbreak of the Civil War, Gen. William S. Harney was commander of the Department of the West.
Kyle Wayne LeFlore Street: The block of 29th Street between Fowler Ave and Meredith Ave was renamed Kyle Wayne LeFlore Street in honor of Sgt. LeFlore on July 20, 2018. LeFlore was slain in Omaha while on holiday vacation from the military. Read more
Marlin Briscoe Way: Marlin Briscoe, the first black starting quarterback in the NFL and an Omaha South High School graduate, was honored with a street named in his honor. Read more
Military Avenue: This part of the original Overland Trail twisted through Omaha and Benson starting in 1857. It was used to move military supplies to Fort Kearny and by settlers heading to the Northwest. In 1994, part of Military Road near 82nd and Fort Streets was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Minne Lusa Boulevard: Minne Lusa is a Native American term meaning “clear water.” A Florence pumping station was on the street. An elementary school of the same name is located near Minne Lusa Boulevard today.
Paxton Boulevard: William A. Paxton, known as the “real founder of South Omaha,” organized the Union Stockyards Company. He co-founded Paxton & Gallagher Wholesale Grocery, became co-owner of the Paxton & Vierling Iron Works and served in the Nebraska legislature. The Paxton Hotel was named for him.
Poppleton Avenue: Andrew Jackson Poppleton, a member of the first territorial legislature, was involved in deciding the territorial capital’s location. The attorney successfully represented Standing Bear in the Ponca chief’s 1879 trial. Poppleton served three times as mayor of Omaha.
Saddle Creek Road: This one sounds like it could be a tall tale, right? Details are sparse, but a man was apparently heading west out of Omaha to make his fortune mining gold. He didn’t get very far before a saddle fell off his wagon and into a creek that then flowed in the area. Hence the name Saddle Creek.
Woolworth Avenue: Attorney James Woolworth helped develop South Omaha’s stockyards. He wrote and published “The History of Omaha” in 1857. The city was only three years old.
Fred Astaire Avenue: On May 11, 2019, the day after what would’ve been dancing and acting legend Fred Astaire’s 120th birthday, Omaha honored its native son with his own street. The Fred Astaire Avenue sign is visible on 10th Street at Martha Street, less than a block from the house where Astaire was born. The family moved from Omaha to New York City in 1905. Read more