By Becca Mann, World-Herald staff writer
Originally titled “Part of Omaha’s Lake Street renamed after civil rights trailblazer” and published in the Omaha World-Herald on Feb. 17, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
Founding the Great Plains Black History Museum, serving as the museum’s director and curator, organizing outreach efforts across the state and participating in civil rights movement protests in Omaha. The list of accomplishments for one of Omaha’s civil rights leaders, Bertha Calloway, goes on and on.
On Thursday, Calloway was honored with the ceremonial re-naming of Lake Street from 22nd to 24th Streets as Bertha Calloway Street.
“She’s not just forgotten. All that she put out to the community with her message still rings true to the people who are wanting to come and support her today,” said Frankie Hodges, a relative of Calloway’s and the driving force behind the street renaming.
Hodges said she thought family would be the only ones present. Much to her surprise, an estimated 50 community members joined the celebration.
Omaha City Council President Ben Gray accompanied Hodges in the ceremony.
Gray stressed the importance of honoring the work of Calloway, who is now 93. He called attention to her efforts in the civil rights movement and her work done “in order to make it a better day for those of us who are people of color.”
Calloway oversaw the museum for over 30 years. When it began to struggle with funding, Calloway took her artifacts on the road. She took her trunk, Missy’s Trunk, and spoke to classrooms of children about the black history of the state.
In sharing her knowledge, Calloway showed items that included an old clothes iron and handmade soap used by freed slaves who settled in Nebraska or stopped here on their way north.
Calloway opened the museum, formerly at 2213 Lake St., in 1976 as one of the first black history museums in the nation. The museum has since found a new home at Crossroads Mall after the old building became uninhabitable.
Hodges said because the museum is not in the heart of north Omaha any longer, it’s important to keep alive the black history of the state and everything Calloway worked to collect and share with the community.
On a day with sunny skies and warm weather, Calloway was able to join the celebration and see the sign for herself. She was greeted by applause and warm wishes from family and friends as they pointed out the newly unveiled street sign at 22nd and Lake Streets.
Both Gray and Hodges encouraged the continued acknowledgment of Calloway’s work. Gray said it was up to attendees, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to keep Calloway’s legacy alive.
“Today is Bertha Calloway’s day, the sign is Bertha Calloway’s sign, the work that was done to create the Great Plains Black History Museum was Bertha Calloway’s work,” Gray said. “We all need to continue to recognize that. We need to work to keep her legacy alive and not only alive, but to build on it.”