Wanted to share a brief conversation I had today with Rodney Wead, a prominent Omaha civil rights leader in the 1960s. (He’s also Bob Gibson’s best friend).

Rodney was my biggest ally on 24th & Glory & one of the most insightful people I know. 1/
On Christmas Eve, for instance, he came back to Omaha and hosted a breakfast for about 50 old friends, during which he gave an impromptu speech about the black experience in America since 1619.

A year after a stroke, he still teaches black history classes at a STL college. 2/
I treasure the man and many others do, too. Omaha named a street after him in 2018.

Anyway, I’ll post his thoughts in a story-type thread. Nothing special, but context is important during times like this:

Rodney Wead watched with bated breath. Alone in his St. Louis living room Saturday night, his TV flashed images of American streets in chaos.

Wead, 84, wondered why history continues to repeat itself. 4/
“I almost had tears in my eyes,” Wead said. “I’m looking at this mess I’ve seen 1,000 times. The tear gas and the running and the policemen trapping the protestors and all the sound and the fury.

“Man, that made me so sad. I’ve been right in the middle of that stuff.” 5/
In March 1968, George Wallace came to Omaha to boost his presidential campaign. Wead protested a Wallace rally at the Civic Auditorium. When a melee broke out in the arena, a police officer clubbed Wead with a nightstick. 6/
One year later, June 1969, Omaha policeman James Loder shot and killed 14-year-old Vivian Strong in the Logan Fontenelle projects, where Wead grew up. He watched his community endure three more nights of devastating riots.

North Omaha was never the same. 7/
Watching Saturday night, Wead thought about Strong 51 years ago. And Rodney King 29 years ago. And Michael Brown, just a few miles from his St. Louis home, in 2014. He thought about 400 years of black men suffering injustice and police brutality.

“Institutional racism and white supremacy. Will it EVER leave this country?”

If there’s a difference today, Wead said, it’s how much smaller the world is. Younger people feel “if it’s happening in another part of the country, it’s happening to them. They have enough sympathy to say, dammit, if it can happen there, we’re going to support that group.”

“That 8-minute tape turned a lot of people around.”

Wead referred to Monday’s video of a Minneapolis police officer putting his knee to the neck of George Floyd. Wead wonders why all the officers at the scene haven’t been arrested.

That question, too, brings back bad memories. So do public curfews, the National Guard in riot gear, politicians’ calls for shooting the looters.

“The whole process has been repeated over and over again.” 12/
Tonight in his hometown, conflict looms again. Wead will keep watching the TV and hoping it doesn’t descend into a riot like 1968, when the policeman struck him above the eye.

Wead still wears the scar.

You can follow @dirkchatelain.
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