Books | Sports

July 3, 2011

Omaha Basketball's Race Pioneers

In 1968, five black starters led Omaha Central to the brink of a state title. Then racial tensions exploded. Steve Marantz tells their story.

Larry Fleisher

Towards the end of the 1960s, the country was at its explosive peak with the escalation of the Vietnam War, the rise of the civil-rights movement, and outbreaks of racial strife in several big cities. If any year was the peak of the peak, it was 1968, and in that year in Nebraska, Omaha Central High School's boys basketball team made history with its first all-black starting five. They were destined to win the state title until fate intervened—in the form of segregationist George Wallace's presidential campaign and its appearance in Omaha. Wallace's rally occurred at Omaha's Civic Auditorium—two blocks from Central High, close enough for students and the team to catch a glimpse of history. Though Wallace later denounced his views, the visit ignited a race riot and changed the lives of many.

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Article by Larry Fleisher

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