LETTER FROM CHRIS HEBERT
To the People of Omaha, Nebraska
Regarding William Brown and the riot of 1919
Chris Hebert. "I wanted to show there's still some decency left," said Chris Hebert, of Riverside, who gave $450 to buy a grave marker.
I was watching a TV show that was talking about the actor Henry Fonda. It mentioned that his life was greatly affected by a lynching that took place in Omaha, Nebraska, when he was a boy.
I guess I am just a curious person. I searched the words Henry Fonda and Lynching and found a story in Wikipedia, about William “Will” Brown.
You will never believe the impact that this had on my reading this story 90 years later.
I am a proud American. I am a person of color. An average guy who loves his wife, his family, and his country.
When I read Will Brown's story, I had tears in my eyes. We have come a long way since the riot of 1919. We witnessed this during the Presidential Election of 2008. I never thought in my lifetime that a black man would ever be president of this great country. Yet it has happened.
We all have rights guaranteed by our Constitution and legal system. We all can vote, worship at a church of our choice, work in a profession of our choosing. Sadly, this would not have come about without the Will Browns and Emmett Tills of the world.
Omaha, Nebraska lynch mob 1919
It is a shame that it took these deaths and others to raise public consciousness and effect the changes that we enjoy today. When I discovered that William Brown was buried in a pauper's grave, I did not want William Brown to be forgotten. I wanted him to have a headstone to let people know that it was because of people like him that we enjoy our freedoms today. The lesson learned from his death should be taught to all. That is, we cannot have the protections guaranteed by the Constitution without law. There is no place for vigilantism in our society.
William Brown, Omaha
The words of the Omaha World Herald after Will Brown's death said it best:
“There is the rule of the jungle in this world, and there is the rule of law. Under jungle rule no man's life is safe, no man's wife, no man's mother, sisters, children, home, liberty, rights or property. Under rule of law, protection is provided for all of these, and provided in proportion as law is efficiently and honestly administered and its power and authority respected and obeyed.
“Omaha has had an experience in lawlessness. We have seen, as in a nightmare, its awful possibilities. We have learned how frail is the barrier which divides civilization from the primal jungle — and we have been given to see clearly what that barrier is. It is the law! It is the might of the law, wisely administered. It is respect for the obedience to the law on the part of the members of society! May the lesson sink deep!” — Morning Omaha World-Herald September 30, 1919.
"Will" William Brown. Lynched in Omaha riot. September 28, 1919. Age 40. "Lest We Forget"
I hope that people will stop by his headstone, read it, maybe say a prayer for Mr. Brown and reflect on what happened on the 28th of September 1919. We must never let ourselves sink again to this level of inhumanity.