The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central: High School Basketball at the '68 Racial Divide

The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central: High School Basketball at the '68 Racial Divide

The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central: High School Basketball at the '68 Racial Divide

The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central: High School Basketball at the '68 Racial Divide

Synopsis

In the spring of 1968, the Omaha Central High School basketball team made history with its first all-black starting lineup. Their nickname, the Rhythm Boys, captured who they were and what they did on the court. Led by star center Dwaine Dillard, the Rhythm Boys were a shoo-in to win the state championship. But something happened on their way to glory. In early March, segregationist George Wallace, in a third-party presidential bid, made a campaign stop in Omaha. By the time he left town, Dillard was in jail, his coach was caught between angry political factions, and the city teetered on the edge of racial violence. So began the Nebraska state high school basketball tournament the next day, caught in the vise of history. The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central tells a true story about high school basketball, black awakening and rebellion, and innocence lost in a watershed year. The drama of civil rights in 1968 plays out in this riveting social history of sports, politics, race, and popular culture in the American heartland.

Excerpt

I graduated from Omaha Central High School in 1971, the year Dr. Gaylord Moller called the worst of his career as principal. The reason? Racial tension — ignited in 1968 by events chronicled in The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central — was off the chart.

When Doc told me that, years later, I was surprised. From my perspective, race relations had not been that bad. The racial tension of the late sixties and early seventies was something I didn’t feel inside the school — in spite of the fact that our cafeterias were segregated, by choice, not rule. Whites and blacks mixed in homeroom, choir, and various other activities, so it didn’t feel to me like a segregated or tense environment.

The diversity at Central was, to me, really wonderful. It provided a “real life” education that was in some ways better and more important than the academic education.

I was not unaware of segregation, hate, and prejudice in the larger world. I grew up in a house with parents (particularly my mother, Susan Thompson Buffett, president of the Central High School class of 1950, who spent time in north Omaha . . .

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