Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in WWII
February 17 – July 15, 2018
In the years leading up to World War II, racial segregation and discrimination were part of daily life for many in the United States. For most African Americans, even the most basic rights and services were fragmented or denied altogether. To be black was to know the limits of freedom—excluded from the very opportunity, equality, and justice on which the country was founded. Yet, once World War II began, thousands of African Americans rushed to enlist, intent on serving the nation that treated them as second-class citizens. They were determined to fight to preserve the freedom that they themselves had been denied.
The exhibit features artifacts, photographs and oral histories to highlight some of the extraordinary achievements and challenges of African Americans during World War II, both overseas and at home. It illustrates how hopes for securing equality inspired many to enlist, the discouraging reality of the segregated non-combat roles given to black recruits, and the continuing fight for “Double Victory” that laid the groundwork for the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Through a myriad of interactive experiences, visitors will discover the wartime stories of individual service members who took part in this journey of extraordinary challenge, from unheralded heroes to famous names, including Alex Haley (US Coast Guard); Benjamin Davis, Jr. (US Army Air Forces); Medgar Evers (US Army) and more. The centerpiece of the exhibit is an original eight-minute video about the famed 332nd Fighter Group (better known as the Tuskegee Airmen), who in many ways became the public focus of African American participation during the war. Additionally, two medals are featured that represent the seven African Americans who were awarded the Medal of Honor in 1997, the bittersweet result of a long investigation by the US military on discriminatory policies in the awarding of combat medals. The exhibit will also provide in-depth coverage of lesser-known events and service, such as that of the USS Mason, the first American ship to have a predominately African American crew.
Fighting for the Right to Fight was developed by the National WWII Museum of New Orleans, LA, and sponsored nationally by Abbott Downing and Wells Fargo. A national advisory committee, including the late Dr. Clement Alexander Price of Rutgers University, was commissioned to help frame the exhibition. The committee, led by co chairs Dr. John Morrow of the University of Georgia and Claudine Brown of the Smithsonian Institution, helped advise on the exhibition’s narrative arc and content.
The Durham Museum gratefully acknowledges the partners and generous sponsors whose support have made the Fighting for the Right to Fight exhibition possible:
National Touring Sponsors
Supported Locally by
John K. and Lynne D. Boyer Family Foundation
Media Support Provided by
Special Support Provided by
Kutak Rock LLP
Women in Omaha: A Biographical Sketch of Persistence through History
NOW – July 29, 2018
The field of Women’s History expands the story of our nation’s past through exploring the role women have played in the historical record. Traditional history focuses on politics, wars, and seminal events, and oftentimes ignores women, people of color, and the mass of America’s ordinary citizens. At the same time, Western history examines the unique and complicated relationships between the people and places of the North American west.
The Durham Museum partnered with the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s History Department and Service Learning Academy to produce an immersive, interdisciplinary experience focused on Nebraska women and their experience in the Midwest for students in the spring and fall semesters of 2017. In conjunction with the curriculum of Dr. Elaine Nelson, Assistant Professor of History and Executive Director of the Western History Association, museum staff instructed UNO students on conducting oral histories, independent research related to the experience of women in the Western United States and the distillation of that research and the modern oral histories into an exhibition.
You Are What You Eat:
Setting the Table during the Second World War
Special Online-Only Exhibition!
Do you or your neighbors tend a vegetable garden? Do you know people who can their own preserves, follow “Meatless Mondays” or eat farm to table? During the Second World War, rationing ensured that enough food and supplies went to fighting men on the frontlines. At home, new solutions were created in the kitchen to support the need. The war brought changes to the Omaha kitchen, including many modern urban farming trends. While today this food-based activism is a lifestyle choice, these methods were made necessary in the 1940s by a war that rationed everything from sugar and butter to flour and meat. The war changed America’s diet and what you ate became a patriotic statement.
Pictured: Margaret Brown with canning jars | 1938 | John Savage Collection | The Durham Museum Photo Archive | JS30B-732B
Photo Archive Gallery
North Omaha: A Community of Change
Now – January 2019
North Omaha is one of many distinct neighborhoods whose people contributed to the development of the city at large. While the borders of North Omaha are not firmly established, Florence, the Near North Side, Kountze Place and Walnut Hill are areas found within its boundary. From the earliest pioneers, this area has been a hub of development. Many of Omaha’s community leaders came from this neighborhood, like Mildred Brown, who in 1938 co-founded the Omaha Star, an African American newspaper still in circulation today. North Omaha served as the stage for the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in 1898 whose exhibitions and structures rivaled any World’s Fair and placed Omaha on the international map. Through a selection of images from the Photo Archive this display showcases some of the remarkable people, places and events from North Omaha.
Pushing Boundaries: HDR at 100
NoW – February 25, 2018
Representing the initials of founders H.H. Henningson, Charles Durham and Willard Richardson, HDR is known for pushing the boundaries of engineering and architecture innovation. The humble beginnings of this community giant began in 1917. Henning H. Henningson was struck by how many people near and far needed better water works, sewer systems and electric plants. So he founded the Henningson Engineering Company in Omaha, Nebraska, adding value to the local community and inspiring positive change in neighboring states.
By the 1950s architectural services were added and engineering services expanded to include resource management, community planning, transportation and more. Chuck Durham, a civil engineer, led the early era of growth, as HDR expanded from 15 employees to more than a thousand. Since then the company has won a number of global projects that have impacted people around the world. Using historic photographs, archival documents, and artifacts from the company archive, The Durham Museum will celebrate HDR’s history of excellence in Omaha and beyond.
Byron Reed Gallery
MASTER OF THE LODGE: BYRON REED AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF FRATERNALISM IN NEBRASKA
Romantically Speaking:The Development of American Literature in the 19th Century
Now – July 8, 2018
With the need to form an identity separate from their European counterparts, American authors adopted Romanticism as the norm for the development of American literature in the 1800s. Emphasis on individualism and freedom were highly popular in Romanticism and blended with ideals Americans wanted to spread through the country. The four authors featured in this exhibit are examples of Romanticism’s presence in American literature in the 19th century.