Reminiscing Omaha’s First Black Woman Principal

By Sheritha Jones

Edmae Swain started her first day as the first Black woman principal in the Omaha Public Schools on Sept. 8, 1964.

Her career in education started as a teacher in northeast Omaha’s Long and Howard Kennedy Schools in 1947.

Omaha Public Schools Superintendent Harry Burke appointed Swain principal at Lake Elementary School in North Omaha in 1964. Lake was one of Omaha’s four Black schools at the time, and by 1965 it was a completely segregated school.

In 1969 then-Superintendent Owen Knutzenan asked Swain if she would transfer and she agreed, making her the first Black principal assigned to a school outside the North Omaha area. Her new assignment was principal of Jackson Elementary, at 31st Street and St. Mary’s Avenue — a White school.

“I feel we need whites in the all-Black areas because if they’re going to be well-rounded teachers, they need experience from all sides,” Swain said. “It’s helpful to the teachers and helpful to the children.

“Education shouldn’t have any color lines.” Swain retired in 1977.

Let’s reminisce on Edmae Swain’s invaluable contributions to the OPS district.

1970: Edmae Swain looks at the injured foot of 8-year-old Tom Brooks at Jackson School. ROBERT PASKACH, THE WORLD-HERALD
2000: A Black History month observance and celebration at the Western Heritage Museum, now the Durham Museum, in 2000. Honored were, from left, Edmae Swain, Steven Hogan, Charles Hall and the Rev. John Whittington. RUDY SMITH, THE WORLD-HERALD
1967: Edmae Swain, Omaha’s first Black woman principal. She retired in 1977, after three decades in the Omaha school district. WOLRD-HERALD ARCHIVE
1970: Edmae Swain, principal of Jackson School, took 22 sixth graders to visit three nursing homes to deliver small gifts they had made for the residents. ROBERT PASKACH, THE WORLD-HERALD
UNDATED PHOTO: For most of its existence, Lake School had kindergarten through eighth grade in a brick two-story building with a peaked roofline and decorated peaks, and a bell tower on the east side. Lake was one of OPS’s four Black schools, and by 1965 it was a completely segregated school. WORLD-HERALD ARCHIVE


Photo Source: Rudy Smith, The World-Herald