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Cindy Lange-Kubick: Malone Reunions filled with 'laughing and hugging, just like the old days'
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Cindy Lange-Kubick: Malone Reunions filled with 'laughing and hugging, just like the old days'

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Cindy Lange-Kubick has loved writing columns about life in her hometown since 1994. She had hoped to become a people person by now, nonetheless she would love to hear your tales of fascinating neighbors and interesting places.

In 1915, Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH)

They rented a big room at the Villager motel on O Street, hired a band, hung banners. There was a bus tour of the city. Church at Quinn Chapel on Sunday.

Everyone registered at the Malone Center, the hub of their growing-up years.

Five years later — in 1989 — they did it again. Hazel Anderson has the photos, lined up in a blue album in her living room.

They called it Lincoln Days.

“A lot of people from the neighborhood had left town,” said Anderson, 88, who grew up on T Street, the youngest of 10 Wilson children. “We wanted to get back together and reminisce about things.”

They sent out “feelers,” said Beverly Wade, 85, who first suggested the idea to Anderson and her lady friends and gathered a dozen helpers to get it going.

“We had the best time,” she said. “I had white friends and we had Lincoln High reunions, but we didn’t take part in that because they didn’t want us there.”

Wade lives in Las Vegas now with her husband, Otha, who ran the barber shop on R Street back in the days before the university and the city started buying houses and land and cutting the physical ties to the place where many of Lincoln’s earliest Black families had settled and then stayed.

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“I didn’t know I was living in this section that was segregated,” Wade said. “It dawned on me one day; our parents kept us so busy we didn’t have time to think about it.”

Juanita and Victor McWilliams raised their four children at 19th and S streets, lived in the same house for more than 40 years.

The widow remembers that first reunion in ’84. An awards ceremony, recognition of “certain pillars of the town,” like Kay Thompson, the director of the Malone Center.

“The Malone Center was our favorite meeting place,” she said. “Except for our own homes.”

The divisions were deep in the 1940s and '50s, McWilliams said. The city’s public pool was closed to Blacks. The movie theater in Havelock turned Black children away. McWilliams was one of many parents who looked out for the Malone neighborhood children, said Ed Wimes, who grew up a block from the Malone Center.

“You were raised in a village that took care of you,” Wimes said. “You had this huge family.”

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The Malone Center family. The moms down the street. “All of them at one time or another did something, said something to get you back on track.”

The reunion pulled people back to that feeling of having a safe haven in the world. Those first formal gatherings in the ’80s and ’90s, smaller gatherings in Nevada and Colorado in the years after, and three more that came after the turn of the century.

They called those Malone Lincoln Days, a different name but the same feeling of joy.

“It was work,” said Joe Casmer, one of the organizers. “But it was worth it to see the people making connections.”

They honored Col. Paul Adams one year, their old Lincoln High teacher and a Tuskegee Airman. Casmer introduced him as a history maker.

“Everyone stood up and applauded,” he said.

One year, they honored Black pharmacist Maurice Russell and Black policeman Pete Peterson; one year it was Otha Wade’s turn, the Black barber who cut everyone’s hair.

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Crowds of people came from all over the country. Michigan. Missouri, Florida. California. Colorado. When the Villager closed, they moved to the Cornhusker Marriott. Buffet dinners, drawings for gift cards, more bus tours. They hired a Black photographer. A Black caterer.

They scheduled the reunions for early summer, so old neighbors could celebrate Juneteenth at the Malone Center.

One afternoon just before the reunion, Casmer pulled up to a house on 22nd Street to collect registration money. Old friends showed up at the same time.

“Cars parked in the middle of the street, and we were laughing and hugging, just like the old days,” he said. “You were such a close-knit community, you wanted to renew those relationships."

The 70-year-old can still name the families on both sides of S Street, stretching two blocks down from where he and his brothers grew up.

“We had that togetherness.”

There were mini-reunions inside the big one, as far-flung families gathered together, Rose McWilliams said.

Juanita McWilliams’ daughter worked on the reunion committees. She put together quizzes filled with Lincoln and neighborhood trivia — Indiana had the Jackson 5; we had our own talented brothers. Who were they? (The Wells Brothers.) My halls have been empty since 1977, but I’m still keeping watch over the Malone neighborhood. What am I? (Whittier Junior High.) I would bring my horse and cart through the Malone neighborhood. Who am I? (Tony's Fruits & Vegetables.)

She compiled addresses and phone numbers and called them out to see who remembered who once answered the door or the telephone.

McWilliams and her three siblings grew up on S Street, where “everybody knew everybody,” she said.

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If they passed someone walking or riding their bikes, they followed their parents’ example.

“We weren’t allowed to pass anybody without speaking. No matter how many times we went by on our bikes, we had to say 'hi' to Mrs. Possey if she was sitting on her porch.”

They honored the old-timers at those banquets, too. Seasoned elders, she calls them.

They listened to their stories; and, sadly, so many of them are gone now, Wimes said.

So many of their homes, too.

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The reunions bring those places — and the people who inhabited them — back again.

“To me, it’s a real rebonding of a close shared existence,” Wimes said. “I think it’s important.”

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Cindy Lange-Kubick has loved writing columns about life in her hometown since 1994. She had hoped to become a people person by now, nonetheless she would love to hear your tales of fascinating neighbors and interesting places.

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