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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
40 MOVIES TO WATCH AND LEARN FROM
40 movies to watch and learn from during Black History Month — or anytime
Released 2014 • Director Ava DuVernay • Where to watch Prime Video
David Oyelowo portrays Martin Luther King Jr. in a film depicting the civil rights leader's historic voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Make it a double feature: 'Boycott'
Released 2001 • Director Clark Johnson • Where to watch HBO, Prime Video
Jeffrey Wright portrays Martin Luther King Jr. in a film about the Montgomery bus boycott.
Release 2019 • Director Kasi Lemmons • Where to watch HBO, Prime Video
Cynthia Erivo helped bring the overdue story of the Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman to the big screen. The film was directed and co-written by St. Louis native Kasi Lemmons.
Make it a double feature: 'The Birth of a Nation'
Release 2016 • Director Nate Parker • Where to watch Prime Video
Nate Parker stars in the story of abolitionist Nat Turner, an enslaved man who successfully led an uprising.
Release 2004 • Director Taylor Hackford • Where to watch HBO, Prime Video
Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of music genius Ray Charles received all the flowers — and deservedly so.
Make it a double feature: 'What's Love Got to Do With It'
Release 1993 • Director Brian Gibson • Where to watch Prime Video
Angela Bassett portrays rock 'n' roll icon Tina Turner in this crowd-pleasing biopic.
Release 2016 • Director Theodore Melfi • Where to watch Prime Video
NASA's Black female mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson received a rare spotlight with portrayals by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe.
Make it a double feature: 'Concussion'
Release 2015 • Director Peter Landesman • Where to watch Prime Video
Will Smith portrays acclaimed pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, who conducted groundbreaking research in the field of chronic traumatic encephalopathy among football players.
'The Tuskegee Airmen'
Release 1995 • Director Robert Markowitz • Where to watch HBO, Prime Video
Laurence Fishburne, Allen Payne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Andre Braugher and Courtney B. Vance are among those leading the cast in the story of Black combat pilots in World War II.
Make it a double feature: 'Red Tails'
Release 2012 • Director Anthony Hemingway • Where to watch HBO, Prime Video
Cuba Gooding Jr. revisits familiar territory with Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Terrence Howard, Ne-Yo and Elijah Kelley.
'Miss Evers' Boys'
Release 1997 • Director Joseph Sargent • Where to watch HBO, Prime Video
Alfre Woodard and Laurence Fishburne headline this story of the Tuskegee Experiment, a top-secret, decadeslong government operation in which underprivileged Black men were used in a study of untreated syphilis.
Make it a double feature: 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'
Release 2017 • Director George C. Wolfe • Where to watch HBO, Prime Video
Renée Elise Goldsberry portrays Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cervical cancer cells in the 1950s were used, without her consent, in groundbreaking medical research. Also starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne.
'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom'
Release 2020 • Director George C. Wolfe • Where to watch Netflix
Viola Davis is triumphant as real-life “Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainey in this fictionalized story about an ill-fated recording session. It's Chadwick Boseman’s final role.
Make it a double feature: 'Bessie'
Release 2015 • Director Dee Rees • Where to watch HBO, Prime Video
Queen Latifah, a Grammy-winning artist herself, takes on a different blues queen, Bessie Smith, a contemporary of Ma Rainey’s (portrayed here by Mo’Nique).
'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom'
Release 2013 • Director Justin Chadwick • Where to watch Prime Video
Idris Elba leads this biopic depicting the rise of Nelson Mandela, the South African president and anti-apartheid revolutionary.
Make it a double feature: 'Hotel Rwanda'
Release 2004 • Director Terry George • Where to watch Starz, Prime Video
Don Cheadle portrays Paul Rusesabagina, the Rwandan hotel manager who successfully housed countless refugees during a 1994 genocide.
Release 2017 • Director Reginald Hudlin • Where to watch Prime Video
Chadwick Boseman stars in a legal drama about an early case of Thurgood Marshall, who went on to become the first Black Supreme Court justice. Directed by East St. Louis native Reginald Hudlin.
Make it a double feature: '42'
Release 2013 • Director Brian Helgeland • Where to watch Prime Video
Chadwick Boseman, with his penchant for portraying larger-than-life historical figures, hits a home run as Jackie Robinson, the first Black athlete to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era.
Release 2001 • Director Michael Mann • Where to watch Showtime, Prime Video
Will Smith enters the ring as Muhammad Ali in a flick that depicts 10 years of the boxing champion’s life.
Make it a double feature: 'The Hurricane'
Release 1999 • Director Norman Jewison • Where to watch HBO, Prime Video
Denzel Washington plays Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a boxer who is wrongly imprisoned for murder and must fight for his freedom.
'One Night in Miami'
Release 2020 • Director Regina King • Where to watch Prime Video
Kingsley Ben-Air, Eli Goree, Leslie Odom Jr., and Aldis Hodge star in a fictionalized depiction of the real-life 1964 meeting of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown at a Miami motel.
Make it a double feature: 'Malcolm X'
Release 1992 • Director Spike Lee • Where to watch Prime Video
Denzel Washington stars in a sweeping biopic about activist and minister Malcolm X.
'Straight Outta Compton'
Release 2015 • Director F. Gary Gray • Where to watch Prime Video
O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell star in a musical drama based on the rise of groundbreaking and controversial rap act N.W.A., which spawned Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E.
Make it a double feature: 'Notorious'
Release 2009 • Director George Tillman Jr. • Where to watch Prime Video
The rise to fame and untimely death of New York rapper Notorious B.I.G. is depicted in this hip-hop biopic starring Jamal Woolard.
'Lee Daniels' The Butler'
Release 2013 • Director Lee Daniels • Where to watch Prime Video
Forest Whitaker stars in an epic drama about Cecil Gaines, a White House butler who served under eight different presidents.
Make it a double feature: 'Southside With You'
Release 2016 • Director Richard Tanne • Where to watch Prime Video
Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter portray a young Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson, on their first date in the summer of 1989, years before becoming president and first lady.
Release 2013 • Director Ryan Coogler • Where to watch Prime Video
Michael B. Jordan stars as 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was killed by police on a devastating night at a train station in 2008.
Make it a double feature: 'Detroit'
Release 2017 • Director Kathryn Bigelow • Where to watch Prime Video
“Detroit” depicts the 1967 Detroit riots and a deadly incident at the Algiers Motel involving white police officers who attacked and killing Blacks.
'Lady Sings the Blues'
Release 1972 • Director Sidney J. Furie • Where to watch Available on DVD
Diana Ross soars in her breakout acting role as legendary jazz artist and “Strange Fruit” singer Billie Holiday.
Make it a double feature: 'Introducing Dorothy Dandridge'
Release 1999 • Director Martha Coolidge • Where to watch Available on DVD
Halle Berry portrays Hollywood actress and singer Dorothy Dandrige, navigating her way through a tough Tinseltown that didn’t want her.
'The Pursuit of Happyness'
Release 2006 • Director Gabriele Muccino • Where to watch Prime Video
Will Smith teams up with his son Jaden in an inspirational story about salesman Chris Gardner, who went from sleeping in shelters to founding his own brokerage firm.
Make it a double feature: 'The Banker'
Release 2020 • Director George Nolfi • Where to watch Apple TV+
This early Apple TV+ movie stars Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson as Bernard Garrett and Joe Morris, two of the first Black bankers in the United States — with the help of a white associate who fronts the business.
'Remember the Titans'
Release 2000 • Director Boaz Yakin • Where to watch Disney+, Prime Video
Denzel Washington plays football coach Herman Boone, who integrated T.C. Williams High School in the early 1970s.
Make it a double feature: 'The Express: The Ernie Davis Story'
Release 2008 • Director Gary Fleder • Where to watch Showtime, Prime Video
Rob Brown portrays Syracuse University football player Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy.
Release 1997 • Director John Singleton • Where to watch Prime Video
This historical drama is based on the horrific 1923 Rosewood, Florida, massacre, a race riot in which whites destroyed a Black town.
Make it a double feature: 'Mississippi Burning'
Release 1988 • Director Alan Parker • Where to watch Cinemax, Prime Video
A look at 1964’s Freedom Summer Murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, as investigated by FBI agents portrayed by Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe.
Release 1989 • Director Edward Zwick • Where to watch Starz, Prime Video
Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick star in a wartime feature on the Civil War’s first Black regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry.
Make it a double feature: 'Men of Honor'
Release 2000 • Director George Tillman Jr. • Where to watch Prime Video
Cuba Gooding Jr. is Carl Brashear, the first Black U.S. Navy diver; the cast also includes Robert De Niro, Charlize Theron, Hal Holbrook and Powers Boothe.
Release 2016 • Director Stephen Hopkins • Where to watch Prime Video
Stephan James portrays 1936 Berlin Olympics track and field champion Jesse Owens, dubbed “the fastest man alive."
Make it a double feature: 'Pride'
Release 2007 • Director Sunu Gonera • Where to Watch Prime Video
Philadelphia swim coach James Ellis, played by Terrence Howard, leads the first Black swim team at the Marcus Foster Recreation Center near Philadelphia.
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