George Johnson, the First of Firsts in Black History

 George Johnson, the First of Firsts in Black History

By: Josie Blake, A Student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, as part of Heather Nelson’s Service Learning Academy class.

North Omaha has a rich history of successful black-owned businesses. Breaking barriers in the business world is something that should be celebrated, and the 2020 article, “A Biography of George P. Johnson,” does just that. 

To give a little insight into the article, author Adam F.C. Fletcher tells a historical tale about George P. Johnson, the founder of the first black-owned and operated film theater company in the world. Before his large success in the film industry, Johnson had many firsts. He started the first Black-owned newspaper in Tulsa, Oklahoma, then settled into Omaha and became the first black employee at the post office, which all led him to his career as a film company founder. 

You might be wondering how Johnson exactly stumbled into making an entire film company after just working at a post office. Well, Fletcher writes that Johnson’s interest was ignited when a “racist, white supremacist” movie came out and became wildly popular in Omaha. George Johnson and his brother, Noble Johnson, wanted to stand up to big Los Angeles film companies that kept promoting these racist films.

So, in 1915, in North Omaha, George and Noble founded the Lincoln Motion Picture Company.  In Fletchers words, Johnson said that the company’s films would, “…picture the Negro as he is in his everyday life, a human with human tendencies, and one of talent and intellect.” George and his brother Noble went on to film, act, and produce multiple movies that portrayed black people in a positive way. From plots about black employees becoming millionaires, to black soldiers and heroes, the Lincoln Motion Picture Company thrived in its mission to promote black people in a better way than ever. 

Eventually the film company faded out, as many black Americans had limited disposable income to spend on watching movies during this era. George Johnson was still adamant about the misrepresentation of negroes in motion pictures and spoke about the issue publicly even after the Lincoln Motion Picture Company closed its doors. Johnson was determined to shake the white film industry as well as remove “white” and “black” theaters to make them one. 

In honor of the Freedomtainment community partner who is preparing the Omaha Freedom Festival coming up to honor Juneteenth, one of the greatest days in black history, it’s important to reflect and remember the people who have helped pave the path for African Americans. George P. Johnson was a man of many firsts, and his legacy is one that should not be forgotten. Not only was he an inspiration to North Omaha, but he is a silhouette of the many modern-day African Americans that are still becoming a “first.” In 2020 alone, there became the first Black president of an NFL team,  the first African American female Vice President, the first African American United States Secretary of Defense, and the list goes on. 

George P. Johnson helped break the surface for black Americans and was a big part of Omaha’s culture. Hopefully he will inspire you to break some barriers or become the first person to do something new too.