Read the Prologue from The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central: High School Basketball at the '68 Racial Divide by Steve Marantz:
"In March 1968, two high school basketball teams played for the Nebraska state championship, a contest with decades of wholesome tradition. But this game was different.
A few days earlier former Alabama governor George C. Wallace had come to Omaha to campaign for president. He brought the Deep South—“segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” and the jackboots of Selma—and set it down two blocks from Omaha Central High School. His searing rhetoric scalded the sensibilities of many, including eighteen-year-old Dwaine Dillard, Central’s African American basketball superstar.
When Central and Lincoln Northeast met in the final, the back story was pure Hollywood.
Dillard threw an elbow for black power and collided with the presidential campaign. Bigwigs, cops, and politicians gnashed their hands and wrung their teeth. Teenagers rebelled, came of age, and lost their innocence—all at once. Before it was over blood was spilled, tears were shed, arrests were made, and hoops were played.
I was there and I’ll never forget it.
But then, it’s not hard to remember the Rhythm Boys, as Dillard and his teammates were known. Their spirit lives at the unmarked crossroads of youth, adulthood, justice, and morality.
Their nickname captured who they were and what they did on a basketball court. Sons of Omaha’s inner city, at the climax of the civil rights movement, their game personified their generation: exuberant, hopeful, and rebellious. So, too, their star-crossed fate.
The story of the Rhythm Boys, a team of its time, is for all seasons.
It is also the story of Omaha Central High in 1968, ten years after African American students integrated another Central High, in Little Rock, Arkansas, under the protection of federal troops. There were, and are, hundreds of Central Highs across America, built when cities were young, emblems of a noble idea, public education, vulnerable to demagogues. This one belongs to all, as that epic year belongs to the ages."
Steve Marantz is an Omaha Central graduate and the author of Sorcery at Caesars: Sugar Ray’s Marvelous Fight. A researcher for ESPN Content Development and E:60, and a coeditor of sportsmediaguide.com, he formerly covered sports, government, and politics for the Kansas City Star, the Boston Globe, and the Boston Herald.
To read a longer excerpt or to preorder The Rhythm Boys, visit https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/Rhythm-Boys-of-Omaha-Central,674774.aspx.