Omaha, Nebraska was for one brief hour at the very center of healing and recovery from America’s race warfare. In an unique, ecumenical gathering of prayer at the Clair Memorial United Methodist Church in Omaha, ten pastors offered ten prayers for unity, mercy and healing. Men and women of peace came together and collectively asked for divine guidance in the work of bringing together a fractured people, wounded by racial division.
Facilitated by Pastor Portia Cavitt, the prayer vigil was the idea of Preston Love, Jr., director of Black Votes Matter following his appearance in June at the Nebraska Board of Pardons. Love sought the release of Edward Poindexter, former leader of a Black Panther affiliate chapter in Omaha. Poindexter is serving a life without parole sentence for the 1970 bombing murder of an Omaha police officer, Larry Minard. Poindexter denies his guilt and says he was wrongfully convicted.
Governor Pete Rickett, chairman of the Pardon Board, suggested to Love that he reach out to the family of Patrolman Minard. Thus was born the idea for the prayer vigil in an effort to bring closure and reconciliation to a scarred city, wounded by events a half-century ago..
The soulful strains of “Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child” set a somber and pensive tone. Each pastor took up a different theme. The first prayer was a prayer for forgiveness. Then a prayer for unity as a people, followed by a prayer for mercy.
A prayer for reform of ourselves was followed by a prayer for all families touched by senseless deaths. The senseless death of fourteen year-old Vivian Strong, shot in the back of the head in 1969 by an Omaha police officer, was the subject of another group prayer. Although Patrolman James Loder lost his job he was acquitted of manslaughter by an Omaha jury.
A special prayer was made for the Larry Minard family. Officer Minard, killed in the line of duty in 1970 responding to a 911 call about a screaming woman, left behind a widow and five young children. Buried on his thirtieth birthday, the martyred policeman was betrayed by some of his own command officers and agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation when the search for his killers was called off to convict two Black Panther leaders.
A prayer was offered for the James Scurlock family. The twenty year-old man was shot to death May 20th in the Old Market area of Omaha during a scuffle with an armed tavern owner. The occasion was a George Floyd protest and the barman fired two warning shots to scare away an increasingly unruly crowd. Scurlock grappled with the armed man and was shot for his effort. Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine pronounced it a case of self-defense and no charges were filed.
A prayer was dedicated to the family of Edward Poindexter serving a life without parole sentence for the murder of Larry Minard. In poor health, Poindexter has suffered a living death of both the loss of his freedom and his reputation. Poindexter’s controversial 1971 trial was marred by conflicting police testimony, a withheld report by the FBI Laboratory, and apparently tampered dynamite evidence.
Poindexter, and co-defendant David Rice, later Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, were targets of an illegal and clandestine FBI counterintelligence operation code-named COINTELPRO. Nebraska courts have been reluctant to admit COINTELPRO tampering with the trial and many feel justice remains undone with Poindexter paying a debt he does not owe.
The final prayer of the vigil was one for healing. Three different deaths, Vivian Strong, Larry Minard, and James Scurlock share one thing in common, they all tore Omaha apart. Yesterday, at the Clair Memorial Church, there was a glimpse of a new way, a new day.
The next meeting of the Nebraska Board of Pardons will be August 19th, two days after the fiftieth anniversary of Larry Minard’s murder. The burden on the Board will be to see that Minard did not die in vain and that justice can come to Poindexter who former Governor Frank Morrison has said the courts have failed.
For more information about Vivian Strong, Larry Minard, and Ed Poindexter see FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two story, in print edition at Amazon and in ebook. Portions of the book may be read free online at NorthOmahaHistory.com. The book is also available to patrons of the Omaha Public Library.