An All-American football player and graduate of West Point with
Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley; a soldier who was jailed for
drunkenness in a Mexican saloon and later drummed out of the
Army; a lumberjack in Minnesota; a buck private in the Minnesota
Guard who was called back for active duty during World War I; a
Roman Catholic priest who had given up drinking and smoking but
was kicked out of St. Louis University for being a civil
rights activist; a mathematics professor at Creighton
University. All this describes Fr. John Markoe, S J.
During his stay in St. Louis with his brother William, who was working
with poor blacks, Fr. Markoe first realized the prejudice they
faced. In Omaha he decided he could and should do something to
combat the racism he saw all around. With the encouragement of a
few courageous students, Fr. Markoe founded the De Porres Club
in 1947. Named after a Peruvian saint of mixed ancestry, the
stated purpose of the club was to educate people to think along
lines of charity and justice as regards inter-racial matters.
After meeting the first year at Creighton, they were asked to
move because they were too controversial. Several locations in
North Omaha became their home.
Although other cities in the nation became famous for racial activism,
Omaha was really the first to have sit-ins at restaurants and
bus boycotts. The fledgling group gained credibility when it
eventually allied itself with the local chapter of the NAACP,
the Omaha Urban League, and local black ministers. By the 1960s
the De Porres Club was on its way out, its functions being
assumed by the black power movement and the passage of civil
after his retirement from teaching duties at Creighton, Father
Markoe worked toward racial harmony and improved living
conditions for Omaha blacks. He died July 26, 1967, but will
long be remembered as a champion of social justice.
Vertical Files, Douglas County Historical Society Library