Joseph S. Ballew: One of the First Black Police Officers in Omaha, Nebraska from Pulaski County, Kentucky

Joseph S. Ballew, one of the early African American police officers in Omaha, NE, joined the Omaha Police Department on June 21, 1915. He was born in Pulaski County, KY, and lived in Mt. Gilead with his family according to the 1870 U.S. Census. Three years later, Ballew enlisted in the U.S. Army and served with the 9th Cavalry until his discharge at Camp Bettens, WY in 1892. After settling in Omaha, NE, he worked as a laborer before joining the police force. Ballew married Dora Ballew in 1896 and his race is inconsistently listed as Black, White, and/or Mulatto in the census records. In the Omaha City Directory, he is listed as Colored.

The Omaha Race Riot occurred on September 28, 1919. Will Brown, a black man, was accused of attacking a white woman, Agnes Loebeck. Brown was taken from jail by a mob and brutally killed.

After the city regained its composure, there was scrutiny of the Omaha Police Department for their alleged inaction in preventing casualties and destruction during the riot.  According to “Omaha” in Race Riots and Resistance by J. Voogd, two of the officers on duty at the time were black.  Joseph S. Ballew served as a police officer during that tumultuous time.

Ballew had a wife, daughter, and stepson.  Although eligible for retirement in July of 1923, he was still an active police officer at the time of his passing the following December.



“Ballew, Joseph S.,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed January 23, 2024,