Matthew Ricketts was born into slavery in Kentucky in 1858. After the Civil War, his parents moved to Missouri, where he finished school. In 1876, Ricketts earned his degree, and in 1880 he moved to Omaha, where he attended the Omaha Medical College and became the first African American college graduate and the first African American doctor in Nebraska.
Ricketts graduated with honors in 1884, and opened an office immediately. Popular and charismatic, Ricketts was quickly a key leader in Omaha’s African American community.
In 1892, Rickets was elected to as the first African American to the Nebraska House of Representatives, serving two terms from 1893 to 1897. Serving the community determinedly, Ricketts is credited with opening Omaha’s first African American firefighting company; securing appointments for African Americans in Omaha’s city government and Nebraska state government; and serving throughout the community in philanthropic and service oriented organizations.
Dr. Ricketts led a campaign to strengthen Nebraska’s 1885 civil rights law. In 1893, the state’s lawmakers passed a measure prohibiting the denial of services in public facilities to anyone on account of race, mainly at Dr. Ricketts’s urging. It is noteworthy that this measure was enacted just as most southern states were in the process of establishing Jim Crow facilities.
About 1901, Dr. Ricketts left Nebraska to continue his medical career in St. Joseph. He died in St. Joseph, Mo., on Jan. 15, 1917, at the age of 59.