Much the same as today, Omaha was culturally segregated in the early 20th century. Jim Crow was a specter in the city in many ways, including its hospitals, schools, eating establishments and hotels. This article is a history of Black hotels in Omaha.
The grandiose histories written about Omaha highlight early hotels, but don’t often mention that they discriminated against African Americans. Places like the Grand Central Hotel, the Cozzens Hotel, the Herndon House are all touted as great places. However, they were segregated.
Later hotels in Omaha like the Fontenelle, the Blackstone, and the Flatiron Hotel were all segregated, prohibiting Black people from staying in their storied hallways. African American travelers to Omaha had to have their own places to stay.
Black-Owned or Operated Hotels in Omaha
In a segregated city like Omaha, the only option for Black people was to own their own hotels for Black travelers and others to stay at.
According to a 1938 interview with Henry W. Black from the U.S. Congress, around 1890 the first hotel for African Americans in Omaha was opened and run by a Mr. Lewis at 10th and Capitol Streets, and was owned by a Mr. Adams.
From 1936 to 1966, Omaha had several hotels friendly to African Americans listed in The Negro Motorist Green Book. They were presumably Black-owned, too. Black musicians, actors, and performers stayed at these hotels, as well as Black businesspeople and other travelers.
According to an interview conducted by the University of Nebraska History Harvest, after the Civil Rights movement some musicians reminisced about the jam sessions that happen at these hotels, and the “sense of ‘togetherness’ they felt when they stayed there.”
The Broadview, located at 2060 Fontenelle Blvd., was listed as “Omaha’s finest” in tourist books for African Americans. The Patton Hotel was a popular institution located near South Omaha.
In addition to the Broadview and Patton, there were two other Black-friendly hotels listed in the Green Book. The Walker Hotel, shown above, was a repurposing of the original Jewish Old Folks Home and was located at 2504 Charles Street.
Over the years before and after the Civil Rights Movement, there were several Black hotels in Omaha. They included:
- Booker T. Washington Hotel, 1719 Cuming Street
- Calhoun Hotel, 2423 Lake Street
- Dee Gee Apartments-2020-24 Burt Street
- Broadview Hotel, 2060 North 19th Street
- Central House Hotel, Saratoga (North 24th and Grand)
- Patton’s Hotel, originally at 1014-18 South 11th Street, then at 2425 Erskine Street
- Walker Hotel, 2405 Charles Street
- Warden Hotel, 817 North 16th Street
- Lee Von Hotel 2212 Seward Street
According to Love’s Jazz and Art Center, musicians such as Cab Calloway stayed at Myrtle Washington’s at 22nd and Willis while others stayed at Charlie Trimble’s at 22nd and Seward.
Black-Owned Tourist Homes in Omaha
Over the twenty years the Green Book was published, there were other options for African American travelers besides hotels. Throughout the years were called boarding rooms, Tourist Homes and rental rooms. Some of the ones listed in Omaha included:
- 2220 Willis Ave., operated by Mrs. Louis Strawther
- 2211 Ohio St., operated by Mrs. M. Smith
- 2207 N. 25th St., operated by Miss Willa Mae Anderson
- 2228 Willis Ave., operated by G. H. Ashby
- 2619 Caldwell St., operated by Dave Brown
- 2010 Lake St., Mrs. Mary Oerall
- 2530 Maple St., Mrs. C.H. Hicks
- 2817 Florence Blvd, The Johnson House
- 2020 Burt St., Dee Gee Apartment
Having radios and televisions were big innovations for these homes, and the proprietors strove to meet their customers’ needs. Today, there are no historical markers, memorials or other emphases placed on Omaha’s history of Black-owned hotels.
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