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.
Jim Crow in Omaha Hotels
The grandiose histories written about Omaha highlight early hotels, but don’t often mention that they discriminated against African Americans. However, places like the Grand Central Hotel, the Cozzens Hotel, the Herndon House were all segregated. Black people were simply not allowed to stay at them.
Later hotels in Omaha like the Fontenelle, the Blackstone, and the Flatiron Hotel were all segregated, too. Only very famous Black people were allowed to stay at them. Other Black travelers couldn’t stay in downtown Omaha, including sports stars and entertainers, as well as the average African American traveler for business or personal reasons. People had to have places to sleep.
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. Black entrepreneurs opened their homes or bought facilities just to make money off travelers who needed their places to stay.
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 that was located downtown for 35 years, then moved to North 24th and Erskine. Its operator, Minnie Patton, was a community socialite who lived until she was 99-years-old.
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. The following list is according to when the hotels opened:
- Hotel Cuming (1915-1928), 1916 Cuming Street
- Broomfield Hotel (1915-1917), 116-118 South 9th Street
- Patton’s Hotel, originally at 1014, 1016, 1018 South 11th Street (1915-1947), then at 2425-2427 Erskine Street (1947-1961)
- Warden Hotel (1917-1920), 817 North 16th Street
- Booker T. Washington Hotel (1917-1922), 1719 Cuming Street and 523 North 15th Street
- Lee Von Hotel (1918-1929), 2212 Seward Street
- Dee Gee Apartments (1919-1923), 2020-24 Burt Street
- Broadview Hotel (1932-1935), 2060 North 19th Street
- Calhoun Hotel (1946-1962), 2423 Lake Street
- Walker Hotel (1946-1962), 2405 Charles Street
- Willis Hotel (1946-1961), 2423 North 22nd Street
- Central House Hotel, Saratoga (North 24th and Grand Avenue)
- John Bell Hotel, 1310 Howard Street
According to Love’s Jazz and Art Center, musicians such as Cab Calloway stayed at Myrtle Washington’s boarding house at North 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
- 2324 N. 22nd St., operated by Myrtle Washington
- 2619 Caldwell St., operated by Dave Brown
- 2010 Lake St., Mrs. Mary Overall
- 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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My Articles about Civil Rights History in Omaha
Events: Omaha Civil Rights Movement | Juneteenth | Malcolm X Day
Organizations: Omaha Colored Commercial Club | Omaha NAACP | Omaha Urban League | 4CL | DePorres Club | Omaha Black Panthers | City Interracial Committee | Providence Hospital | American Legion | Elks Club | Prince Hall Masons
Issues: Black History | African American Firsts in Omaha | Race and Racism in Omaha | Police Brutality | North Omaha African American Legislators | North Omaha Community Leaders
People: Rev. Dr. John Albert Williams | Edwin Overall | Harrison J. Pinkett | Vic Walker | Joseph Carr | Rev. Russel Taylor | Dr. Craig Morris | Mildred Brown | Dr. John Singleton | Ernie Chambers | Malcolm X
- The Negro Motorist Green Books, 1936 to 1966