Omaha was de facto segregated for more than 100 years. There was a common understanding that African Americans weren’t allowed to use institutions for white people, including hospitals, movie theaters, schools and even senior care facilities.
That’s why a group of African American leaders in North Omaha first got together in 1889 to talk about forming their own care facility for seniors. Those leaders include Helen Mahammitt and Jessie Hale-Moss.
Almost 25 years later, the Negro Women’s Christian Association brought together community leaders again, this time to raise money for the cause. They collected enough, and in 1913 the Colored Old Folks Home was opened at 3029 Pinkney Street.
On September 9th, 1913, the Negro Women’s Christian Association opened up the Colored Old Folks Home at 3029 Pinkney Street. The home had a ribbon-cutting cemerony on September 13th. The notorious Omaha mayor called “Cowboy Jim” Dahlman presided, with luminaries including Miss Nellie Magee from the City Mission and Mrs. J. H. Smith, president of the Colored Women’s Christian Association attending. According to an article from the Omaha Bee, several “well-known Negro men” also spoke.
In 1921, the institution was called the Negro Old Folks Home and moved to 933 North 25th Street.
In 1950, the World-Herald was excited to declare that “precautions paid off” when “whole-hearted co-operation with fire safety rules” prevented a “major tragedy” at the home. A fire sent four residents to the hospital and “nine residents had to flee into the frozen night in their bare feet and night clothing.” But according to the fire chief, “they were lucky at that.” The fireproofing of the home was paid for with funds from the Omaha Community Chest.
In 1952, the name was changed to honor a founder of the home named Martha Taylor Smith, who died on June 27, 1944. From then on, it was called the Martha T. Smith Home for the Aged.
In March 1959, following an inspection by a Dr. Rogers with the State of Nebraska, the home was told to abandon their current location and secure new facilities. By 1961, the Martha T. Smith Home for the Aged was closed permanently. Vinnie Harris was the director of the home when it was closed.
According to James Thorson, former Chairman of the Department of Gerontology at UNO, in 1980 the Colored Old Folks Home Association of Omaha donated $20,000 in remaining funds were donated to the University to establish a gerontology scholarship.
You Might Like…
- A History of Omaha’s Colored Commercial Club
- A History of the North Omaha Elks Club
- A History of the Druid Hall In North Omaha
Special thanks to Micah Evans, Jim Thornson, Michele Wyman and others who researched info for this article!