Omaha’s tradition of Black churches started less than a decade after the founding of the city in 1865. With de facto segregation the norm in the city by then, African Americans were denied seats in white churches. Not to be without a spiritual home, the city’s pioneer Blacks founded their own places of worship. Here is an introduction to Omaha’s historic Black churches.
The population of African Americans in Omaha has grown with the city throughout the years. Research by Tom Jack in the early 1990s showed that the population of Black churches in proportion to the rest of the city’s church population has remained consistently higher since the 1910s.
Throughout the years, Black churches in Omaha collaborated and convened with and without each other. Working within and across denominations, they have grown the faith, fostered social change, advocated for civil rights and transformed the lives of individuals and the whole community.
Following are descriptions of several of Omaha’s historic Black churches.
St. John AME Church
- Name: Saint John AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church
- Address: 2402 N. 22nd St.
- Founded: 1865
- Open: YES
Saint John’s African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church was founded in 1865 and is the oldest Black church in Omaha. The founding minister, W. T. Osborne, was the first African American minister assigned to work in Nebraska. Rev. John M. Wilkerson was the first full-time pastor of the church, and stayed there for a long time.
After starting downtown, St. John’s had a new church building designed by North Omaha’s African American architect Clarence Wigington that was built at North 18th and Webster Streets in the Near North Side neighborhood in the early 1900s. When that building was demolished by the 1913 Easter Sunday tornado, they moved to North 25th and Grant Streets.
John Adams, Sr. (1876-1962) was an AME minister who lived in North Omaha and belonged to St. John’s AME. He was the presiding elder of the national AME Church when he passed away in 1962. Living and working in the Near North Side neighborhood, Adams was also a lawyer and a member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1949 to 1962, in which he was the only African American member at the time.
In 1921, Saint John’s AME Church was built at N. 22nd and Willis Streets, also in the Near North Side. Frederick S. Stott designed it in the Prairie style, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 as well as being designated an Omaha Landmark in 1978.
Throughout their history, St. John’s has hosted countless social outreach activities. They provided homes for 120 families through the “Good Neighbor Homes” project; hosted the NAACP Youth Council; launched anti-apartheid rallies, and have housed dozens of other community organizations.
In 1923, Saint John’s sold their building at North 25th and Grant to the local Catholic diocese to become the segregated Saint Benedict the Moor parish.
In January 2016, the building at North 22nd and Willis was put up for sale when the congregation moved to a smaller space.
St. John’s AME Church continues as the oldest Black church in Omaha.
St. Phillip Episcopal Church
- Name: Saint Phillip the Deacon Church
- Address: N. 21st and Paul St.
- Founded: 1877
- Open: Merged into the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection
Saint Phillip the Deacon Episcopal Church was opened in 1877. A segregated church, its permanent building was located at North 21st and Paul Streets in the Near North Side neighborhood. It was among the oldest Black churches in Omaha.
John A. Williams (1866-1933) was an African A minister, journalist, and civil rights activist. He was a nationally recognized leader of the Episcopal Church and minister of Saint Barnabas Church who helped found Saint Phillip the Deacon Episcopal Church in the Near North Side neighborhood, as well as a writer for The Enterprise and founder of The Monitor. He was married to Lucinda Gamble, the first African American teacher in Omaha and the father of Catherine, Worthington and Dorothy, who was the first African American graduate of the University of Omaha. He died February 4, 1933.
In 1986, it merged with Saint John’s Episcopal Church to form the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection at North 30th and Belvedere Boulevard, where it continues to serve. Their Paul Street building was later demolished.
Today, St. Philip Episcopal Church continues as part of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection.
Zion Baptist Church
- Name: Zion Baptist Church
- Address: 2215 Grant St
- Founded: 1884
- Open: Yes
Zion Baptist Church was established this year. It’s first place of worship was built at 2215 Grant Street in the Near North Side neighborhood, and was rebuilt in 1891.
In 1913, it was rebuilt from designs by nationally recognized North Omaha architect “Cap” Clarence Wigington.
W. H. C. Stephenson (1825-1899) moved to North Omaha in the late 1870s. He was a doctor and Baptist minister who was a founding figure in Zion Baptist Church. He was also a prominent Republican activist.
Zion Baptist Church is among the oldest Black churches in Omaha, and continues today.
Hope Lutheran Church
- Name: Hope Lutheran Church
- Address: 2721 North 30th Street
- Founded: 1920s
- Open: Yes
Hope Lutheran Church was opened in the 1920s as a Black Lutheran church.
In 1946, congregation bought the former Pella Lutheran church at 2723 North 30th Street in the Omaha View neighborhood, and continues there currently.
HopeLutheran School was a two-room school opened in 1950 by Hope Lutheran Church at 2720 Wirt Street. A grade school serving kindergarten through eighth grades, it was a new building. In addition to the classrooms, there was an office, private instruction room, an auditorium and recreation room, and was designed to serve 75 students. The school closed in 1963, and was demolished with the construction of the North Freeway.
Today, Hope Lutheran Church is one of the oldest Black churches in Omaha.
Mt. Moriah Baptist Church
- Name: Mount Moriah Baptist Church
- Address: 2602 N. 24th St.
- Founded: 1886
- Open: Yes
Mount Pisgah Baptist Church, founded in 1886. It was later renamed Mount Moriah Baptist Church.
In 1927, they moved to North 24th and Ohio Streets in the Near North Side. Their new church was originally built as a Mormon chapel. In 1956, a large sanctuary was added, and in the 1960s the building was added onto again. In the 2000s, the church entryway was moved and the front of the building changed.
Throughout its history, Mt. Moriah has hosted a variety of social outreach activities, including its recent development of senior housing in North Omaha. They’ve also had successful gospel choirs and other rich worship experiences.
Mt. Moriah Baptist Church is of the oldest Black churches in Omaha and continues today.
Hillside Congregational Church
- Name: Hillside Congregational Church
- Founded: 1886
- Open: Closed
Hillside Presbyterian Church was founded in 1886 and is closed now.
The Hillside Congregational Church was built this year at North 30th and Ohio Streets in the Bedford Place neighborhood. One of the oldest Black churches in Omaha, it was merged with Central Park Congregational.
Hillside Congregational Church’s building was sold to Hillside Presbyterian in 1926, and it burned down in 1937.
The church does not continue today.
St. Benedict Catholic Church
- Name: Saint Benedict the Moor Catholic Church
- Address: 2423 Grant St.
- Founded: 1918
- Open: Yes
St. Benedict’s was founded in 1918. Originally opened as the Saint Benedict Community House, the parish established its necessity and was then recognized by the Diocese.
In 1923, they church was established at 2423 Grant Street in the Near North Side neighborhood. Their original building was one of the early St. John’s AME Church buildings.
Omaha’s only officially segregated school was Saint Benedict’s Catholic School. In 1928, the school was rebuilt at 2421 Grant Street. It closed by 1968. In 1989, the building was reopened as the Bryant Resource Center, including a Head Start program and senior center.
The parish built a new church in 1958.
St. Benedict’s Catholic Church is among the oldest Black churches in Omaha, and continues as the only Black Catholic parish in Nebraska.
Pilgrim Baptist Church
- Name: Pilgrim Baptist Church
- Address: 2501 Hamilton St.
- Founded: 1917
- Open: Yes
Pilgrim Baptist Church was established in 1917 in a storefront on North 24th Street. In 1920, they bought the former Calvary Baptist Church at 2501 Hamilton Street in the Near North Side and have remained there since.
A fire almost destroyed the church in 1948. After reconstruction, the church has remained there since. They’ve added onto the church several times since. Continuing its building projects for the church and the greater community, in the early 2000s Pilgrim built senior housing in the area in cooperation with the OEDC.
Pilgrim Baptist Church is among the oldest Black churches in Omaha, and continues today.
Clair Memorial UM Church
- Name: Clair Memorial United Methodist Church
- Address: 5544 Ames Ave;
- Founded: 1913
- Open: Yes
Clair Memorial UMC opened as Grove Memorial Methodist Church in 1913. In 1927, it was renamed Clair Memorial after a local Methodist bishop. Their first church was at North 22nd and Seward Street. In 1927, the church moved to North 22nd and Miami Streets near the present-day 24th and Lake Historic District and was renamed Clair Memorial. In 1956, Clair moved to 2443 Evans Street in the Kountze Place neighborhood, and stayed there for almost 30 years. In 1983, Clair Memorial United Methodist Church moved to 5544 Ames Avenue in the Fontenelle View neighborhood, and continues operating there now.
The church has led the North Omaha community in countless social justice, civil rights and social activities. It is one of the oldest Black churches in Omaha today.
Mt. Nebo Baptist Church
- Name: Mount Nebo Baptist congregation
- Address: 5501 N. 50th St.
- Founded: 1921
- Open: Yes
The Mount Nebo Baptist congregation was formed in 1921. In 1922, the church moved to North 26th and Franklin Streets. In 1923, they Freestone Primitive Baptist Church on 26th and Caldwell Street hosted the congregation, and in 1926, they moved to the Spring Hill Baptist Church at North 33rd and Emmet Streets. The congregations merged, but their church destroyed by a fire in 1933.
That year, they moved to 3211 Pinkney Street, and in 1986, they moved to the former Immanuel Baptist Church at 5501 North 50th Street.
Mt. Nebo Baptist Church is of the oldest Black churches in Omaha, it continues today.
Bethel AME Church
- Name: Bethel AME Church
- Address: 2428 Franklin St.
- Founded: 1922
- Open: Yes
The Northside AME mission started meeting at 2513 North 28th Avenue in 1922. It was soon renamed Bethel AME Church.
In 1925, the congregation bought the former First United Evangelical Church building at 2428 Franklin Street in 1921. Built in the Near North Side neighborhood in 1898, the building is still used today.
Bethel AME Church is one of the oldest Black churches in Omaha.
Salem Baptist Church
- Name: Salem Baptist Church
- Address: 3131 Lake St.
- Founded: 1922
- Open: Yes
Salem Baptist Church was founded at North 26th and Franklin Streets in 1922, and was located at 2120 Seward Street by 1926. A new church was built at 2741 Decatur Street in 1936, and in 1971 the church moved to 3336 Lake Street.
Rev. J. C. Wade began pastoring at Salem Baptist Church in 1944. For the next 40 years, he led the church. Building a massive congregation and securing beautiful new facilities for the church, he was highly active throughout the community and was recognized nationally for his efforts. He was also involved in the national NAACP and national Baptist activities. He died on August 30, 1999.
In 2000, the congregation built a new church at 3131 Lake Street on the site of the former Hilltop Public Housing Project. Today, Salem also operates a community food pantry at 2205 North 24th Street .
Salem Baptist Church continues operating, and is one of the oldest Black churches in Omaha.
Cleaves Temple CME Church
- Name: Cleaves Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church
- Address: 2431 Decatur St.
- Founded: 1924
- Open: Yes
Cleaves Temple Colored Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church was founded in the early 1920s. They acquired the former Norwegian-Danish Methodist Episcopal Church in 1924. Located at 2431 Decatur Street, the Cleaves congregation continues today.
Cleaves Temple CME Church is among the oldest Black churches in Omaha, and continues today.
Hillside Presbyterian Church
- Name: Hillside Presbyterian Church
- Address: 2513 N. 30th St.
- Founded: 1917
- Open: No.
Hillside Presbyterian Church was founded in 1917.
In 1926, it moved into 2513 North 30th and Ohio Streets in the former Hillside Congregational Church. The building burnt down in 1947, and they opened a new church at North 28th and Miami in 1950.
Other Historic Black Churches in Omaha
One of the original Black churches in Omaha was called the African Baptist Church, which was founded in 1874. It stopped existing by the 1930s.
Other historic Black churches in Omaha include Bethlehem Baptist at 2118 Browne St; Freestone Primitive Baptist Church at 4023 Ames Ave; Morning Star Baptist at 2019 Burdette St; New Hope Baptist at 1411 North 30th St; Paradise Baptist at 2124 Lothrop St; Pleasant Green Baptist at 5555 Larimore Ave; St. Paul Baptist at 1809 N 23rd St; Bethe Temple Seventh Day Adventist at 3725 Ames Ave, and; the Church of the Living God at 2029 Binney St.
The Union Services
According to Tom Jack, in 1938, a small group of Methodist ministers decided to hold annual inter-denominational services among Omaha’s Black churches. The Union Services happened Sunday evenings from January to April through the late 1950s.
St. John AME, Bethel AME, Cleaves Temple CME, Clair Chapel Methodist Episcopal, Pilgrim Baptist, Zion Baptist and Hillside Presbyterian were the primary congregations involved. Attendance at these special events ranged from 700 to 1,000 people at every service, and were occasionally held at the Orpheum. Mostly though, they were held at the larger churches involved, including Clair, Zion and St. John.
By the end of their joint services, the individual congregations were wrestling with attracting members to their own Sunday services. However, the spirit of the Union Services has become a metaphor for Black churches in Omaha, and for North Omaha in general: When one succeeds, everyone succeeds. When one is challenged, everyone is challenged.
- Tom Jack. (1992) Gospel Music in Omaha, Nebraska: A History. University of Wisconsin-Madison.
- Gospel Music Omaha website