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. This is an introduction to Omaha’s historic Black churches.
Historic African American Worship in Omaha
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.
The first African American churches in Omaha were St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1865 and described below; the African Baptist Church, founded in 1874, and; Zion Baptist Church, founded in 1884 and described below.
Research from 2000 showed, “116 predominantly black congregations in Omaha represent twenty-five percent of the churches in a city where African-Americans comprise thirteen percent of the overall population.” That makes the history of Black churches in Omaha very important to the city, and even more important to North Omaha. Discover some of that history below.
St. John AME Church
Saint John AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church is located at 2402 North 22nd Street. Founded in 1865, it is the oldest Black church in Nebraska. Learn more from “A History of St. John’s AME Church” here »
St. Phillip Episcopal Church
Saint Phillip the Deacon Episcopal Church was opened in 1877, and permanently moved to 1121 North 21st Street in 1891. After moving to Binney Street in the 1940s, the congregation merged with a white congregation to become the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection. Learn more from “A History of St. Philip the Deacon Episcopal Church” here »
Zion Baptist Church
Zion Baptist Church is located at 2215 Grant Street in the Near North Side neighborhood. Established in 1884, its current building was built in 1891. For details, read “A History of Zion Baptist Church” »
Hope Lutheran Church
Hope Lutheran Church is a historic African American congregation located on the southeast corner of North 30th and Corby Streets. It is the only predominantly Black Lutheran church in Nebraska. Learn more about it in “A History of Hope Lutheran Church.”
Mt. Moriah Baptist Church
Mount Pisgah Baptist Church, founded in 1886, was soon renamed Mount Moriah Baptist Church. You can learn about the church, which the oldest African American Baptist church in Omaha, in A History of Mount Moriah Baptist Church.
St. Benedict Catholic Church
Saint Benedict the Moor Catholic Church is located at 2423 Grant Street. Founded in 1918, you can learn more about the parish in A History of St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Parish »
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 at 2120 Seward Street. In 1927, it was renamed Clair Memorial after a local Methodist bishop. 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 and it continues today.
Bethel AME Church
Bethel AME Church moved into 2428 Franklin Street in 1925. Founded a few years earlier, today it is one of the oldest Black churches in Omaha. Learn more from “A History of Bethel AME Church” here »
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
Founded in 1920, the Cleaves Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church continues today in their historic building at 2431 Decatur Street. You can learn more in “A History of Cleaves Temple CME” here »
Hillside Presbyterian Church
Hillside Presbyterian Church was at 2513 North 30th Street, then moved to North 28th and Miami Streets. Founded in 1920, you can learn more about it’s past in “A History of Hillside Presbyterian Church” here »
New Bethel Church of God in Christ
New Bethel Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is located at 1710 North 25th Street in the Near North Side neighborhood. Learn more from “A History of New Bethel COGIC” here »
Mount Calvary Community Church
Mt. Calvary Community Church is located at 5112 Ames Avenue. Founded in 1933, the original building was at 2426 Grant Street in the Near North Side neighborhood. Learn more in “A History of Mt. Calvary Community Church” here »
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
- Church of the Living God at 2029 Binney St
- St. Mark Baptist at 3616 Spaulding St
- Rising Star Baptist at 1823 Lothrop 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.
Omaha’s Black Churches on Fire
Several Black churches in North Omaha all been burned under mysterious or unsolved circumstances.
St. Paul Presbyterian Church was home to a fiery civil rights advocate when it was torched. Rev. Russel Taylor was an outspoken advocate who preached, pressured, and otherwise pushed for Black empowerment at every turn, including economically, educationally, socially and religiously. His sermons and writings frequently drew criticism from white people, and one day his church was mysteriously set on fire.
Rebuilt as the Hillside Presbyterian Church, Rev. Taylor was forced to quit when that congregation opened back up. However, the next ministers of this Black congregation upset status quo too, as they were leaders in the city’s civil rights movement and otherwise almost as outspoken as their forefather was.
Pilgrim Baptist was reportedly “at the height of its growth” when it was targeted in 1948, according to the Omaha Star. While some members abandoned the congregation out of fear, the church continued and rebuilt, finishing construction in early 1951. The church continues here today.
The Interdenominational Peoples’ Mission was located at 1708 N. 26th Street when it was damaged by arson in 1954. It was set fire just three years earlier and had only finished rebuilding within previous months.
You Might Like…
MY ARTICLES ABOUT HISTORIC BLACK CHURCHES IN NORTH OMAHA
Main Article: Historic Black Churches in North Omaha
Churches: St. John’s AME Church | Mount Moriah Baptist Church | Hope Lutheran Church| Bethel AME Church | New Bethel COGIC | Zion Baptist Church | Rising Star Baptist Church | Faith Temple COGIC | Mt. Calvary Community Church | St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Parish
Former Churches: Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church | Hillside Presbyterian Church | St. Philip the Deacon Episcopal Church
MY ARTICLES ABOUT CIVIL RIGHTS IN OMAHA
General: History of Racism | Timeline of Racism
Events: Juneteenth | Malcolm X Day | George Smith Lynching | Will Brown Lynching | North Omaha Riots | Vivian Strong Murder | Jack Johnson Riot
Issues: African American Firsts in Omaha | Police Brutality | North Omaha African American Legislators | North Omaha Community Leaders | Segregated Schools | Segregated Hospitals | Segregated Hotels | Segregated Sports | Segregated Businesses | Segregated Churches | Redlining
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
Organizations: Omaha Colored Commercial Club | Omaha NAACP | Omaha Urban League | 4CL (Citizens Civic Committee for Civil Rights) | DePorres Club | Omaha Black Panthers | City Interracial Committee | Providence Hospital | American Legion | Elks Club | Prince Hall Masons | BANTU
Related: Black History | African American Firsts | A Time for Burning
- “The Black Church in Omaha” by Leo Adam Biga for NOISE in July 2021
- Tom Jack. (1992) Gospel Music in Omaha, Nebraska: A History. University of Wisconsin-Madison.
- Gospel Music Omaha website