Cleaves Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church was established in 1920. Moving into their building at 2431 Decatur Street in 1924, the church has been deeply entwined in North Omaha history since. Today, Cleaves Temple is one of the oldest Black churches in Omaha.
Cleaves Temple is almost 100 years old. Their denomination, the Christian Methodist Episcopal church, was founded in 1870 by former slaves in Tennessee, and was originally called the Colored Methodist Episcopal church.
The denomination tried starting in Omaha 30 years before Cleaves Temple was started. In 1890, a church starter for the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church from Kansas, Dr. W. Johnson, held a series of revivals in Omaha. He aimed to work with Omaha’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union to establish a church. By 1893 the newspaper announced a funeral at the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in Omaha. Located at North 22nd and Grant Streets, it stayed in this part of the Near North Side for an around 15 years.
In addition to services in the Near North Side, Omaha’s CME church held revivals in South Omaha to serve African Americans who lived there. In 1899, Rev. Lena Mason (1864-1924) preached for the church at the services held at South 25th and S Streets. Rev. Mason was a revolutionary for her times, since she was a woman, and hadn’t attended divinity school. Instead, she became licensed in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and simply preached around the country to willing audiences. Her career spanned decades, and she returned to Omaha more than once.
In 1910, the newspaper reported that Rev. Dr. William N. Smith, the former leader of the Alabama C.M.E. church, came to Omaha. Apparently, in September of that year his four sons were murdered by a white mob in Tuscaloosa, and notices were posted throughout the Black neighborhood threatening his life specifically. Dr. Smith immediately abandoned his 450-acre farm and hundreds of 50 hogs, 12 horses, 18 mules and 2 cows, along with a $2,000 house, and took a train to Omaha. I haven’t been able to find out what happened to Rev. Dr. Smith.
Cleaves Temple was founded in 1920 by Rev. E. L. Hallis. In 1922, Rev. Hallis marched his members to their new building at North 26th and Decatur Streets in the Near North Side neighborhood and held their first services there. Named in honor of Bishop Nelson Calsewell Cleaves (1865-1930), the congregation bought the former Norwegian-Danish Methodist Episcopal Church, which was built in 1920.
Rev. J. S. Blaine was the second minister of the new building, assuming leadership in 1924. For their first church fair, which was like a revival, Cleaves Temple held a 5-day event from July 6 to 11 at the church grounds featuring music by For their first church fair, which was a revival, Cleaves Temple held a 5-day event from July 6 to 11 at the church grounds featuring music by Josiah Waddle’s forty-piece women’s band for the entire event during a special event every evening.
In 1931, the Omaha World-Herald reported that the Norwegian-Danish Methodist Church sued Cleaves Temple. Apparently, Cleaves bought the church for $10,000 to be paid in one hundred dollar monthly installments. The suit charged that Cleaves had only paid $262. In 1941, the Norwegian-Danish Methodist Episcopal Church signed over the title to the church building where Cleaves is still located today.
Along with regular services, socials and bible study at the church, Cleaves Temple had several activities that grew the congregation.
The same year the church was opened, Rev. Blaine launched a campaign to start a nursery for the children of working African American women in North Omaha that was called called the “Home for Children of Colored Mothers Who Work.”
Regular features at Cleaves Temple over the decades include annual Usher’s Day celebrations and noted choirs. Children’s Day was also celebrated for several years. During the 1930s, Cleaves Temple began regularly joining with St. John’s A.M.E., Bethel A.M.E. and Clare Methodist Episcopal Church to celebrate Union Services. Events were held at Cleaves Temple as well as the other three churches. This was also the founding era of the Goodwill Spring Musical Choirs, which included Cleaves Temple and several other congregations.
In 1935, the church hosted the 53th annual gathering of the Kansas and Missouri Conference of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. This was the first time Cleaves hosted the conference meetings; they did it again many times over the decades after that, as recently as 2005.
In the 1950s and 60s, the church was heavily involved in Omaha’s Civil Rights movement. Rev. Dr. Kelsey A. Jones (19??-2011) was a co-founder of Omaha’s leading Civil Rights organization in 1963 called the Citizen’s Coordinating Committee for Civil Liberties, or 4CL. Hosting regularly meetings, training events and other outreach, the congregation was especially supportive of Rev. Jones.
In 1970, the congregation celebrated the installation of a new Hammond organ, and men’s group held the first of several Soul Dinners to build community within the church.
In 1995, the congregation celebrated its 75th anniversary at the former Knights of Pythias Hall at North 24th and Charles Streets.
Ministers at Cleaves Temple CME
Rev. A. Sims was the first pastor of the congregation, and was appointed by Bishop N. C. Cleaves himself. After him was Rev. S. M. Graves, then Rev. E. L. Hallis and then Rev. J. S. Blaine in the mid- to late 1920s.
Rev. O. A. Calhoun presided over the church in the early 1930s, and Rev. L. A. Story in the late 1930s and into the 40s; Rev. F.C. Williams in the 1940s, along with Rev. E. V. Wades, Rev. T. J. Douglas, Rev. E. P. Raines and Rev. C. P. Raines.
The 1950s were covered by Rev. W. A. Miller. In the early 1960s, Rev. Charles Shyne, Jr. served the church; Rev. Kelsey A. Jones was minister in the late 1960s.
In the early 1970s, Rev. R. D. Jackson came to Omaha from Chicago, and in the mid-1970s Rev. Jacob C. Barr led the church. Rev. Sterling O. Littlejohn served the congregation in the 1990s. Rev. Larry Brown was the minister in the early 2000s, along with Rev. Norman Ott.
Pastor T. Marcellus Thomas was the minister in 2010. Currently, Pastor Paul W. Gunter serves Cleaves Temple CME.
The historic parsonage for the church was located at 1715 North 25th Street; today it is on Redick Avenue.
Located at 2431 Decatur Street, the Cleaves congregation continues today. The church is not recognized for its history or historical contributions to the community though, including no listing on the National Register of Historic Places or designation as an official Omaha Landmark by the City of Omaha Landmark Heritage Preservation Commission.
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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 THE HISTORY OF OMAHA’S NEAR NORTH SIDE
GROUPS: Black People | Jews and African Americans | Jews | Hungarians | Scandinavians | Chinese | Italians
EVENTS: Redlining | North Omaha Riots | Stone Soul Picnic | Native Omaha Days Festival
BUSINESSES: Club Harlem | Dreamland Ballroom | Omaha Star Office | 2621 North 16th Street | Calhoun Hotel | Warden Hotel | Willis Hotel | Broadview Hotel | Carter’s Cafe | Live Wire Cafe | Fair Deal Cafe | Metoyer’s BBQ | Skeet’s | Storz Brewery | 24th Street Dairy Queen | 1324 N. 24th St. | Ritz Theater | Alhambra Theater | 2410 Lake Street | Carver Savings and Loan Association | Blue Lion Center | 9 Center Variety Store
CHURCHES: St. John’s AME Church | Zion Baptist Church | Mt. Moriah Baptist Church | St. Philip Episcopal Church | St. Benedict Catholic Parish | Holy Family Catholic Church | Bethel AME Church | Cleaves Temple CME Church
HOMES: A History of | Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects | The Sherman | The Climmie | Ernie Chambers Court aka Strelow Apartments | Hillcrest Mansion | Governor Saunders Mansion | Memmen Apartments
SCHOOLS: Kellom | Lake | Long | Cass Street | Izard Street | Dodge Street
ORGANIZATIONS: Red Dot Athletic Club | Omaha Colored Baseball League | Omaha Rockets | YMCA | Midwest Athletic Club | Charles Street Bicycle Park | DePorres Club | NWCA | Elks Hall and Iroquois Lodge 92 | American Legion Post #30 | Bryant Resource Center | People’s Hospital | Bryant Center
NEIGHBORHOODS: Long School | Logan Fontenelle Projects | Kellom Heights | Conestoga | 24th and Lake | 20th and Lake | Charles Street Projects
INDIVIDUALS: Edwin Overall | Rev. Russel Taylor | Rev. Anna R. Woodbey | Rev. Dr. John Albert Williams | Rev. John Adams, Sr. | Dr. William W. Peebles | Dr. Craig Morris | Dr. John A. Singleton, DDS | Dr. Aaron M. McMillan | Mildred Brown | Dr. Marguerita Washington | Eugene Skinner | Dr. Matthew O. Ricketts | Helen Mahammitt | Cathy Hughes | Florentine Pinkston | Amos P. Scruggs | Nathaniel Hunter | Bertha Calloway
OTHER: 26th and Lake Streetcar Shop | Webster Telephone Exchange Building | Kellom Pool | Circus Grounds | Ak-Sar-Ben Den
MY ARTICLES ABOUT HISTORIC CHURCHES IN NORTH OMAHA
GENERAL: Directory | Black Churches | Florence Churches
METHODIST: 17th Street | Pearl Memorial UMC | St. John’s AME | Bethel AME | Cleaves Temple | Ames Avenue | Trinity | Walnut Hill | 18th Street |
BAPTIST: Mount Moriah | Zion | Immanuel |
CATHOLIC: Holy Family | St. Benedict the Moor | St. John’s | Holy Angels | Sacred Heart | St. Cecilia
PRESBYTERIAN: Calvin Memorial | Hillside | First United | Covenant | St. Paul
EPISCOPALIAN: St. Phillips |
COGIC: New Bethel | Faith
LUTHERAN: Hope | St. Paul
OTHERS: Mt. Calvary |
RELATED: St. Clare’s Monastery | Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary | North Omaha Catholic Schools | Black Churches | Florence Churches
- History of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church official webpage
- “History in Hannibal: Born of a war over slavery, Lena Mason rises to evangelistic status” by Mary Lou Montgomery on June 27, 2015 for the Hannibal Courier-Post.
Good morning! My name is Mary Andrews. I have adopted Omaha as my hometown — I’m originally from K.C., MO. I am an ELCA member and I’m currently reading “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson. I realize that, at age 58, it’s time for this older white lady to dig deeper. What lies in the soil of our country? Why do we not trust one another? As a follower of Jesus, I cannot stay in my Millard home or church. Let me know if you have ideas on how I can learn more about North Omaha and her folks.
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Hi Mary, and thanks for your earnest note. I would suggest you start by going to a non-white church in North Omaha. You might appreciate Hope Lutheran Church, which is Missouri Synod, and predominantly African American. Its at 2723 N 30th St and their phone number is (402)453-1583. I would also recommend going to Drips coffee shop and just sitting there and seeing what happens. Learn about them at https://dripscoffee.com/
Let me know if you want more ideas.
Contact me if you’re interested in coming to Cleaves Temple CME! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can chat about what’s going on. We’re getting ready to celebrate 100 years and would love new friends to celebrate with us. I look forward to hearing from you.
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