Mount Moriah Baptist Church was founded in 1886, and moved to North Omaha in 1911. Originally called Mount Pisgah Baptist Church, it has been at North 24th and Ohio Streets since 1924. Today, Mount Moriah is the oldest African American Baptist church in Omaha.
Founding Mount Pisgah
The Baptist Church opened its first building in Omaha in 1866 at 12th and Jackson. Breaking into two new congregations soon afterwards, one new congregation was called Zion Baptist Church and moved to the Near Northside neighborhood. The other stayed at 12th and Jackson and was named Mount Pisgah Baptist Church.
The church changed its name to Mount Moriah the next year. Located at 1123 Jackson Street, the church was embroiled in controversy when a member accused the minister of attacking her in 1895. After confessing she lied, the congregation continued its services and growth. The next year, in 1896, the newspaper reveled in telling the story of a church member called Mrs. Covington who, in her excitement during a prayed, accidentally punched a fellow worshipper in the nose. This was Sister Phelps, and after the blood stopped flowing and the excitement died down, it was determined she had a broken nose. Mrs. Covington was sent home, and Mrs. Phelps kept praying.
During the early years of the church, Rev. George W. Woodbey, Rev. Annie R. Woodbey, Rev. J. Jones and Rev. J. W. Wilson preached to the congregation. Rev. Robert January was the minister there in the late 1890s.
Among its early activities going back to the 1880s and 90s, the church worshipped, conducted Bible study, led choirs, held church picnics, and provided public entertainment on holidays including Thanksgiving and in the summer.
A railway cook and hotel worker named Rev. George W. Wright was pastor of the church in 1907. Featured in a “Church news and topics” feature that year, he was highlighted for his vigorous fundraising, which raised $2,800 for a new church within a year of his arrival. That year, the church applied for a permit to build a new sanctuary at North 26th and Maple Streets. Wright continued his ministerial studies at the Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary while he was at Mount Moriah. Wright preached at the annual Emancipation Day celebration for a few years, and was widely acknowledged as an important leader in the community.
In 1911, Mount Moriah’s congregation bought the former First German Baptist Church at North 26th and Seward Streets. The church moved into this building quickly. Two years later, the community was fortunate the congregation was in place and ready to respond after the Easter Day 1913 tornado ravaged the surrounding neighborhood. Acting as a shelter and relief center for African Americans in the deeply segregated Near North Side neighborhood, Mount Moriah stayed open to victims for a few months after the storm. That year, the church was led by Rev. Toomey from Davenport, Iowa.
Rev. W. E. D. Claybrook, D. D. was the pastor at Mount Moriah in 1915.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, there were regular revivals held by the congregation at its church. In 1916, revivalist Rev. M. H. Wilkinson of Salt Lake City came to preach several times, which led to him becoming a minister at the church. The next year, Rev. G. W. Robinson of Des Moines led revivals. Omaha’s Black churches started meeting in union services as early as 1916. Rev. Wilkinson preached to the gathering at St. John’s AME.
In 1923, the church took part in “Race Relations Sunday,” an annual national event sponsored by the National Federation of Churches. Rev. E. H. McDonald spoke to a gathering of 500 people, but there was no account for how many were African Americans and how many were white.
Opening a New Church
According to the Omaha World-Herald, the congregation started a capital campaign to build a new church in 1918. Within a month, they’d collected almost $1,500, which was worth almost $23,000 in 2018. Rev. M. H. Wilkinson led the pledging, and the campaign moved quickly between August and November.
In May 1919, a newspaper article featured the sale of the the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on the northwest corner of 24th and Ohio to Mount Moriah Baptist Church. Specifying that possession would happen in a year, the report said the congregation planned to build a new building when it secured the lot.
Rev. G. W. Day was leading the church as they began growing rapidly in 1924, and that year Mount Moriah moved to 24th and Ohio Streets. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints built a wooden building on the lot in 1911, and after it was damaged by the 1913 Easter Sunday tornado, they repaired the building and rededicated in 1916. They were ready to move again, and Mount Moriah finally owned their new lot.
Starting in the early 1920s, Mount Moriah became an important site for the Civil Rights movement when they began hosting meetings for different organizations, including the new NAACP chapter. The church also participated in collecting pledges for the NAACP’s Anti-Lynching Fund. In 1930, the church hosted the 13th Annual Session of the New Era Association of Baptist Churches. Rev. F. P. Jones was a minister there at the time, and Omaha’s NAACP chapter continued meeting there through the 1930s. Eventually a politician, medical missionary and popular physician, Dr. Aaron McMillan‘s father was a minister at Mount Moriah in the 1920s, drawing his son to move there from out of state. Dr. McMillan would eventually lead Omaha’s NAACP as president for several years, and spoke to gatherings at the church parsonage several times in the 1940s.
Despite being the midst of the Great Depression, in June of that year Mount Moriah announced they were building a sanctuary, renovating the basement into classrooms and expanding their space dramatically, making 1934 a massive growing year for the congregation. The exterior was red cobble stones and brick, along with white wood trim across the entire space. During the 1930s, the church was regularly cited as being one of the most involved congregations in the Omaha church leadership training school. An ecumenical, integrated gathering, Mount Moriah was among the churches that always sent the most attendees. In 1938, the congregation was instrumental in a massive joint performance by the church choirs of 15 Black churches. Held in Central High’s auditorium, more than 250 people participated, with 1,500 attendees taking in the show. That year, the congregation also hosted the 21st annual gathering of the New Era Association of Baptist Churches, with dozens of representatives attending from 9 neighboring states.
The ’30s weren’t without challenges though: In 1936, a complete communion set was robbed from the church by a burglar, and never recovered. It was valued at $45. That year, Rev. E. P. Jones and Rev. J. S. Williams led the congregation. Rev. G. A. Burke came from Sioux City to lead the congregation in 1938.
Mount Moriah has been home to many notable members and ministers in the past. They included July Miles, the last remaining African-American Civil War veteran and the oldest ex-Union Pacific employee in Omaha. He passed away in 1941.
In 1946, the church hosted E. E. Strong, vice-president of the National Negro Congress, for a visit to North Omaha. Rev. David St. Clair was pastor in 1961.
From 1963 to 1971, Rev. Foster Goodlett (1920-1981) was the pastor at the church. Goodlett was also Duane Peak’s grandfather, and was questioned by the FBI when his grandson was arrested related to the murder of an Omaha policeman in 1970. From his seat at Mount Moriah, Rev. Goodlett helped host “one of the largest conventions ever held in Omaha” in 1970. From June 22 to 27, more than 14,000 Baptist Sunday school officials from across the country. The next year he became pastor emeritus at the church, continuing to preach at Mount Nebo Baptist until he passed away at age 91.
From 1989 to 2002, Rev. Larry C. Menyweather-Woods was pastor of the congregation. In addition to leading the congregation, he held positions in the Urban League of Nebraska, the NAACP, and the nonprofit North Omaha Renaissance Development Corporation. He also served as an adjunct professor of Black Studies at UNO and of theology at Creighton. The church hosted an annual music performance workshop annually for several years in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 2009, Rev. Ralph B. Lassiter, Sr. hosted a “Week of Revival,” similar to the events began by the church a century earlier. In 2010, Rev. Rodney Haynes chaired a conference on young adult ministry at the church. Under Rev. Lassiter’s leadership, in early 2019, the Risen Son Baptist Church merged with Mount Moriah. Rev. Lassiter celebrated his
Community Outreach & Social Justice
Throughout its history, Mount Moriah has continued hosting a variety of social outreach activities. Its early leadership in the Civil Rights movement and hosting of early NAACP meetings proved this as early as the 1920s. Recently, it developed senior housing in North Omaha. The congregation also has had successful gospel choirs and other rich worship experiences.
4CL, or the Citizens Civic Committee for Civil Liberties, met regularly at Mount Moriah. The vanguard of Omaha’s Civil Rights movement in the early 1960s, 4CL regularly gathered North Omaha’s most important leaders and activists. In 1967, Mount Moriah’s minister, Rev. Goodlett founded the Omaha Opportunities Industrialization Center, or OOIC.
One of the church’s most popular outreach activities began more than 35 years ago. On November 27, 1980, Rev. C. Balus Knox, Jr. led the congregation in providing a Thanksgiving Dinner for “those who can’t provide their own,” including “the poor, the sick and senior citizens not able to cook for themselves.” The congregation also delivered meals to shut-ins. Since then, Mount Moriah has provided thousands of Thanksgiving dinners throughout the years. The community has supported them with donations and volunteer labor, and they continue annually. In 2013, the dinner included more than 600 meals.
In 1989, the church started hosting Cocaine Anonymous meetings that served more than 100 adults weekly.
Christmas in the Village is an annual community outreach event in the 24th and Lake Historic District. Mount Moriah has been an integral partner since at least 2013, providing a display of live animals from the Nativity and more.
Since moving there in 1924, the building has changed in many ways. In 1925, a fire forced the congregation to rebuild extensively. A new sanctuary was added above the original structure in 1956, and in 1962 church offices and classrooms were added in an annex to the building. In May 1983, the church announced plans to build a new facility at North 72nd and Redick Avenue. Holding at least two services on the site, apparently the plan never came to fruition. The sanctuary was renovated in 2012, and the Fellowship Hall was renovated two years later in 2014. There was also a new accessible entrance added to the building that year.
Recently the church opened the Moriah Heritage Center. Through visual ecumenical history and displays, the center presents the history of African American churches in North Omaha and provides a venue for the presentation of arts, music and culture.
Today, Mount Moriah Baptist Church continues as one of the oldest Black churches in Omaha. With a history reaching back more than 130 years, its future looks bright.