After World War II, Black soldiers came back to North Omaha determined to experience the freedom and justice they fought for overseas. Because of de facto segregation, African Americans in Omaha were not served by the city’s banks. Before the sit-ins and marches, boycotts and rallies, a group of professional men established the first-ever Black-owned bank in Nebraska. This is a history of the Carver Bank—actually called the Carver Savings and Loan Association—in North Omaha.
In the United States right now, Black families only have about $5.04 for every $100 white families have. That’s directly because of centuries of racist banking systems. This affects North Omahan Black people a great deal. Banking in Omaha has been segregated since the city was established in 1854.
As World War II wound down, Black soldiers and officers were coming back to the community. A group of determined leaders realized the need for Black wealth, savings and investments to stay in the community with a structured system for establishing economic security and building trust.
Pooling resources and securing investors and customers, North Omaha attorney Charles F. Davis (1902-1959) led a movement to establish a savings and loan association for the African American community. Along with Dr. Craig Morris, M.D. (1893-1977), the visionary leaders behind the association sought economic justice for the community as never before. Rationalized on the basis of providing housing for returning service people, the Carter was quickly declared the leading economic force in Omaha’s Black community.
Charles Davis was an attorney who began practicing in North Omaha in the 1920s, and sustained his practice through the 1930s. Convinced that Omaha’s African American community needed their own bank, in 1944 he began working with a group of African American leaders in the community to establish the Carver Savings and Loan Association, one of the first Black-owned banks in the United States. In addition to leading the Association’s development, Dr. Morris was behind the planning for the Provident Hospital, a Black-owned healthcare facility intended to serve African Americans in the community being developed at the same time.
Opened on May 1, 1946, the Carver Savings and Loan Association was named for George Washington Carver (c1863-1944), a pioneering Black scientist who had just died.
Many Black leaders who were very involved throughout the community drove the Association, including Charles Sims (dates unknown), Dr. William Weldon Solomon (1904-1978), and Charles C. Galloway (1882-1958). The second bank president was Milton E. Johnson (1903-1964). Davis served as the treasurer and secretary for the association. Charles C. Galloway III, the 5-year-old grandson of the Omaha Guide founder, was an early investor with a $100 stock purchase.
Dr. Morris moved away from Omaha just before the Carver opened, leaving behind the Association and his planned hospital. The bank launched despite his absence.
The Association didn’t grow as quickly as it needed to though, and by the early 1950s Davis moved his law practice into the building, which he shared with his daughter Elizabeth Davis Pittman (1921-1998). In 1961, Elizabeth became an officer of the Association.
People in the neighborhood called the institution the Carver Bank.
In the 1950s, Whitney Young, then head of Omaha’s Urban League, worked with the Carver to create a special lending program for prospective African-American home buyers. Designed to fight the city’s segregationist redlining practices, Young and the Association were addressing the reality that Omaha’s banks restricted loans in neighborhoods they thought less successful, which were usually Black neighborhoods. Through the Carter program, Omaha’s African American families were able to buy more homes within three years than in the preceding decade through other banks in the city.
After Charles Davis died in 1959, the Carver closed permanently in 1965. Davis was lauded by North Omaha for his life of service to the city and the African American community specifically.
After the End
The Carver Savings and Loan Association was very important to Omaha’s Black community. Even though it only existed for just over twenty years, it established home loans, savings facilities, and investment opportunities that weren’t available at all before that.
The building still stands today in the 24th and Lake Historic District.
From 1966 through 1969, the Legal Aid Society office operated in the former bank building. In 1970, the building became home to the Urban League’s Housing Foundation. After sitting empty for decades, in 2012, the Bemis Center for Contemporary a $75,000 renovation to the building and opened the Carver Bank for the Bemis Center in 2013. A nationally-known African American artist named Theaster Gates helped design and launch the space as an art gallery.
In 2016, the Bemis Center turned over the Carver Bank to the North Omaha Arts Alliance.
The Carver Bank Today
In 2020, the new Carver Legacy Center at the former Carver Savings and Loan building was announced. A financial institution with accounts and loans, the Carver Legacy Center will also be home to The Hub, which is a new home for Revive Omaha Magazine and Revive Black Business Network; Hayes and Associates and Technology Consulting Solutions, and; The Incubator, a connected retail space in the former Big Mama’s Sandwich Shop. The Legacy Wealth Center will have workshops and events on business and home ownership and financial empowerment.
In 2016, the Carver Savings and Loan Association was among 38 buildings included in a new listing on the National Register of Historic Places called the 24th & Lake Historic District. It is frequently included in tours of the historic district, and with its new tenants the space is being restored to its purpose as an important keystone in North Omaha’s African American community.
The future is bright for Carver Bank!