There have been many African American leaders in Omaha throughout the city’s history. Some were politicians, others were businessmen; many were united in the cause to promote civil rights and liberty for Black people. One of them was a lawyer named Joseph Carr, and this is a biography of his life.
Born on February 13, 1857 in Boston, Carr’s parents were formerly enslaved people in Massachusetts. Joseph Carr attended school until he was 17, when he enlisted in the US Army. Eventually reaching the rank of Sergeant Major, he left the Army in 1887 and moved to Omaha. Working as a janitor, he attended the Omaha School of Law from 1897 to 1899, and passed the Nebraska State Bar exam in 1899. He practiced law in Omaha for the rest of his life.
Carr’s offices were downtown at 220 South 13th Street, near 13th and Douglas in a building with several African American professional offices. Today the site is where the Central Park Mall is. Other African American lawyers in Omaha during Carr’s era included Harrison Pinkett, W.N. Johnson, Silas Robbins, and Amos Scruggs.
In 1917, Carr evoked his extensive experience as a member of the Army’s 24th Infantry to promote Black men joining fight against Germany in World War I. In September of that year, The Monitor reported, “Mr. Carr is so anxious to whip the kaiser that he wants to recruit a negro regiment from Nebraska and adjoining states.” When he returned, Carr helped start the American Legion Roosevelt Post #30, Omaha’s segregated club for WWI soldiers and officers. He was involved in several other community organizations, too, including the Omaha Colored Commercial Club and the Prince Hall Masons. He also donated to the segregated YMCA in North Omaha and St. John’s AME Church.
Carr was a respected historian in his free time, and never had a family.
In March 1924, Carr died in his home at 2701 Cuming Street. His funeral celebrated the 37 years he lived in Omaha and included Masonic riturals as well as an Episcopal Church service led by Rev. John Albert Williams. He was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery where his grave bears the markings of the Masons.
There is no monument, memorial, or other remembrance of him in Omaha today.