African American Churches
What are the various roles that churches played and continue to play in North Omaha?
“I can do everything through Him that gives me strength” - Philippians 4:13
The church has been very important to the African-American community. In North Omaha, the church has been a source of spiritual motivation by providing Sunday morning services, Bible study, and Vacation Bible School. Churches also serve the community by feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, providing college scholarships and job training services, serving in the Civil Rights Movement, and a variety of other services. When looking through African-American history in North Omaha, the church can be found at the center of all other aspects.
Omaha Public Schools students and teachers interviewed Community members and made this short documentary.
Pilgrim Baptist Church
By 1931, Pilgrim Baptist Church was established on the corner of 25th and Hamilton in North Omaha. The church, started by migrants from Alabama, was now flourishing with members active in developing the North Omaha community and the church itself. The picture shows some members of the congregation participating in Vacation Bible School in 1931 (Photo courtesy of Durham Western Heritage Museum).
One of the many roles of the African-American Church is to provide different services to the community. For example, on February 9, 1938 Zion Baptist Church opened a health clinic to serve the black community. This is important because church members were involved with this health clinic and it shows black churches being involved with the community (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society).
Feeding the Hungry
In this photo, the cook at Pilgrim Baptist Church is cooking food for the needy. This is important because it shows the commitment of churches to helping the community. The church helps the community in many ways; it helps with financial education, provides shelter, or helps feed the needy like Pilgrim Baptist Church (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society).
St. John AME was founded in 1865 and is the first black church in all of Nebraska. St. John set a precedent for all future black churches that would be founded in the state. By the 1900s, there are several other churches in Nebraska, specifically in North Omaha. Once these churches had an established presence, they began to use their faith in God to push out into the community and fight for the things they believed in. This same mentality saturates churches in this community through the present day. While churches are still active in feeding the needy and providing tutoring services, they also host social events such as Friday Night Live which keeps youths active on the weekends. Churches hold prayer vigils and also have anti-violence rallies. Ultimately, African-American churches in North Omaha are the foundation of the spiritual and general well-being of the community.
"What I learned by being at this camp was that North Omaha was once a vibrant place. I also learned in 1919, a man named William Brown was accused of raping a white woman, he was lynched in front of the Douglas County Courthouse. I also learned about the riots in North Omaha in the 1960s, people went down 24th St. burning businesses. This camp shows that African-Americans stayed strong through hard times in North Omaha History."
- Karelle L.
"The most significant thing I learned about African-American churches was that the church was a place of refuge, hope, spirituality, and motivation. If I meet someone on the street who says “Why are you learning about history it's stupid.” I would say “You're wrong, history has made us what we are today. It has affected us so much. I couldn't fathom a world without history.” This program has taught me skills I can use for the rest of my life."
- Jonathan T.
"This camp has taught me a lot about my history and my past. It was a great experience. The most interesting thing I learned about was that during a march led by Martin Luther King Jr. in Cicero when marchers came back to their cars they were all turned over and on fire. I really enjoyed this camp and would recommend it to someone else."
- Ebony M.
Calloway, Bertha W. and Alonzo N. Smith. Vision of Freedom on the Great Plains: An Illustrated History of African Americans in Nebraska. Virginia Beach, VA: Donning Company, 1990.
Gay, Jewel. 2010. Interview by Ebony M., Jonathan T., Karelle L., LeClara Gilreath, and Joseph Beard, 20 July. Digital recording with video.
G. P. N. Educational Media. (1994). A Street of Dreams [Motion Picture]. (Available from GPN Educational Media, P.O. Box 80669, Lincoln, NE).
Jones, Patrick. Lecture on the Great Migration and Jazz, Making Invisible Histories Visible project, presented in Omaha, Nebraska at the Metro Community College FortOmaha Campus, Institute for Culinary Arts Building, July 19,2010.
King, Ed. 2010. Interview by Ebony M., Jonathan T., Karelle L., LeClara Gilreath, and Joseph Beard, 20 July. Digital recording with video
Smith, Alonzo N., Compiler, Black Nebraskans: Interviews from the Nebraska Black Oral History Project II. Nebraska: Nebraska Committee for the Humanities, 1982.
Smith, Rud Lecture on the Importance of Knowing North Omaha’s History, presented in Omaha, Nebraska at the Metro Community College Fort Omaha Campus, Institute for Culinary Arts Building, July 15, 2010
Research compiled by: Karelle L., Ebony M., Jonathan T., Joseph Beard and LeClara Gilreath