Religion (1884-1945)

Tulsa History

Tulsa’s first Sunday school was reportedly held in the spring of 1883, in a tent near what is now Boulder Avenue, just north of the Frisco section house. The first sermon preached in Tulsa was done by the Reverend Robert M. Loughridge in 1883, while he stood on the front porch of J. M. Hall’s store. Reverend Loughridge represented the Home Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church of New York. The Five Civilized Tribes, notably in the Cherokee and Creek settlements, organized churches. These were usually Presbyterian, Methodist or Baptist Churches served by a native pastor. Tulsa was no exception. In 1883, the Creeks organized the Presbyterian Church, the first church in Tulsa. The Methodist Episcopal Church, the forerunner of the First Methodist Episcopal Church, was constructed in 1887 at the corner of Main and Cameron Streets. Reverend George Mowbray was its first minister. The congregation later built a new structure at Fifth Street and Boulder Avenue.

Other churches soon followed the establishment of the Presbyterian and Methodist churches. In 1890, the first Roman Catholic church in Tulsa was organized. Seven years later, the Baptists, under the leadership of the Reverend Elihu Lee, organized the first church of that denomination which later became the First Baptist Church. The Macedonia Baptist Church, Tulsa’s first African-American congregation, began in 1899. It moved to its present location on North Greenwood Avenue in 1953 and is now know as the First Baptist Church North Tulsa. Other early day churches included the North Methodist Church, which seated 300 people, and the Methodist Church South, whose building was described as “a fine, brick building with the largest audience room of any building in town, except for the opera house.”

Churches were established slowly during the early years of the twentieth century. Though a total of eight churches were noted on the 1905 Sanborn map, the only new church built since the 1901 edition of the Sanborn map, was the Christian Church formed in 1902. The congregation’s present building, located at Ninth Street and Boulder Avenue, was completed in 1918. By 1905, an Episcopal congregation had established their church at Fifth Street and Cincinnati Avenue. That congregation still worships at that site in the Trinity Episcopal Church. By 1907, the African Methodist Episcopal Church at 305 North Greenwood Avenue was established to serve Tulsa’s African-American population. By 1909, twelve churches were located in Tulsa. Seven additional churches, including two churches serving the African-American population, were noted on the 1911 Sanborn map. The churches which were denoted as “Negro” were Brown’s Chapel, C.M.E. (Colored Methodist Episcopal) at 307 North Frankfort Avenue, and the Tigert Memorial Methodist Church on North Main Street. Other churches established in Tulsa by 1911 included the Church of Christ, the First Baptist Church, the First Presbyterian Church, the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, and the United Presbyterian Church. In 1912, a Pentecostal congregation settled at Fifth Street and Peoria Avenue. It later became known as the Central Assembly of God and relocated to 4821 S. 72nd East Avenue in the 1990s. By 1915, almost every religion was represented in Tulsa.

Many of the early churches associated with the African-American culture in Tulsa were destroyed in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Churches which suffered property damage in the riot included the Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, the Paradise Baptist Church, the Metropolitan Baptist Church, the Union Baptist Church and the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The Mount Zion Baptist Church, one the most well-known African-American religious institutions in Tulsa, was completely destroyed in the riot. The congregation had just finished erecting a new building in 1921, only to see it destroyed six weeks later during the riot. The church was rebuilt after the race riot at a cost of $85,000. It took the church’s congregation twenty-one years to repay the $50,000 note required to finance the new construction.

The first Jewish religious services in Tulsa were held above the offices of N. C. Livingston at 3 N. Elgin Avenue. Several Tulsa families held services in their homes until the Synagogue and Temple were built. Private chapels were found in the homes of D. R. Travis and L. E. Z. Aaronson in the Maple Ridge Historic District.

Temple Israel was founded in 1914. This Reform synagogue is affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. The Congregation held it organization meeting in rooms of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce on December 8th, 1914. From 1914 until 1916, High Holyday services were held in the Elk’s Club and the Ohio Building. The first Temple building in Tulsa was dedicated in 1919 at 14th Street and Cheyenne Avenue. Many families of German Jewish extraction lived in the immediate neighborhood. Charles Latz was the first rabbi at this site. The Congregation established its second home at 16th Street and Rockford Avenue in 1932. Although this facility had a gymnasium, its formal sanctuary was never completed. Many community plays and musicals were performed there. The site was used until 1955 when the third Temple at 22nd Place and Yorktown was completed. Rabbi Norbert L. Rosenthal led the Congregation at this site. The facility was expanded after the 1984 flood and now also houses the Moe Gimp Early Learning Center. The previous 16th Street and Rockford Avenue site is now occupied by the Marquette School playground which is part of the Christ the King Catholic Parish.

The first synagogue building in Tulsa was located at Ninth Street and Cheyenne Avenue. It was built in 1916 by Congregation B’nai Emunah. Its two-story, red brick building was trimmed in white marble and had a rose window and a Byzantine-style onion dome. Morris Teller was the congregation’s first rabbi. The Congregation moved its synagogue to its current location at 17th Street and South Peoria in 1942. A new building, housing the Sanctuary, was dedicated there in 1959. Originally Orthodox, the Congregation is now affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Congregation B’nai Emunah also houses the Fenster Museum of Jewish Art which maintains the largest collection of Judaica in the American Southwest.

None of the early day frame structures used as churches are standing. They were replaced with structures of a more permanent nature during periods of Tulsa’s rapid growth.