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'Its part of history': How one building in Ogden became home for African Americans

'Its part of history': How one building in Ogden became home for African Americans
Posted at 11:54 AM, Feb 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-16 16:49:08-05

When 91-year-old Hazel Jones moved from California to Ogden, in 1951, she was just 18 years old and knew immediately that people like her weren’t always welcome.

“We were invisible,” the Ogden resident said.

“You know, there was nothing that we could get involved in or anything like the because of the segregation laws in Utah at that time, Jones said. “It was the African Americans who had to make their own society, which they did.”

One such safe haven for the African American community in Ogden was Wall Avenue Baptist Church. The red brick, bungalow style chapel with a small steeple was erected in 1918 and dedicated in May 1919.

“When it was founded, it had, I believe, around 100 members, and they all came together and they raised the money for it,” said Chris Jensen, a historic preservationist, who has done in depth research on the building. “And they also built the church."

However, being that it was only one of two black churches in Ogden, the congregation outgrew this space, and moved to New Zion Church in 1956.

Wall Avenue Church was then used as the only all Black veterans club in Utah, Pioneer Post 66 of the American Legion, at a time when American legion posts were fully segregated. Jones’s husband was one of the founders.

Today the building stands unoccupied, in disrepair and almost forgotten in history.

But for Jones, who worked as key punch operator at Hill Air Force base, and many others in the Ogden African American community, the building was once a vital part of their life in a segregated Ogden.

“Well, at times, that was the only place that African Americans had to really socialize,” Jones said. “And it was just part of our lives. We learned to live with in our own space."

Throughout its existence the building hosted community events, like fashion shows, dances, and family gatherings. It was also a hub for the civil rights movement in Ogden, and a place that advocated for equal treatment in the military.

And Wall Avenue’s location was no coincidence. It was located in a historically redlined area. The Home Owner's Loan Corporation (HOLC)that formed in 1933, a national agency, made color-coded maps that labeled the riskiness of giving loans or services in certain areas of a city.

The tactic known as redlining was used by banks to exclude blacks and other marginalized communities from accessing capital and land in ‘desirable’ areas of a city.

“We were not able to go into any of the white clubs and organizations,” Jones said. “No, it was totally segregated.”

“It was almost like they were just a forgotten neighborhood, Jensen said. “Two streets up you have 25th Avenue, which was at the time of this church in an affluent area with local businesses. And that was thriving is still thriving today.

“And here we are two blocks down in a traditionally redlined area that is very industrial and still forgotten to this day. I think that speaks volumes to what they were going through. You can still see remnants of that history here.”

Legion Post 66 continued at this location until the early 2000s when American Legions were already desegregated.

“Comparing to the 50’s yes we have come a long way but we still have a long ways to go," Jones said.

And while the fate of the building is not known, Jones hopes that people in her community today know what was once there and what it mean to her community.

“I think that it's should be it's part of history. And they should know, they should know about all the problems that we encountered during those years."