The Lake School was opened at 2410 North 19th Street to serve the Near North Side neighborhood when it was new and growing in the late 1880s. For most of its existence, Lake School had kindergarten through 8th grade in a brick two-story building with a peaked roofline and decorated peaks, with a bell tower on the east side. Located on the southeast corner of the intersection, for more than 40 years it was one of Omaha Public Schools’ Black schools where African American students were segregated.
Oldest School in the Omaha School District
In 1879, a wooden schoolhouse was opened at North 20th and Lake Streets. Built on land that belonged to Judge George Lake, the school was renamed for him while he was still alive. When it was eventually demolished, Lake School was the oldest school in Omaha Public Schools. Sections of the school were designed by John McDonald, and some of the stonework was finished by Jacob Maag.
According to a 1954 edition of the Omaha World-Herald, the school was the first in Nebraska to fly an American flag, launching it on February 22, 1889.
During this early era, Jews from across Europe, Scandanavians and other Near North Side residents went to the school. With Omaha’s Jim Crow at work though, African Americans mostly couldn’t attend the school early on.
In 1890, the student population at Lake School was almost exclusively white, with mostly English, Scandinavian and Jewish students. Black students started attending around 1900, and the school was about 50/50 by 1930. In that era, Lake School was one of Omaha’s four Black schools, enforced through de facto segregation. By 1965, it was a completely segregated school. By the 1970s, the Omaha Public Schools had made it into a special education school, with every student identified as a special education student.”
In 1976, the US government took the Omaha Public Schools to court because of its segregated schools. The US circuit court ordered Omaha to use busing to desegregate the district. They ordered the district to desegregate Omaha’s public schools, starting in September 1976. Suddenly, white flight swept through North Omaha, with hundreds of residents fleeing to the city’s western suburbs where there were few African Americans. White student enrollment in the district tanked, and African-American students were encouraged to travel across the city to predominantly white schools.
The End of Lake School
In the early 1970s, Omaha Public Schools demolished the original Lake School and built a replacement school in its place. After formally closing in the late 1970s, it became a special facility exclusively for students who were identified as developmentally disabled. All of the students were reportedly African American, and local activists believed it was another attempt to keep Omaha’s Black community segregated from whites.
In 1984, the Seventh Day Adventists started operating the building as the Dorthea Fullwood School. It ran that way for several years afterwards. The building was converted into the Fullwood Court Apartments, and today stays that way.
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