In the history of North Omaha, giant churches have come and gone. Some of the old buildings are still standing, and others were demolished decades ago. One congregation was started in the community, grew large and predominant in the community, and then appears to have just disappeared from the city altogether. This is a history of the former Immanuel Baptist Church in North Omaha.
In 1887, Rev. Frank Foster established the North Omaha Baptist Mission Sunday School in an old storefront at 2409 Saunders Street, now called North 24th Street, a block south of Lake Street. Growing quickly, soon after it started three new churches started in the nearby Kountze Place neighborhood right afterwards: Trinity Methodist Episcopal; Knox Presbyterian; First United Presbyterian, and; St. John’s Episcopal Church. The Baptists decided those denominations benefited from their Sunday School, so they launched a new congregation in 1888.
Their first building was a woodframe church opened at North 24th and Binney. It was dedicated in December 1889, and had 125 members at the beginning.
By 1894, the congregation had grown to 250 members and the church was successful. That year, the church was renovated with major improvements. The building was carpeted throughout, and opera chairs were installed in the sanctuary. A larger choir loft was added, and the baptismal font was expanded. A study center including a library had retractable walls that could seat 200, as well. A new furnace was installed and the future was bright.
Like most other traditional Protestant denominations in North Omaha at the time, Immanuel Baptist Church only allowed white members. It was an informal understanding strictly enforced by redlining and other Jim Crow measures that ensured white supremacy in Omaha.
A New Immanuel Baptist Building
In 1916, the congregation built a new church. It was a buff sandstone box with a massive sanctuary, large Sunday School, and an office for the pastor. Every window in the building was stained glass and dedicated as a memorial, and the church was a proud facility.
The area around the church was filled-in with large middle class homes between 1898 and the 1920s. There were a few around from before then too, when Omaha’s wealthy elite built country estates in the neighborhood, including real estate mogul Clifton E. Mayne and businessman John McCreary.
The neighborhood surrounding it also included Lothrop Elementary School, which was then located at North 24th and Lothrop Street; the University of Omaha; Swedish Covenant Hospital; and North Side Christian Church and St. John’s Lutheran Church, as well as many other churches. There were several businesses around the church’s location, too.
A New Front
In February 1924, Immanuel dedicated a new annex to the original building, completely covering the original facade. Built for $150,000, the newspaper reported that the church was “dressing up in the modern style” and that the building “beautifies the city.” Rev. John Leslie Barton led the church in its re-dedication that year, and there were more than 500 members in the church. There was a new sanctuary, Sunday school and social spaces, as well as a modern gym/theater in the basement with a large kitchen, social room, lockers, showers and a large furnace.
In 1939, the congregation held a mortgage burning ceremony after raising the final $20,000 through individual donations. That year the church celebrated its 50th anniversary.
During the 1940s, Immanuel was identified as part of the American Baptist Church.
Immanuel’s White Flight
In the early 1950s, real estate agents began block-busting in the Kountze Place neighborhood. Block-busting is the practice of forcing white homeowners to sell their property cheaply because of the fear of people of Black people moving into the neighborhood. In turn, these homes were sold or rented to African Americans at higher costs after being marketed as better quality homes than what Blacks were used to in the Near North Side neighborhood, the historically redlined Black neighborhood in North Omaha. The white people were sold more expensive new homes in west Omaha beyond North 42nd Street, which developed rapidly after World War II. This is called white flight.
The church began raising money for a new church building in 1955. They raised $205,000 for a new building, and in 1958, Immanuel Baptist Church followed its members to west Omaha by moving permanently from its historic home. Rev. Jonathan Nielsen was pastor when the church moved. The congregation built a new church in the new neighborhood at the end of Norwick Drive across from the Norwick Park at 5501 North 50th Street. The surrounding homes belonged to middle class white families with children that attended the brand-new Mt. View Elementary School, while mothers shopped for groceries at the brand-new Baker’s Supermarket built on Ames Avenue just a few blocks away. It was a deeply segregated area which did not explicitly block Black people from owning homes there, but they weren’t allowed to move in during that era.
Becoming Corinth Memorial Baptist
Originally founded in 1938, the Black congregation of Corinth Memorial Baptist Church took over the former home of Immanuel Baptist Church at North 24th and Pinkney Street in July 1961. After five years of action, in 1966 they left the building when it was destroyed by fire. After moving a few times afterwards, that congregation closed permanently in 2006.
Running from Social Changes
In the 25 years after Immanuel Baptist moved to their new building, a lot changed in their new neighborhood. The federal Fair Housing Act of 1964 ended redlining and allowed Blacks to move throughout Omaha. Racism griped nearly all white people in North Omaha, causing them to move further west in Omaha en masse. Over the years, Immanuel Baptist became less comfortable for white people, and many white middle class families moved away from the surrounding neighborhood.
Becoming Mt. Nebo Baptist
In August 1985, Immanuel Baptist Church sold the building to a historic Black congregation called Mt. Nebo Baptist Church, which still occupies the building today. Mt. Nebo was founded in 1921, and their church was at 3211 Pinkney Street before they moved. White flight struck the surrounding neighborhood, and today it is predominantly African American. The elementary school is still there, the Baker’s has become a Walmart, and instead of being middle class many of the surrounding homes are working class and low-income families.
The End of Immanuel Baptist
I haven’t found what happened to the Immanuel Baptist congregation. There was a church in Ralston called Immanuel Baptist, and another in Bellevue. However, I don’t know whether they are related to North Omaha’s historic congregation.
Today, the last building to house Immanuel Baptist Church is still a beacon in the neighborhood, and many people call Mt. Nebo Baptist Church home today.
You Might Like…
- A History of Churches in North Omaha
- A History of North 24th Street
- A History of the Kountze Place Neighborhood