The history of the Israelite Baptist Church had its beginning in October 1937, under the leadership of its founder, Rev. Lamar V. Brown. With a few dedicated Christians the first church was located in a small building, at Dryades and St. Andrew Streets. Though years of toiling, Rev. Brown along with his flock acquired property at Melpomene and South Saratoga Streets. Within a few months the congregation moved to this site. Under the dynamic leadership of Rev. Brown as Pastor, the church attracted many people. Matthew 16:18,” And I also say to you - Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” With this belief strongly embedded the building at Melpomene and South Saratoga Street was rebuilt in 1954. The congregation along with Rev. Brown worked zealously to maintain the up keep of this building. With God in mind the congregation continued to grow in numbers and spirit. Though continuos praying God showered bountiful blessings on this small congregation. By the providence of God, Heaven’s time keeper stopped time on Rev. Brown. Rev. Brown departed this life on April 1, 1966.
Knowing that all things work together for them that love the Lord, in October of 1966, Rev. Mason Thompson was elected and installed as pastor. Remembering the words of Jesus to Peter, “Feed My Sheep” - John 21:15, Rev. Thompson began to work out his soul salvation. Under his pastorate, new property was purchased at 1500-1523 South Saratoga. Still God in the plan, the congregation was able to liquidate the note in 1968. Rev. Thompson served faithfully until ill heath caused his incapacity. In April of that same year, God called Pastor Thompson from labor to reward.
Six months later, the Rev. Israel Jones was elected and installed as pastor of the church. Rev. Jones along with the congregation struggled to keep the dream alive of a new Israelite Baptist Church.
Matthew 28:20 - “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
In December 1969, Rev. Martin Behrman Fortner, was elected and placed over this flock. In January of 1970, he was installed as pastor. First Corinthians 4:17 - “ For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” Through Rev. Fortner’s teachings “Prayer Changes Things,” the congregation soon realized where there is no vision, the people would perish. Under Rev. Fortner’s vigorous leadership, new properties were purchase at 1525 South Saratoga Street making the property 190 feet deep. Realizing that all things are possible if you only believe, more property at 2104-2110 Martin Luther King Boulevard, (formerly Melpomene Avenue), was purchased making the site 191 feet deep and a front of 96 feet wide.
Not only under Rev. Fortner’s remarkable leadership did the membership grow financially and spiritually, but many organizations were formed. Just to name a few, Israelite Benevolent Society, Deaconess Board No. 2, Young Adult Choir (renamed Martin B. Fortner Chorale), Christian Women Club, Usher Board No. 2, Junior Deacons, Co-Ed Usher Board, Special Project Committee, Birthday Month Club, Christian Workers, Willing Workers, Pastor’s Support, Hospitality Committee, Nurse’s Guild, and Tuesday Night Bible Study. Our Tuesday Night Bible Study has had two graduating classes.
No matter how tedious the journey, Rev. Fortner preached to his flock, Psalm 37:14, “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” Through praying and constantly fasting, Rev. Fortner preached an old story, PRAYER IS THE KEY, BUT FAITH UNLOCKS THE DOOR. Soon the congregation knew through Pastor Fortner’s guidance a dream was becoming a reality and with the help of Hewitt and Washington Architectural Consultants, a vision has now become a reality. We marched in and dedicated our new edifice on Sunday, August 24, 1986.
Pastor Fortner served here for 29 years and on Thursday, July 16,1999, the Lord called him home to glory. His work down here on earth was finished. His legacy and vision lives on.
Rev. Emanuel Smith, Jr., was installed as our newly elected pastor November 5, 1999. An excellent pastor, teacher and most of all, a committed community leader. He has the natural ability to think outside the normal “church” box and often reaches out into the community to provide various services and instills Christian and moral values.
Under Pastor Smith’s administration, the Israelite Baptist Church, has begun an awesome Outreach Ministry that is of great benefit to both our congregation and the surrounding community. He has implemented various community service programs such as: monthly feeding of the homeless and indigent, after school tutorial programs, shelter vouchers, employment assistance, counseling, summer camp and the Israelite Mind, Body and Soul Annual Health Fairs. Two of his most profound efforts include the restoring of men and fathers to the church/community, through the Men’s Ministry, “The Sons of Blood and Thunder”. This ministry teaches sobriety, business skills, leadership development while restoring ethics and moral training. We now have a male chorus consisting of more than 40 reformed criminals and drug addicts. As a church and community leader, he has secured medical assistance for the church and community members at the Medical Center of Louisiana’s DETOX Unit for individuals who need treatment. Over the past five years Rev. Smith has developed many new Ministries to enhance our spiritual growth. He has acquired the land across the street from the church and plan to build a multi-purpose building.
On February 29, 2004, the church tower became a beacon light for all to see. Project 2004 “Lighting of The Tower”. A light that will not fail in the time of darkness. For Jesus is an unfailing light.
Ministries established under Pastor’s Smith administration:
Sons of Blood ‘n Thunder (A Drug Out Reach Ministry) · Men of Honor Male Chorus · Women of Wisdom Ministry (better known as “WOW”) · Crusaders’ Outreach “A program for feeding and clothing the less fortunate” · Women of Wisdom Drug Outreach · New Members’ Ministry · Knights of Israelite Basketball Team · Church Nurse Program · Media Ministry · Liturgical Ministry ·Women of Wisdom Exercise Ministry · Joshua Nation
He also has implemented the following Educational Classes: Christian Counseling · Homiletics
Pastor Smith’s vision of a youth center became a reality November 2004 when property located at 1601 and 1603 Simon Bolivar was purchase. That property is now known as the Israelite Baptist Church Community Youth Center.
In August 2005 the City of New Orleans and surrounding areas were flooded by hurricane Katrina. The entire city was evacuated. There was massive devastation. Many lives were lost. Flood waters did not enter into our sanctuary. When the citizens of New Orleans were able to return to the city after hurricane Katrina, and on Sunday, September 25, 2005 we held our first service. There was no electricity in Central City but Pastor Smith was determined to have services. Many of our area churches we damaged by Katrina. Our church has opened its doors to other churches in our city, so they could have service while they are rebuilding.
Under Pastor Smith’s administration in 2006 the lot was paved across the street for parking and property located at 2112-& 2114 Martin L. King was purchased, and the sanctuary was renovated and on Sunday, March 11, 2007, we re-dedicated our newly renovated sanctuary.
We are committed to bring this community back as we spread the gospel of Christ.