Monday, February 26, 2007
7 News Features: Black History Month: Mount Zion Baptist Church
We've been celebrating black history throughout February. And, each week, we have been taking a look at locations that played a fundamental role in defining the African American experience in South Florida. This morning, 7's Sharron Melton takes you inside historic Mount Zion Baptist Church.
(WSVN) -- It's been a fixture of Miami for over a century.
Every Sunday, the sounds of music continue to ring through the rafters of this historic building.
And, for those who worship inside its walls, it has always been a part of their hearts.
Dr. Ralph M. Ross, Pastor, Mt. Zion Baptist Church: "These are people of strong faith and who believe that this church is vital to the life of this community."
Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Miami was built near the turn of the 20th century, in 1896.
It was a time when blacks lived in homes like these and strived to make a life for themselves when Miami was still in its infancy.
It was also a time of segregation, when blacks weren't treated equally.
Georgiana Johnson Bethel, member for 80 years: "We didn't have the use of the hotels and halls, and so the church was the place where we would have mass meetings, civil rights meetings."
Mt. Zion was home away from home, and for its first 30 years, it blossomed.
But, in 1926, the church building was destroyed when it was hit by a hurricane.
But, with the guidance of Reverend J.R. Evans, that didn't stop church members.
While the church was being rebuilt, they met in the basement, until the new building was ready.
Decades later, church membership flourished into the thousands under Reverend Edward T. Graham.
Edna Johnson Williams, member for over 70 years: "It was just a grand neighborhood, and everybody took care of everybody else's children, so we were loved, and that meant a whole lot to us. So, even though there was segregation and unpleasantness, and you had to drink from a certain water fountain, we overcame all that."
Charles Lowrie grew up living across the street from the church and felt its impact.
Charles Taylor Lowrie, member for over 50 years: "I think it was a cornerstone of the surrounding community because I think most of the people in this community probably belonged to the church at that time. "
The church also had a few firsts. Like starting the first black boy scout troop in South Florida.
Sharron Melton: "For 110 years Mt. Zion Historic Baptist Church has stood proudly here, on Third Avenue and Ninth Street watching the changes around South Florida and its members say the reason why it has lasted for so long is because it continues to do what it does best, serve the community when it's needed."
Edna Johnson Williams: "To me this community could not continue to exist if it wasn't for Mt. Zion."
Catherine Nelson Mapp, Member For Over 60 Years: "We all are just a big family, and I think what I can say about it is, it's what has kept our church going because we are family."