Complete History of Mt. Zion Baptist Church

as of October 14, 2007

The Mount Zion Baptist Church of Albany, GA was organized December 8, 1865 by the late Rev. R. R. Watson. The church’s original location was in a building then known as the Jerry Walter’s Blacksmith Shop, which was located on the corner of State Street (now Highland Avenue) and Jackson Street. Six months after the establishment of the church, the Rev. David Hines of Atlanta succeeded in drawing around himself enough Mount Zion members to establish another church. The church became known as the Jackson Grove Baptist Church.

A successful financial drive made it possible to purchase land for the church at Washington Street and Highland Avenue. Twenty-six hundred dollars was raised for this purpose. However, before the structure was completed, it was destroyed by a storm. Nevertheless, the site at South Street (now Whitney Avenue) and Jefferson Street was purchased. An old house brought from Leesburg, Georgia was donated to the congregation by a Yankee Colonel named Howard. This became the first church structure at that location. Northern teachers taught school in that building until a schoolhouse was later erected.

Though there were numerous hardships that arose, the church nevertheless continued to progress.  After a few years, some confusion developed, which caused some members to withdraw from the congregation and establish Eureka Baptist Church. In addition, Rev. Morris, another local minister, successfully persuaded some of the members to join with him in establishing the Shiloh Baptist Church.

Rev. R. R. Watson faithfully served the church until his death. Rev. N. B. Williamson became the successor in 1900. He taught at the Albany Normal School (now Albany State University), in addition to serving as the institution’s chaplain.  After five years of faithful service, he resigned to go elsewhere.  Rev. T. J. Simpson became his successor in 1905.

That same year, under the leadership of Rev. T. J. Simpson, the church was torn down and rebuilt. In the interim, services were held in a local Lodge Hall. It took approximately a year to complete the restoration. After eleven years of   faithful service, Rev. Simpson resigned.  Simultaneously, some of the members left and formed the Mount Hebron Baptist Church.

In 1916, the Rev. W. J. Jenkins became Mt. Zion’s fourth pastor.  This was at a time in which the state of affairs at the church were destitute. Members were confused and the church was heavily in debt. In this dark hour, God smiled upon the wavering church.  Out of turmoil, a determined band of Christian soldiers rallied around their leader, and revived the spirit and future of Mount Zion Baptist Church.  The church’s debts were paid and the structure was remodeled.  Mission work was expanded and new pews, lighting, and heating systems were installed.  After nine years of service, Rev. Jenkins was called to his heavenly reward on September 7, 1925.  The legacy of his ministry had set the stage for the future of the church.  The congregation remained unified.  In 1926, the Rev. N. B. Wright of Augusta, GA became pastor. He served two years. During this time, efforts were made to purchase the church’s first organ.

From 1926 to 1932, Rev. I. A. Harris served as pastor.  Another storm damaged the church’s structure in March of 1932. Meetings were held in the Masonic Hall until June of that year.  Another segment of the membership saw fit at that time to separate and form the Mount Calvary Baptist Church. Nevertheless, loyal members struggled without an elected leader.  In July 1933, Rev. H. M. Smith became pastor.  During Rev. Smith’s ministry, the purchase of the church’s parsonage was initiated, membership increased tremendously, church debt decreased, and the influence of the church was extended throughout the state.

In 1944, the Rev. Dr. E. James Grant became pastor.  Under his leadership, the church experienced outstanding Christian fellowship, progress, and growth. The auxiliaries of the church expanded to nineteen and the membership increased significantly. The church moved forward and achieved set goals while rendering Christian service to mankind.

Eventually, yesterday’s dreams became today’s reality for Mount Zion Baptist Church. The members marched into the present building on the First Sunday in July of 1972.  A faithful congregation, a dedicated Board of Deacons, two superintendents of buildings and grounds, and two office clerks accompanied the devout pastor and leader, Rev. E. James Grant.

During Rev. Grant’s tenure, the Mount Zion Garden Apartments, a federal housing project, was constructed.  In 1988, the Dr. E. James Grant Family Center was added to the present structure. The Center is a multi-purpose facility, which houses a gymnasium, clinic, nursery, library, jogging track, and rooms to accommodate Sunday School, conferences, and a vast range of other family-related activities. After 48 years of faithful service, Rev. Grant retired in 1991 as Pastor.  He was appointed Pastor Emeritus under the leadership of Pastor Daniel Simmons.  Rev. Grant served diligently until he was called to his heavenly home on October 19, 1994.
On November 17, 1991, Rev. Daniel B. Simmons was installed as the Church’s ninth pastor in its 126-year history. This change in leadership has been a smooth and productive transition. “A New Beginning” was the theme for    Pastor Simmons’ Installation Service.  Pastor Simmons’ wife, Diane, and daughter, Maya, along with other members of his family were present at his Installation Service.  His father, Rev. Perry Simmons, Sr. delivered the Installation Sermon.

During Pastor Simmons’ third year of ministry, the “Great Flood of 1994” inundated many of the areas of the city, including the church.  The church structure was engulfed with approximately eight feet of water. During the period of flood recovery and renovation, God opened many doors within the community, which enabled the congregation to conduct meetings and worship services.  The Temple B’nai Israel, a local Jewish Synagogue, opened its doors and   embraced the Mount Zion congregation by allowing worship services to be conducted at the synagogue.  The congregation returned home and marched into their reconstructed sanctuary during the summer of 1995.

Mt. Zion’s membership has increased remarkably since Pastor Simmons’ Installation.  Church attendance is consistently high; financial stewardship (giving and tithing) has increased substantially.  Many “new beginnings” and    creative works, such as ministries and other Christian initiatives have been implemented under the spiritual leadership of Pastor Daniel Simmons.  They include the establishment of the Mt. Zion Community Reinvestment Corporation, the    adoption of Magnolia Elementary as a “Partner In Excellence”, and the   implementation of various outreach programs such as Black History Youth Ministry, Intercessory Prayer Ministry, Wednesday Night Bible Study, Ministry of  Benevolence, Children’s Church, Culinary Committee, Children’s Pantomime Group, Boys to Men Outreach, New Member Intake Ministry, New Member Orientation Ministry, Prison Outreach Ministry, Soup Kitchen Ministry, Brotherhood Ministry,  Leisure Plus Club, Joshua Generation Youth Ministry, Marriage Ministry, a bi-monthly eight o’clock Worship Hour, organization of the Gospel Choir, Youth Bible Study, “Walking in the Light” Television Ministry, ongoing exchange of worship with Sherwood Baptist Church, Girls to Women Outreach, the establishment of a voting precinct in the E. James Grant Family Life Center and Family Ministry.  Mt. Zion became the first African-American church to partner with the ICR (International Conference on Revival) to train young ministers both locally and abroad, primarily in Budapest and South Africa.  The Summer Reading Program and After-School Tutorial Programs focus on improving students overall performance in school.  The first Youth Conference was initiated in 2006.  The vision of a Boys Youth Academy became a reality in the summer of 2005.  Zion University, a Christian Education Ministry, was established for spiritual growth opportunities.  In keeping with the pastor’s mission motto “The church that goes the   extra mile”, Mt. Zion has organized a Hurricane Relief Mission which includes adopting a Katrina victim family.

From humble beginnings in 1865 to the present, Mt. Zion has been a beacon of light, hope, faith, and inspiration in the community. The Old Mt. Zion (corner of Whitney and Jefferson) has been added to the Historic Registry and become home of the Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum. The Church has a history of Biblical teaching and embodies more than fifty ministries that are designed to minister to the total person as well as enable Mt. Zion to “Be a vibrant church that reaches the world for Christ through evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, and mission.”

“The moving finger writes and having writ moves on.  Not all piety nor wit can lure it back to cancel half a line; nor all your tears wash out a word of it.”  As we commemorate 141 years of untiring service to God and the community, we pledge anew to continue a past that has given us a glorious reflection and look to a future that is pleasing in the sight of the Master.