Claiming an Education: Early Black American Humanists

Mount Zion Baptist Church Carries History of Faith and Community Forward

Mount Zion Baptist Church

A Religious and Community Hub: Mount Zion Baptist Church, at the intersection of Carpenter and Congress Streets in Athens, served as a central religious institution and gathering place for southeastern Ohio’s Black community for most of the 20th century. Constructed between 1905 and 1909 on land donated by prominent Black entrepreneurs Edward and Mattie Berry, owners of the Berry Hotel in Athens, the church maintained an active congregation through the 1990s. Sunday services, Black Young People’s Union, weeknight Bible study classes and choir practices made the church a hub of activity throughout the week and a place for Black community members to celebrate their cultural and religious traditions. 

Landmark added to National Register: Mount Zion soon became a must-see landmark when Black visitors came to Athens. Cab Calloway’s big band even made a stop there in 1942 when they came to play at Ohio University’s junior prom. Later in the 20th century, the church’s prize-winning Gospel Voices of Faith choir represented Mount Zion in singing competitions throughout the nation. In recognition of its cultural importance, the Mount Zion church building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. 

Restoring the Building for the Community: In 2013, the Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society was formed to restore and maintain the building as a Black cultural, educational, and arts center. The society received a National Endowment for the Arts and a National Trust for Preservation African American Heritage Action Fund grant to aid in the building’s restoration. 

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