Mount Zion First Baptist Church History

Founded in 1871 by twenty-two newly freed slaves and a white minister thought to be a missionary named Rev. J. P. Hines, Mt. Zion Baptist, a modest one-room church located on Santos Street in what was then known as the Baptist Settlement, has proven to be a stalwart of the Christian faith since its humble beginning. The first Pastor was Rev. Nat Shelton. Historical accounts record the existence of the missions, Saint Mary's Hall, Pioneer Flour Mill, Santa Rosa Hospital, and a small number of churches. The San Antonio Express published the daily news, Joske's and Wolf and Marx were the premiere department stores. Railway transportation dominated – the Katy; and Southern Pacific. Ulysses Simpson Grant was President of the United States, and slaves, by proclamation, had been freed eight years.

A new edifice, built in 1879, was destroyed by a storm in 1886. By faith, the church was rebuilt only to be ravaged by fire twice in 1890. Plans began in 1925 to build an impressive structure. In 1927, the dream became a reality. With the completion of the basement of the current facility, church members led by prominent bands of the time – the American Woodmen Band, K of P Band, Grand Union of Colored Labor Band, and church officers marched from the Santos Street site to the new location on the corner of Hackberry Street and Nebraska, now named Martin Luther King Drive.

Two splits occurred in Mount Zion's history. The first division occurred in the late 1890's when a group of disgruntled members left Mt. Zion Baptist and started a new church on the porch of Live Oak and Houston Streets and named it Macedonia. Macedonia later relocated to Chestnut and Center Streets, and changed the name of the church to Second Baptist Church. The second split took place in 1929 when Rev. G. F. C. Curry resigned, and along with forty-three former Mount Zion members, organized Friendship Baptist Church.

The first choir at Mount Zion was organized in 1909. The first usher board was formed in 1923. The Trustee Board had its inception in 1925. In October 1939, the second phase of the present facility was completed under the leadership of Rev. D. Manning Jackson. Dedication services were held October 24-29. A celebratory march from Douglass Junior High School (across the street from the new sanctuary) to the new location occurred on October 26, 1939 at 4:00 a.m. as the membership sang "We're Marching to Zion." With the completion of the new facility, came changes in the church organizational structure. Divisions were reorganized into "Missions." The church staff was enlarged and salaries were raised, amid an attitude of optimism and prosperity.

With the calling of Rev. Claude William Black, Jr. to the pastorate of Mount Zion First Baptist, commonly known in the community as "First Baptist," in March 1949, came several public ministries. In 1957, a day care center opened under the supervision of W.C. White, in an area of the community that was just being developed. Mrs. Doris Gumby was the first director of the church-sponsored center.

In 1951, Mount Zion purchased and renovated a house just north of the church on Hackberry Street. This facility was known throughout the community as "The House Next Door."

In 1965, in response to community needs of the citizens in the eastern quadrant of the city, Mount Zion formed a non-profit corporation. In 1966, Project Family Rehabilitation Effort (F.R.E.E.), an innovative, community directed ministry, was established. Project F.R.E.E. received federal funds to provide Social Services, an Emergency Food and Medical Services Program, and a Youth Employment Project. Project F.R.E.E. later initiated the Senior Nutrition Program, a free breakfast program in SAISD, and the first county wide Meals on Wheels program for homebound seniors. The efforts of the church and Project F.R.E.E. were in part the nucleus of the local War on Poverty Program.

On April 12, 1966, a charter was granted for the only Black church-sponsored financial institution in San Antonio, Mount Zion First Baptist Church Federal Credit Union. Charter members included Rev. C. W. Black, Jr., W. R. Ross, Edell Sanders, Austin Outlaw, L. C. Rutledge, Frederick L. Clayton, Lonnie Hysaw, Claude W. Black, Sr., C. N. Shandy, Ernest Foxx, and Harold Foster, Sr. The Credit Union opened for business on May 6, 1966. Harold Foster, Sr. served as Treasurer/Manager from its inception through August, 2010.

Less than a year after the church sanctuary had been remodeled, early Sunday morning on July 21, 1974, Mount Zion was once again struck by fire at the hand of an arsonist. The damage was estimated at $350,000. Bro. Earl Campbell, an Assistant Superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School Dist., secured permission for Mount Zion to worship at Douglass School, just across Martin Luther King Drive from the now completely burned church. Services were held in the Douglass Elementary School Auditorium until the church was rebuilt. In the aftermath of the fire, while a number of persons gathered at the site of the fire, Sis. Louise Miller, a faithful member of Mount Zion, approached Pastor Black and placed a one hundred dollar bill in his hand and said, "Let this be the first contribution to the re-building project." And indeed re-entry services were held December 21, 1975.

Mount Zion experienced tremendous growth since rebuilding in 1975. The ministerial staff expanded to include Rev. Reginald Wade as Minister of Pastoral Care in 1991 and Rev. Kenneth Allen as Minister of Education and Growth in 1995. In 1986, community outreach ministries were expanded with the construction of Mount Zion Sheltering Arms, an apartment community for seniors, and the opening of a second day care center at Hackberry and Wyoming in 1992. In 1995 and 1996, the church edifice was completely refurbished, including the church sanctuary. The widows Support Group was formed in 1994, the Young Adult Discipleship Ministry was reorganized in 1995, and the Youth Praise Dance Team and the Drama Ministry were added in 1997. Sunday morning worship was expanded with the addition of "SuperChurch" (children's church) on Father's Day, 1998.

In the January 1998 Annual Church meeting, Pastor Black announced his intention to retire on March 31, 1998. The congregation voted unanimously at the meeting to confer the title of "Pastor Emeritus" on Rev. C. W. Black, Jr. On Wednesday, March 18, 1998, in an overwhelming vote by the membership, Rev. Kenneth A. Allen, Sr. was elected to succeed Rev. Black as the seventeenth Pastor in the (then) 126-year history of the church. Once again, Mount Zion experienced growth in membership and ministries. Ordained under Rev. Allen's leadership were Rev. Samuel Alston, Rev. Russell Mellieon, and Rev. Thomas Arrington. Licensed and ordained was Rev. Cheryl Thompson, the first woman to join the Mount Zion First Baptist ministerial staff. Also licensed were Rev. James Banks and Rev. Michael Thompson.

In January 2003, the ministerial staff expanded once again with the addition of a full-time Minister of Youth and Missions. Rev. Anthony Cobbs was invited to take on the challenge of strengthening the missions and reaching and teaching the youth and children of Mount Zion. In less than one year, Rev. Cobbs instituted, "JAM (Jesus and Me) Session" on Thursdays and WordSearch Bible Study on Wednesdays.

In January 2002, after burning the mortgage on the remaining debt from the major renovation in the mid-1990's, Mount Zion undertook the "Vision of Hope" campaign to lay the groundwork for the expansion of the church campus and construction of a new educational and administrative facility.

On April 24, 2005, Rev. Kenneth A. Allen, Sr., a masterful teacher, delivered his last sermon at Mount Zion. He later accepted a position in Wayne Michigan. In May of 2005, the congregation voted to have Rev. Claude W. Black, Jr. as Interim Pastor.

On April 5, 2006, almost one year later, the congregation elected Rev. Otis I Mitchell as pastor of Mount Zion First Baptist Church. Formal installation of Rev. Mitchell took place on September 10, 2006. Pastor Mitchell, a retired Army Chaplain and Lieutenant Colonel, proved to be an insightful, gifted, and brilliant leader.

Rev. Willie Culpepper, Jr., became the latest to join Mount Zion's Ministerial staff. Rev. Culpepper added vitality and courage to the staff, with a concentration on Prison Ministry throughout the South Texas area. Rev Thompson who faithfully led children's "SuperChurch" for a number of years, accepted a new position at a local church as Youth Minister.

The Transportation Ministry, under the new leadership of Deacon General Thomas, continued to provide door to door support and service with excellence. Missions, now seventeen in number, continue to be vibrant. Mission ministries range from weekly food pantry and clothing distribution to the annual purchase and give-away of hundreds of pairs of new shoes to community children, and over and above financial support to a school/orphanage in Haiti. The missions form the pulse and heartbeat of the Mount Zion congregation.

As in past years, various activities support the needs and spiritual growth of the youth, young adults, adults, and senior citizens through church auxiliaries, e.g. Sunday School, Brotherhood, New Members Orientation Class, Children's SuperChurch, Hospitality and Courtesy Committees, Ushers' and Nurse's Ministry, Widows Auxiliary, weekly Bible Discovery and Prayer Meeting, Teacher's Meeting, Women In Christ (WIC), General Mission Council, Mission Chorus, Jesus and Me (JAM), God's Institute for Training (G.I.F.T.), Vacation Bible School (VBS), Choir rehearsal, the Circle of Elders and Bread of Life Ministry, Shalom and Agape Worship Service, Transportation Ministry, as well as artistic pursuits such as the Drama Ministry and Praise Dance Ministry. All add spiritual depth to church ministry. "Servant Partners," led by Rev. Carrie Everson and Team spearhead community outreach, mentoring and providing after-school tutoring programs to community youth.

Mount Zion used electronic media in the form of the church web site (, Facebook, and the local Business Directory to email subscribers. Online giving was also set up by Church Treasurer, Steve Braimer.

The Mount Zion Computer Lab, organized by Deacon Daryl and Sis. Rovena Flaggs, made its debut for the church membership and community youth. The Long Range/Short Range Planning for the development of a nonprofit, (501(c)(3), "The ZerNona S. Black Center" moved closer to fruition. Sisters Terri Womack Williams, and Mary L. Walker served as President and Vice-President respectively for non-profit organization.

Deacon Lloyd R. Miller, Dr. Dollie Hudspeth, and Sis. Beverly Hamilton provided the leadership for the Capital Campaign Committee. Expansion Fund now exceeds $300,000.

The Credit Union changed its name to Peoples Choice of San Antonio Federal Credit Union in January, 2009. The PCFCU, which existed independently for forty-three years, merged with Air Force Federal Credit Union on December 17, 2012.

In 2013, the Mount Zion Deacon Board, under the oversight of Pastor Otis I. Mitchell and Board Chairman, Deacon James Keown, grew spiritually with five newly ordained deacons. Deacons Angel Ayala, Vernon Drake, Randall Palmer, III, Charles Sloan, and William W. Watson completed ordination training to assume the noble tasks of Deacons as outlined in I Timothy 3:8-15. The aging sanctuary air conditioning unit no longer repairable had to be upgraded in July, 2013 at a cost of $136,000. Our beloved Minister of Pastoral Care Emeritus, Rev. Reginald M. Wade also passed away in July, 2013. The Capital Campaign fund exceeded $323,000 in 2013.

The Mount Zion Trustee Board launched the "Vision 14 Campaign," as a church debt reduction plan. The official kick-off began in September, 2013 with the theme "Not Equal Giving, But Equal Sacrifice!" The financial goal was to raise $160,000 for the total debt elimination by November, 2014. As of this date, the church van and communication equipment debt have been eliminated.

Pastor Mitchell and Rev. Douglas R. Randle led the Youth Department in a new financial initiative which allowed the youth to benefit from parking revenue during special events held at the Alamodome.

In September 2013, the Mount Zion Minister of Youth for seven years, Rev. Douglas R. Randle, accepted the spiritual call as Pastor of Bethany Baptist Church. His calling leaves a void not easily filled.

Ever resourceful, in March 2014, Mount Zion upgraded its transportation fleet with the purchase of a new (2014), fifteen-passenger van to replace the van which was stolen and deemed unrepairable. In the same year, John Hardemon oversaw and assisted with the remodeling of the ladies' lounge.

In May 2014, the Mount Zion Women's Fellowship celebrated the "Bridging Hope" Women's Conference, First Lady Venita R. Mitchell and Rev. Cheryl Thompson provided spiritual leadership to the women of this congregation as they united with First Lady, Minister Mauri Ratcliff and Team from the Christian Faith Fellowship Church in South Carolina. Numerous classes offered the women a deeper perspective of the mental, social, physical, and spiritual aspects of "Hope" as related to a Christian lifestyle. The biblical foundation for the conference was Romans 15:13: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

In October 2014, the ZerNona S. Black Center, Inc. gained non-profit (501(c)(3) status under the astute and persistent effort of Sis. Terri Womack Williams. "Vision 14," the financial initiative launched in September, 2013 by the Trustee Board under the leadership of Trustee Chairman Harold Foster, Sr. neared completion. This initiative made possible by financial pledges and/or contributions from the church membership culminated in November, 2014 with less than $25,000 of the initial $160,000 debt remaining.

In 2014, four new Trustees in training were installed; Velma Chambers, Toya Drake, Barbara Hawkins, and Curtis Mason.

In 2015, the Mount Zion Deacon Board grew spiritually once again with the addition of five newly ordained deacons. Deacons Horace Brown, Jr., John Hardemon, Rickey Hickman, Emmett J. Mitchell, and Kgai Williams completed their ordination training and began their tasks.

The church was involved in various endeavors which enhanced its visibility within the community. After the success of Gospel Explosion I in 2014, the Brotherhood sponsored Gospel Explosion II in 2015. The Youth Department continued their involvement in positive endeavors; they attended the National Baptist Convention Youth Conference and the Praise Dance Ministry performed throughout the community. The Breakfast Ministry, which was organized by the Brotherhood to support tenants from the Haven for Hope, continues to grow.

The youth continues to benefit from parking revenue generated from various Alamodome events. Deacon General Thomas has devoted himself to overseeing this endeavor.

Mount Zion has undergone some additions and renovations in 2015. Deacon John Hardemon added a changing room to the women's baptism room. The sanctuary and foyer were repainted. Deacons John Hardemon, Rickey Hickman, Roosevelt Tennessee, and General Thomas repainted the fellowship hall. A quilt, which tells a beautiful story of Mount Zion's history, now hangs along the foyer wall. A painting of Rev. Claude W. Black, Jr. and other civil rights leaders and activists, hangs in the foyer as well. The Communications Ministry upgraded their audio and video equipment.

The youth continues to benefit from parking revenue generated from various Alamodome events. Deacon General Thomas has devoted himself to overseeing this endeavor.  

Rev. Vedo Pettway joined Mount Zion's ministry as the Youth-Young Adult Minister on February 2, 2016. Bro. Gralin Vinning accepted the position as Mount Zion's Minister of Music. Mount Zion's Praise Team, Mass Choir, and Youth-Young Adult Choir are all under his direction. Rev. Joe Bishop was ordained in October 2016.  

Mount Zion's prison ministry, led by Rev. Willie Culpepper, Jr., continues to grow and has expanded to include a women's prison ministry. The Kyros ministry continues to flourish under the leadership of Deacon Emmett Mitchell, Rev. Lee Alexander, and others.  

TBC (The Breakfast Club), which is the brainchild of First Lady Venita Mitchell, is a women's ministry that is on the move. TBC has brought the women of Mount Zion closer together.  

In April 2017, the Mount Zion Deacon Board grew spiritually with the addition of two newly ordained deacons, Deacons James Kirchner and Ronald J. Watts.  

Mount Zion is ever closer to building the ZerNona Black Community Center on the campus of the church. This center will serve the community by providing a Food Bank program, an After School Program, a Pre-K Program, a Prison Ministry Program, a Senior Day Care Program, and Counseling and Health Care Assistance Programs. Honoring its' namesake, Sis. ZerNona S. Black, a tireless community activist and organizer, the ZerNona S. Black Center, Inc. represents faith, perseverance, courage and an unrelenting effort to succeed. Under the leadership of Pastor Otis I. Mitchell, Board Director Terri Womack Williams, Co-Director Mary Walker, ZerNona Black Board Members, and Texas State Representative Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, the ZerNona Black nonprofit now stands on the brink of becoming a viable reality.  

Historically, the center began as a Mount Zion Long Range planning initiative. The ZerNona Black Center's mission and focus are "community outreach, empowerment, and re-investment in the human capital of the San Antonio Community." Campus amenities will include the latest in computer technology, education classrooms, community meeting space, and special-events facility.  

Mount Zion First Baptist Church plays a vital role as mentor and the financial springboard of the ZerNona Black Center. Invaluable in this process was the Capital Campaign Committee which was assigned the crucial task of securing construction funding. Through membership contributions, donations, and annual fundraisers, the committee successfully amassed over $400,000; Those monies were transferred to the ZerNona S. Black Center, Inc. nonprofit to offset the campus construction cost of $3,000,000. Still experiencing a significant funding shortfall, it was by hard work on the part of the committee and divine providence that the City of San Antonio 2017 Bond Program awarded $2,000,000 to the ZerNona Black foundation, placing it ever closer to its' financial goal. Local San Antonio architectural firm Lake Flato, the campus master plan developer, made in-kind donations. The ZerNona S. Black Center, Inc. is a long-awaited historical capstone. All eagerly look forward to the ground-breaking celebration.  

By faith and in belief, the Mount Zion First Baptist Church Leadership, Membership, Supporters, Family, Friends, and Community are grateful to be part of a historical legacy far greater than ourselves.  

Mount Zion's Mission Outreach continues with funding of key projects at the orphanage in Port Au Prince, Haiti. Pastor Armador works with Mount Zion to meet the needs of the orphanage children, i.e., provide basic staples such as school supplies, transportation, food, shelter.  

*A copy of this history can be obtained from the Church office.

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