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Home to the largest African American congregation in the state of Washington
Zion Baptist Church was organized in Seattle on February 18, 1894. Led by Reverend Hesekiah C. Rice, eight
founding members initially met in a rented hall on the campus of the University
of Washington, which was in what is now downtown Seattle. Although many churches in Seattle were racially
integrated during this period, some black parishioners wanted a more expressive
environment within which to worship.
Mount Zion experienced tremendous instability in its leadership and location
between 1894 and 1907. Numerous pastors
passed though the church, sometimes as frequently as one each year. In addition, Mount Zion’s address changed no fewer
than five times during this period.
Finally, a church building was constructed on land purchased at the
corner of 11th Avenue and Union Street in 1907. In 1918 the church bought a parcel of land at
19th Avenue and East Madison Street.
Construction began in 1920 on the building that still houses Mount Zion
Church leadership, which had been transient for years, stabilized as well. Mount Zion had just six pastors between 1912
and 1957. They were Reverend W. D. Carter (1912-1925), Reverend J. Sterling Moore
(1926-1932), Reverend Taylor M. Davis (1932-1940), Reverend Fountain W. Penick
(1940-1942), Reverend F. Benjamin Davis (1942-1954), and Reverend Gil B. Lloyd
(1955-1957). Many of these ministers
played an active role in the larger community.
Rev. Penick was considered an early civil rights
activist and Rev. Davis
was a candidate for the Seattle City Council in 1946, garnering 27,000 votes in
his losing bid, which took place in an era when there were fewer than 3,500
black voters in the city.
During World War II
Seattle’s African American population grew rapidly as labor
shortages forced companies like Boeing to integrate their workforces. The corresponding growth in Mount Zion’s
membership made space an issue, and would eventually lead to additions to and
redesigns of the original sanctuary.
In 1958 Reverend Samuel Berry McKinney
became the pastor of Mount Zion, a
position he held until 1998. During the
1960s under McKinney’s leadership, Mount Zion became a major force in the local
civil rights campaign. Dr. Martin Luther
made his only visit to Seattle in November, 1961 as part of a lecture
series sponsored by Mount Zion. On July
1, 1963 Rev. McKinney led 400 marchers from Mt. Zion to Seattle’s City Hall to
support an open housing ordinance in Seattle.
During a boycott of the Seattle schools in spring of 1966 to protest
ongoing racial segregation, over 500 children showed up to attend a ‘Freedom
School’ that was being hosted at Mount Zion. Later in the 1960s, McKinney aligned himself with
‘radical’ Black Power
elements in Seattle who challenged integration as the
primary objective of the black community.
In 1975 the church embraced an African-themed redesign. Through McKinney’s tenure, church membership
grew from roughly 800 to more than 3,000.
Reverend Leslie Braxton was selected as Mount
Zion’s Senior Pastor following McKinney’s retirement in 1998. Turmoil within the congregation led to
Braxton’s resignation in 2005, and McKinney was unanimously voted to return as
pastor on an interim basis. In 2008
Reverend Aaron Williams became Mount Zion Baptist Church’s 24th