Mount Zion Baptist Church (Seattle)

  • By Mary T. Henry
  • Posted 1/29/1999
  • Essay 2048
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Mount Zion Baptist Church is located in Seattle at 19th Avenue and East Madison Street. It was established in 1890 when members -- some from First Baptist Church -- began meeting in homes. The First Baptist Church gave material and spiritual aid to the new church and donated the use of a store at 14th Avenue and East Madison Street for church services. In 1920, a new brick church building was completed on the current site. As of 2000, Mount Zion Baptist Church had the largest Black congregation in the state of Washington. In 2018, the Seattle City Council approved an ordinance formally dedicating Mount Zion Baptist Church as a historic city landmark. 

Many Moves

Reverend Anderson was the first pastor for the group. The church was reorganized on February 18, 1894, and incorporated in 1903. According to church records the charter members were: Mr. Anderson, Mrs. Braxton, Robert W. Butler, Mrs. E. W. Butler, Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Clark, Mrs. Eliza Washington, Mr. and Mrs. Shephard, B. F. Ward, and Mrs. Eliza Washington.

A series of pastors came and went, and during this period Mount Zion moved many times, from the Young Naturalist Hall at 4th Avenue and University Street in 1894, to the Peoples Church at 3rd Avenue and East Madison Street in 1896, to 16th Avenue and Madison Street in 1899, to a site at 2nd Avenue and Spring in 1900, and to a building at 9th Avenue and Olive Street in 1903. Three years later, the church purchased property at 11th Avenue and Union Street and in 1907 a church building was erected.

In 1918, an eight room house, later remodeled for the parsonage, was purchased along with a lot 80 feet by 122 feet at 19th Avenue and East Madison Street for the building of a new church. The groundbreaking for a sturdy, brick church building was held in April 1920, and 20 years later two lots adjacent to the church were purchased. While the church was being built, services were held at a temporary location at 21st Avenue and Jefferson Street.

In the 1940s, during the World War II years, the membership grew as Black people moved to Seattle to work at Boeing and related war industries. Under the leadership of Reverend F. Benjamin Davis, a building fund campaign was launched and grew during three pastorates. In 1962, the parsonage was razed to make room for the $250,000 Educational Unit, which was completed in 1963. In 1975, a new African inspired sanctuary designed by Durham, Anderson and Freed was built to house a vastly increased membership. African heritage informs the architectural design of the new Mount Zion, from within and without.

Windows to History

The interior of the sanctuary boasts 18 stained-glass windows manufactured by Douglas Phillips of Cleveland, Ohio, then the only Black owner of a stained-glass studio in the United States. The windows are named "The Church and the World," and were designed as a unique work of art for Mount Zion Baptist Church, never to be duplicated. The cast depicted in the windows include:

  • George Lisle (1750-1820), pastor of the first Black Baptist Church in America;
  • Prince Hall (1748-1807), ordained minister and Masonic leader;
  • W. D. Carter (1862-1960), builder of the old Mount Zion Baptist Church and its 16th pastor;
  • Jesus Christ;
  • Nat Turner (1800-1831), revolutionary who led the largest and bloodiest American slave revolt;
  • Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient;
  • Lott Carey (1780-1918), first Black missionary from America to Africa;
  • Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879-1961), educator, president of the Women’s Auxiliary of the National Baptist Convention;
  • E. C. Morris (1855-1922), founder and the first president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.;
  • Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955), founder of Bethune Cookman College and advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt;
  • Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), lecturer and slave freedom fighter;
  • Frederick Douglas (1817-1895), humanitarian, writer, abolitionist, and statesman;
  • Harriet Tubman (1826-1913), creator of the Underground Railroad;
  • George Washington Bush (1790-1863), Father of the state of Washington;
  • Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906), poet, lyricist, composer, writer;
  • William E. B. DuBois (1868-1963), Black educator, writer, and humanitarian;
  • Booker T. Washington (1865-1915), founder of Tuskegee Institute;
  • George Washington Carver (1864-1943), scientist and educator.

A James Washington sculpture entitled "The Oracle of Truth," dedicated in 1987 to the children who are struggling to find truth, is located near the entrance of the church and plans were underway for a bell tower in honor of Russell Gideon (1904-1985), the Seattle businessman who was a pioneer in senior housing, recognized by Ebony magazine as one of the nation's 100 most influential black citizens. The Mabel Leola Frazier Harris Educational Wing and the Jessie Shields Fellowship Hall were named for women who had provided extraordinary leadership in church activities.

Pastors Provide Sustained Leadership

During the church’s long history, numerous pastors have led the congregation, almost one a year from 1890 until 1911. Later on the church had a more sustained leadership with the following pastors:

  • 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)
  • Reverend Gil B. Lloyd (1955-1957)

Reverend Samuel B. McKinney (1926-2018) assumed leadership of the church in 1958 and provided the longest continuous pastorship in its history. He retired in 1998 after serving the church and the community for 40 years. Reverend Leslie Braxton served as pastor from 1998 until he resigned in 2005 after a split in the church. 

Landmark Status

During these years, the church membership grew from 800 to more than 2,500, making it the largest Black congregation in the state. The church established the first Black Protestant church credit union in the Pacific Northwest, a daycare center, a kindergarten, and an Ethnic School, as well as an academic scholarship fund, which annually awarded $20,000 to deserving students. In 1998, Mount Zion Baptist Church sponsored the building of the Samuel Berry McKinney Manor on East Madison across from the church. It is a senior residence with 64 units, 40 for low-income residents. 

In 2018, the Seattle City Council approved an ordinance formally dedicating Mount Zion Baptist Church as a historic city landmark. "Mount Zion is a second home to many in our African American community," said council member Bruce Harrell. "The cornerstone of the Mount Zion church family is self-help, the empowerment of people, and reinforcing the community spiritually, educationally, socially, and politically. It is a place of hope and camaraderie for positive change" ("Seattle's Newest Landmark ..."). 


Quintard Taylor, Forging a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era(Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994), 37; 1965; Anniversary Bulletin Seattle: Mount Zion Baptist Church, 1965; Esther Hall Mumford, Seattle’s Black Victorians 1852 to 1901 (Seattle: Ananse Press, 1980),158-161; What a Fellowship. What a Joy Divine (Seattle: Mount Zion Baptist Church, n.d.); "Retired Pastor Returns to Church" The Seattle Times, August 31, 2005; Paige Browning, "Seattle's Newest Landmark: Mount Zion Baptist Church,", June 7, 2018, website accessed November 30, 2020 (KUOW - Seattle's newest landmark: Mount Zion Baptist Church). Note: This article was updated on November 30, 2020. 

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