Thanks to God’s blessings and mercy, a few Baptists who had been worshiping with the First Wesleyan Methodist Church congregation met at the Mound Streete home of Humphrey and Elizabeth Moody on November 30, 1870, and organized the Zion Baptist Church originally called Zion Third Colored Church. The organizers of Dayton’s oldest Black Baptist church included The Moody’s, Charles Buckingham, Alice Lee, Arthur Lee, and Churchill Taylor. Reverend Albert Matthews was the first pastor.
The worshippers met in members’ homes and in various buildings in the city. On April 9, 1873, Reverend William Harris (1872-1875) and Trustees Charles Buckingham and Arthur Lee purchased a lot on Sprague Street for $370.00. Because Zion was unincorporated, a deed in trust was executed to the First Baptist Church Trustees George Kneisley, John McIntire, and Caleb Parker. A one-story brick building was erected in 1876. The deed of trust was vacated in 1877 and the property was reconveyed to Zion in 1878.
The increase in membership during Reverend R.D. Grants pastorate (1896-1903) made a larger building necessary. Under Reverend W.O. Harper(1903- 1913), the south end of the lot was purchased and a new building was erected by black contractors William Avery and Lucious Daugherty. The men helped with the building and the women cleaned brick in the evening by lantern light.
The church a work of art was of western architectural design with roman influence of the twelfth century. While is was being constructed, the congregation worshiped in the Stockyard Inn and later in the Enterprise Hall on Third Street near Willams and raised $1,000 to purchase a new pipe organ. The complete cost of the church which was finished in 1906 was more than$20,000. With the aid of friends in the First Baptist Church congregation, the Zion family reduced the debt to $335.00 by 1918.
The 1913 flood destroyed most of the equipment and caused $3,500 in damage, but the congregation responded sacrificially to buy new pews and do all that was needed to restore Zion to its former beauty. There were no finished rooms under the auditorium. In the 1920s architect, James Dunn prepared plans and specifications that included excavating and finishing the rooms. Contractor Joseph Peters provided the labor and material and supervised the work. John Pittman and his sons finished the curved girders. Mr. Dunn, Mr. Peters, and Mr.Pittman were members of Zion.
Zion has been long noted for her God-inspired pastors and for her civil rights and community activities. During the pastorate of Reverend Elmer Thompson (1914-1917), the Dayton NAACP was formally organized at Zion on February 9, 1915. Zion member Moses Jones a noted attorney was elected Vice President. Reverend H. Laurence McNeil was noted for his scholarly but impassioned sermons. He was a member of the first Board of the Directors of the Dayton Urban League, worked with C. J. McLin Sr. in civil rights activities and was a member of the program committee of the for the dedication of the Paul Laurence Dunbar State Memorial. Reverend Arthur Younger 1955-1985 established and outreach center and served as a member of the Wright State University Board of Trustees.
The city’s plan for the extension of Edwin Moses Boulevard made it necessary that Zion relocate. Under the leadership of Deacon Board Chairman Fred Pitts and Trustee Board Chairman Leroy Williamson, the congregation agreed to sell the Sprague Street property to the city and to purchase the United Brethren building at 1684 Earlham Drive. The first worship service was held on Paim Sunday, April 15, 1984.
Reverend William E. Harris Jr. (1992-2005) served as co-president of LEAD (Leaders for Equality and Action in Dayton) and oversaw the establishment of a free after school tutorial program. Reverend Dr. Brodie R. Mathis (2007-2010) worked with the pastors of LEAD congregations and served in the after-school tutorial program. Deacon Bernard Buxton devotedly served as moderator while Zion sought a new shepherd. Under the leadership of our 20th pastor, Reverend Dr. Rockney Carter, whom God sent to us “for such a time as this” Zion will continue to lift up Jesus.
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.”