years old African American Church becomes Museum
oldest black Baptist church in Marietta, Georgia, Zion Baptist
Church stands on the corner of Lemon and Haynes streets,
where it has stood since it was first erected in 1868. Much
of the information we have about the founding and development
of Zion Baptist comes from church records, written shortly
before and during the Civil War. Unfortunately, most of
the records kept after this period were lost in a fire.
Baptist Church had its origins in First Baptist Church,
the oldest Baptist Church in Marietta. In 1836, the all-white
congregation of First Baptist received and enrolled its
first black member, a slave woman known only as “Dicey.”
First Baptist’s black membership grew rapidly so rapidly,
in fact, that a balcony had to be constructed at some point
during the 1840s or 1850s. Their names were entered into
the church records, which have survived from that period.
Slaves were listed by their first name only, while free
blacks were listed by both first and last name. By 1851,
the black members of first Baptist had their own conference,
which met the second Saturday of every month. All black
men were required to attend the conference meetings and
records indicate that the conference raised money for charitable
organizations and dealt with disciplinary issues within
the black congregation.
First Baptist Church records mention Brother Ephraim for
the first time in 1851. Ephraim, the “servant”
of one of the white members of the congregation, asked the
church for permission to perform marriage ceremonies for
other blacks. While this request was denied, he was allowed
to preach at prayer services, when allowed to do so by the
watchmen (members of the black congregation who watched
over the others and reported disciplinary problems). Ephraim’s
influence grew when he was made a watchman in 1853.
some of First Baptist’s black congregation, led by
Brother Ephraim, petitioned the church leaders to be allowed
to form their own “African Church.” While the
idea was rejected at the time (and brother Ephraim was excluded
from the church for two months for his insolence), in May,
the blacks of First Baptist church were given permission
to have their own house of worship, while still remaining
members of First Baptist. A committee was appointed to oversee
the purchase or construction of a building and to devise
and enforce the rules and regulations of this new church.
While Brother Ephraim’s request for a license to preach
was turned down, two of the members of the congregation
were made deacons.
Ephraim’s name appears several times in the few church
records that survived the Civil War. In 1863, the white
church conference was unable to meet because so many of
its members had left to join the fighting. The black conference
did meet, however, and granted Ephraim a license to preach.
The license was confirmed in July, despite the protests
of the state court system. In 1865, the blacks of First
Baptist Church applied for letters of dismissal and for
permission to secede from First Baptist and to form a new,
completely separate, church of their own. This request was
eventually granted and on Aril 8, 1866, Zion Baptist church
was formally organized with Rev. Ephraim B. Rucker (formerly
known as Brother Ephraim) as its pastor.
Baptist Church has been active since this time and celebrated
its 131st anniversary in 1997.