Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church

Historical Significance

The Reverend John Jasper founded Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in 1867. Typical of the desperate conditions for many African-Americans in Richmond immediately after the Civil War, Sixth Mount Zion was originally organized in an abandoned confederate horse stable on Brown's Island along the shores of the James River.

Large numbers of African Americans were drawn to Jasper's charismatic ministry. The rapidly growing congregation moved to its present location in 1869, and is credited with being the first church in the city of Richmond that was organized by an African- American preacher. Promoted by the local newspapers, black and white Richmonders flocked to the church to hear Jasper's celebrated sermons. He reached the pinnacle of his career when he delivered his sermon "De Sun Do Move," from the pulpit of Sixth Mount Zion Church. It was a powerful statement of faith that became famous all over the United States and abroad.

The Sixth Mount Zion church building remains one of the few 19th-century structures that can conclusively be attributed to an African-American builder, and continues to serve as a significant expression of African American ecclesiastical architecture. George W. Boyd designed and built the current church structure in 1887 and the noted African American architect, Charles T. Russell, remodeled it in 1925. Boyd is particularly significant because he was one of only a handful of African-American builders who were licensed to build in 19th-century Richmond. Charles T. Russell is also an important figure as the first professional African-American architect in Richmond in the 20th century. Both men are also credited with the construction and renovation of the Maggie L. Walker House, also located within Richmond's Jackson Ward District.

Sixth Mt Zion is the "Mother Church" of two thriving Richmond congregations--Trinity Baptist Church (1906) and Greater Mount Moriah Baptist Church (1924).

The Commonwealth of Virginia has recognized the church with two historical highway markers--one at the church site in downtown Richmond, and another in Fluvanna County near the birthplace of John Jasper. Residing within the historic Jackson Ward District, the church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register. In 2004, the Richmond City Council honored the church with a special designation as a local "historic district," encompassing the 3 acres of land on which it stands, the only black church in Richmond to receive this distinction.

Regarded as one of the nation's pioneering churches in the field of historic preservation, the church opened its John Jasper Memorial Room and Museum in January 1926. Bibles, books, paintings, clothing, ceremonial artifacts, and furniture make up the memorabilia that visitors see when they visit. Chief among these items are a golden bust of John Jasper made in 1904, a rare stone taken from Mount Zion in Jerusalem, presented to the church in 1924, and a  commemorative quilt. The 10x15 foot historical quilt was created in 1997 to mark the church's 130th anniversary and is composed of 40 panels portraying the many organizations which make up church life.

Seven pastors have led Sixth Mount Zion during its long history, including Dr. Augustus Walter (A.W.) Brown who served for over forty-three years until his death in 1967. Greatly admired for his leadership and faithful dedication to missionary work throughout Europe and the Caribbean, Dr. Brown was instrumental in defending the church from destruction when Interstate 95 was built in downtown Richmond, Virginia in 1957.

Over 700 homes of African Americans were demolished and hundreds of residents forced to move, resulting in the destruction of the central portion of the Jackson Ward community. The church congregation stood firm in its determination not to be destroyed, and was given three alternatives by the highway authorities: have the church demolished and reconstructed elsewhere; move the church away from the path of the highway; or have the highway swing north around the back of the church. The third alternative prevailed, due in part to the church's association with John Jasper, and today the church stands high above the Interstate, a prominent landmark along the east coast's major north-south thoroughfare. 

Physical Description

Sixth Mount Zion's proximity to downtown Richmond has placed it among the prominent features of the city's skyline, and it is a superb example of Gothic Revival "high-style" architecture using wire-cut brick and limestone. A series of original stained glass windows adorn the main sanctuary. Each window is composed of tan and cream colored "Art Glass" with a scallop motif at the crown of each window. One special window, dedicated in John Jasper's memory, depicts a garden scene lined with lilies and roses with a sundial as its centerpiece, commemorating Jasper's famous sermon. These impressive windows now light a sanctuary seating more than a thousand people, making Sixth Mount Zion one of Richmond's largest African-American churches.

Geographical and Contact Information

14 West Duval Street
Richmond, Virginia
23220
Phone: 804-648-7511

Images

Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Curch

Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Curch

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Plaque on John Jasper

Plaque on John Jasper

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Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Curch Historic Marker

Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Curch Historic Marker

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Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed May 24, 2017, http://aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/389.

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