In recent years, a historic church building in Alabama with strong ties to the civil rights movement had fallen into disrepair. Now, it's one step closer to seeing new life as a museum that “celebrates the Christian impact” it has had on the community.
Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church of Montgomery’s 19th-century building, which witnessed and participated in key events in civil rights history, received two $500,000 grants to help restore and convert the facility into a museum.
The current congregation of Mount Zion AME had moved in 1990 to a new space, due in part to interstate construction that led many of its members to relocate elsewhere in the city.
The older property became known as Mount Zion AME Zion Church Memorial Annex, which received a $500,000 grant in 2018 and another in 2020 to help restore the rundown building.
Charles P. Everett IV, a longtime member of Mount Zion AME who has been overseeing efforts to restore the annex, told The Christian Post in an interview Monday that the grant work should be done by August of next year.
“A year from now, we will be in a position to begin to have a museum that celebrates the Christian impact that Mount Zion AME Zion Church has had on Montgomery, Alabama, since 1866,” said Everett, referencing the year when the church formed.
“It will convey the mighty movement of God and His provision for a church of people who were once enslaved. You got to remember that when we were organized, it was just a few months after the Civil War began to end.”
Everett continued: "We are a church that has survived through the Reconstruction period of the South and of course, we are a church that has members that served during the modern civil rights movement and there are members of the church who, once the laws of Jim Crow began to fall, answered the call to duty.”
“We are hoping to celebrate in that museum the impact of Christian leadership through the ages, from 1866 to the present age,” he added.
Everett said that Mount Zion AME has a long history of civil rights activism, including deep involvement in the 1950s Montgomery bus boycott following the arrest of Rosa Parks.
A group of activists and faith leaders met at the church in 1955, where they elected the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. head of the Montgomery Improvement Association, giving the 26-year-old minister his first official civil rights leadership role.
When the Selma March occurred in 1965 to support voting rights, the historic church building was on the route and also served as a rest area for participants.
Yet even before then, the congregation had also engaged in trolley boycotts during the early 20th century in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld institutional segregation.
“So Mount Zion, as far as civil rights is concerned, we are still in the midst of it,” said Everett, noting ongoing civic participation by various members of the church. “So, when we talk about Mount Zion and its history of civil rights, our roots run very deep to the soil of Montgomery.”