Our Journey

Celebrating Over 150 Years of God's Blessings

After the Civil War, the Reconstruction Period occurred. During this time, Blacks made political gains. Blacks were elected to state legislatures and Congress. In this atmosphere of revolutionary changes, Zion Baptist Church was established.

Earlier in the history of the Black experience, it had been the practice to use the accommodations supplied by Whites for worship. The leaders of the Baptist Freedmen found this dependence unsatisfactory and chose to meet in accommodations of their own. During, this time, Reverends Wilson Carr and Charles H. Corey of Charleston called together the Baptist Freedmen at the home of Sister Celia Mann (now Mann-Simons Cottage). There, Reverends Samuel H. Johnson and Frank Dobbins were presented to the assemblage, which numbered about 300 members, to elect their leader. Reverend Johnson was elected by a majority vote. The minority, numbering some 25, were dissatisfied. Adhering, to the dying request of Reverends Sancho Taylor, they resorted to another location in the city of Columbia and organized Zion Baptist Church (formerly known as The First African Baptist Church) in the year of 1865. The exact location of the initial church is unknown. We only know that it was a humble dwelling in the 1400 block of Gadsden Street. The congregation worshiped there until 1871 under pastorship of Reverend Frank Dobbins and a membership of 25.

In accordance with Act No. 252 of the 1870 General Assembly of South Carolina, the governor was authorized to transfer a lot on the corner of Washington and Gadsden Streets to John Little, Alfred Goodwyn, Stephen McDaniel, Martin Mary, and A. Worthy, who were deacons of Zion Baptist Church. Zion Baptist Church was erected in 1871 as a wooden church with 75 men and 65 women. The current sanctuary was build in 1916.

Both the Women's Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention of South Carolina and the Women's Auxiliary to the Gethsemane Baptist Association were founded at Zion, as  were other important missions.

The South Carolina Morticians Association (formerly known as The Colored Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association of South Carolina) organized and met at Zion in 1926.

Dr. Matilda Arabella Evans, the first African American woman licensed to practice medicine in South Carolina, opened a free clinic in the basement of Zion in 1930 as vaccinated more than 700 children and adults.

In 1936, Zion became the first Black church in the Columbia area to receive a charter for the organizing of a Boy Scout Troop.

The National Baptist Sunday School Congress met June 9 - 14, 1936 at Zion.

On September 9-14, 1936, the National Baptist Convention of America met at Zion.

Zion has played and continues to play an integral role in the Civil Rights Movement. This was the result of Zion being physically located in what was once a very vibrant Black business district and the civic mindedness of the members of Zion and the Black community surrounding Zion. Annual marches leading, aiding, and supporting the causes in the Civil Rights Movement have originated from Zion Baptist Church. Sons of the church, Judge Matthew Perry, A. P. Williams, Jr., Isaac Washington, and Dr. Lonnie Randolph, as well as many unsung heroes in the church's membership, were part of the nonviolent protest of the Civil Rights Movement. Zion remains the launching point for the annual "King Day at the Dome Rally," held each Martin Luther King Day. The "King Day at the Dome" began on the front steps of Zion in January 2000 and culminated in a rally at the State House.

On March 2, 1961, over 200 African American students met at Zion before beginning their march to the State House to protest racial segregation. Police arrested 187 of the protestors and charged them with "breach of peace." The US Supreme Court overturned the convictions and confirmed that a state could not "make criminal the peaceful expression of unpopular views" in the case Edwards v. S.C. "1963".

In the 1960s, Zion Baptist Church accepted the challenge of feeding and teaching the poor in the community under the auspices of the OEO (Office of Economic Opportunities) Program.

Zion served as the site of the Gospel Extravaganza of the original Three Rivers Music Festival sponsored by the City of Columbia.

On May 5-8, 1981, the 104th Session of the Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention of South Carolina was held at Zion.

In March 1984, the City Council of Columbia authorized the listing of Zion Baptist Church in the City's Archives in recognition of our rich historical background. A marker inscribed: "LANDMARK #157-AMERICAN REVOLUTION BICENTENNIAL RICHLAND COUNTY COMMITTEE" has been placed on the front of the church.

The Centennial Women's Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention was held June 15-17, 1988 at Zion.

On January 24, 2013,  the "Our Story Matters" (63-Columbia, SC-Civil Rights-"Our Story Matters") Introductory Press Conference was held at Zion Baptist Church.

On May 14-18, 2013, the National Leadership Forum, "Lift Every Voice: Collecting, Archiving, and Teaching Civil Rights History," was held at Zion. The forum was presented by the University of South Carolina, College of Education and the South Caroliniana Library with support from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

On May 14, 2014, the "Our Story Matters" Tour was held. A marker is on the grounds of Zion Baptist Church, indicating that we are a part of this tour.

2015, marked Zion Baptist Church's Sesquicentennial Anniversary. The South Carolina Historical Marker was unveiled on the church ground on Sunday, June 28, during the Sesquicentennial Celebration.

On March 18-20, 2016, the Faith and Politics Institute's 2016 Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to South Carolina was held. The Introductory Press Conference was held at Zion Baptist Church. U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R), U.S. Representative Jim Clyburn (D), and U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-GA) hosted the Faith and Politics Institute's Civil Rights Pilgrimage to South Carolina.  

On March 4, 2019, Congressman Jim Clyburn announced the New Reconstruction Era Network National Park Act Bill in a press conference at Zion Baptist Church.

On February 16, 2020, the "Unveiling and Retelling Our History" Panel Discussion was held at Zion Baptist Church. The panel discussion was presented by the Gethsemane Baptist Education and Missionary Convention of South Carolina.

In 2021, Zion was blessed to retire all debt on its administrative building and business properties and be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Zion partnered with key officials in the historic black business district of Columbia, South Carolina to document the history of African Americans and in August 2023, Zion was placed on display in the Columbia Museum of Art.

 Truly, Zion has been "kept by divine power", as it stands on the hill, a beacon for all to see. The past has been glorious, and the future looks brighter and more productive than ever.