As a child, I wanted to sing in the youth choir and the choir director and children said he’s too young. I had my own boycott, until I got word that Mrs. Mamie Shoots and her husband had organized the youth choir. I said to myself, I think I really want to be a part of this. I re-affiliated with Mount Zion, and met my wife, Alfreda, in the choir.
This church came after the Civil War. The building that we are currently in was erected in 1899.
The AME Zion Church grew out of the Freedom Movement. Some of our members were Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass… men and women who came out of slavery and fought and struggled for Freedom. Mount Zion was born in that tradition.
I was born when Reverend Alexander was pastor here, and Reverend Saey came and replaced him that next year. Well Reverend Say was one who was a proponent of equal justice and he was one of the forerunners of civil rights struggling before Dr. Martin Luther King came to Montgomery, and before Rosa Parks was arrested.
Reverend Say was replaced in 1952, by Reverend L. Roy Bennett. On Sunday the 4th of December, I can remember… we heard Reverend Bennett challenge us not to ride the bus on Monday. As a 4th grader…on December 5th I walked to school that day.
I remember going to Hope Street for the mass meeting that took place at seven o’clock that evening. There were over 5,000 people waiting to hear where we would go forward with the boycott. But all of that had begun when Reverend L. Roy Bennett called a meeting here at three o’clock. In that meeting were preachers, there were school teachers, there were business men. The Montgomery Improvement Association was organized in that meeting. Our pastor, Reverend Bennett was elected vice-president. Ms. Erna Dungee, a member of the church was elected the financial secretary and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was elected to his very first official leadership role as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association.
I can remember that within two blocks of my home, there was seven grocery stores. There was an ice cream parlor. There were hamburger joints. There were barber shops. One of my favorite places was Shaw’s Bakery.
Until the interstate came through.
The fact that an off ramp was not constructed from the interstate to this community shows that there was an intent to choke off the place where the birthplace of the civil rights movement took place.
By preserving and restoring this historic landmark we are attempting to remind the community, from whence we came. There is a way to solve community problems when the village truly works together. When we moved, we sold this church building to another congregation. It fell into disrepair. The neighbors began to call it the fall down church. We were able to raise over one million, three hundred thousand dollars from public and private donations.
We’re going to be able to complete the restoration project and occupy this building which will become a museum. It will also be a community center where the people can come here and meet to talk about community improvement. We want to resurrect this community and bring it back to life.