African Methodist Episcopal
AME Zion Church
Located in the heart of one of Montgomery’s historic African American neighborhoods, Mount Zion A.M.E. Zion Church was constructed in 1899 and heavily remodeled in 1921. It served as a significant center for religious, political and social life for blacks in Montgomery throughout most of the twentieth century.
The seeds of protest were growing in Montgomery long before the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955, and the bus boycott. Rev. Solomon Seay, pastor of Mt. Zion from 1948-52, led the black community in early protests as president of the Negro Civic and Improvement League.
On December 5, 1955, the first full day of the bus boycott, Mount Zion Pastor Rev. L. Roy Bennett, who was also president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, hosted a meeting of local community leaders. These individuals met in the Mount Zion Church tower, founded and organized the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). At this meeting, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was elected president and Rev. Bennett was elected vice president. Rev. Bennett also served on the transportation committee arranging rides for people during the boycott. The MIA’s formation was crucial to the organization and implementation of civil rights protests in Montgomery. Over the next year, the MIA organized carpools and held weekly mass meetings to keep the black community mobilized. Leaders negotiated with Montgomery city officials and launched legal challenges to the city’s bus segregation ordinance. The MIA also financially supported the boycott, raising money at meetings and soliciting support from northern and southern civil rights organizations.
Two later pastors of Mt. Zion, Rev. Simmie Walter Shultz and Rev. James T. Hemphill, also served as president of the Black Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. In 1971, Mt. Zion’s Rev. Percy L. Smith Jr. became the first black man to run for mayor of Montgomery.
Additionally, the church scenes in the movie “The Long Walk Home” were filmed in this building. In 1965, participants in the Selma to Montgomery Voter’s Rights March received refreshments and used the restrooms at Mount Zion.
In 1990, the congregation moved to a new sanctuary on West Jeff Davis Avenue.
The original Mount Zion AME Zion Church building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. (Alabama Historical Commission)
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