Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church
Located on West Duval Street, the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church has dynamic fellowship and extraordinary leadership that dates back to 1867 when the renowned Reverend John Jasper founded the church. Reverend Jasper first ministered at Third Baptist church in Petersburg before returning back to Richmond in 1844. In 1859, Jasper was working in the iron and steel mills west of Richmond. With the advent of the Civil War, he began ministering in the Confederate hospitals Richmond in 1863. His family was freed when the city fell. A few days later, Jasper went to work in war time ruins, cleaning bricks at fifty cents a thousand. By the following year he had become a full-time pastor at Third Baptist church, and in 1866 he organized a congregation in Weldon, North Carolina. He returned to Richmond later that year to begin his fifty-three years of ministering at Sixth Mount Zion. Sixth Mount Zion was originally organized in an abandoned Confederate horse stable on Brown’s Island along the James River in 1867. A large number of African Americans were drawn to Jasper’s preaching, and the rapidly growing congregation moved from the stable to its present location in 1869. The church is of historic importance as the first church in Richmond that was organized by an African American preacher. A renowned preacher, Jasper filled the church with an inter-racial audience for his celebrated sermons. His most famous sermon comes from “De Sun Do Move,” which became a powerful statement of faith that was known throughout the United States and abroad. This sermon contains his assertion that the earth was square and that the sun rotates around the earth, countering the scientific description of the earth as round and in orbit around the sun.
The church building remains one of the few nineteenth-century structures that can be attributed to an African American builder. This structure was constructed in 1887 by George W. Boyd, and the noted African-American architect, Charles T. Russell, remodeled it in 1925. Boyd was significant because he was only a handful of African American licensed as a builder in the nineteenth century Richmond. Charles T. Russell is the first professional African-American architect in Richmond in the twentieth century. The structure of Sixth Mount Zion is gothic style architecture and constructed of wire-cut brick and limestone. Each window in the sanctuary is composed of tan and cream colored stained glass. These windows now shed light into a sanctuary seating more than one thousand people, making this church one of Richmond’s largest African-American church structures.
Seven pastors have led Sixth Mount Zion during its long history; noteworthy among them was Dr. Augustus Walter Brown, who was admired for his leadership and for saving the church from demolition. In 1957, over seven hundred homes of African Americans were demolished and hundreds of residents in the neighborhood including members of the congregation were forced to move out of Jackson Ward community during the construction of Interstate Route 95. The highway authorities offered the congregation several alternatives: to have the church demolished and reconstructed elsewhere, to move the church away from the path of the highway, or to have the highway built north of the church. The third alternative prevailed, and the church now is visible to those traveling along Interstate 95.
Sixth Mount Zion Sunday morning worship schedule includes church school, Praise & Worship, and Morning Worship. Typical services include prayer, scripture readings, hymns, an offering, and sermons. The congregants also celebrate the traditional holidays of Easter, Palm Sunday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. On average attendance for a Sunday morning worship service is approximately 1,000. The vast majority of the congregation is African American.
For over a century, Sixth Mount Zion has served as a center of spiritual and community life which helps address the concerns of the city’s residents. The church actively participates in annual services with neighboring churches and offers outreach programs for children, youth, adults, and senior citizens. The church congregation also shares their facilities with the public for many outside activities including concerts, forums, and other special ceremonies. Sixth Mount Zion sponsors the Gilpin-Jackson Ward Family Life Skill Center, which helps individuals and families with resources to help them overcome obstacles to achieving personal, social, and economic goals.
The Mount Zion Baptist Church
14 West Duval Street
Richmond, VA 23220
Historian of the Church
Profile prepared by Sheronda Peoples