Home to the largest African American congregation in the state of Washington, MountZion Baptist Church was organized in Seattle on February 18, 1894. Led by Reverend Hesekiah C. Rice, eightfounding members initially met in a rented hall on the campus of the Universityof Washington, which was in what is now downtown Seattle. Although many churches in Seattle were raciallyintegrated during this period, some black parishioners wanted a more expressiveenvironment within which to worship.
Mount Zion experienced tremendous instability in its leadership and locationbetween 1894 and 1907. Numerous pastorspassed though the church, sometimes as frequently as one each year. In addition, Mount Zion’s address changed no fewerthan five times during this period. Finally, a church building was constructed on land purchased at thecorner of 11th Avenue and Union Street in 1907. In 1918 the church bought a parcel of land at19th Avenue and East Madison Street. Construction began in 1920 on the building that still houses Mount Ziontoday.
Church leadership, which had been transient for years, stabilized as well. Mount Zion had just six pastors between 1912and 1957. They were Reverend W. D. Carter (1912-1925), Reverend J. Sterling Moore(1926-1932), Reverend Taylor M. Davis (1932-1940), Reverend Fountain W. Penick(1940-1942), Reverend F. Benjamin Davis (1942-1954), and Reverend Gil B. Lloyd(1955-1957). Many of these ministersplayed an active role in the larger community. Rev. Penick was considered an early civil rights activist and Rev. Daviswas a candidate for the Seattle City Council in 1946, garnering 27,000 votes inhis losing bid, which took place in an era when there were fewer than 3,500black voters in the city.
During World War II Seattle’s African American population grew rapidly as laborshortages forced companies like Boeing to integrate their workforces. The corresponding growth in Mount Zion’smembership made space an issue, and would eventually lead to additions to andredesigns of the original sanctuary.