MT. ZION CHURCH BUILT WITH FAITH WAS

DESTROYED BY HATE

In 1909, a small group of disgruntled former members of First Baptist Church met in a one-room frame building that served as the only school for black children and organized the Second Baptist Church. The struggling but ambitious congregation changed its name to Mt. Zion, asserting it would be second in nothing. The church suffered through early challenges as several ministers came and left.

 

In 1914, the Reverend R. Whitaker accepted Mt. Zion's pulpit, and shortly afterwards, Mt. Zion was forced to move, with three days’ notice, from the school location. Mt. Zion was now a gypsy congregation. Among its locations was a dance hall. On July 9, 1915, Reverend Whitaker announced some ambitious plans in the Tulsa Star, the black weekly newspaper. "We have bought and paid for a corner lot." A new church was estimated to cost $15,000. He called on his community to donate lumber, bricks, cement, lime, and money. "We need your help. We plan to be in our basement by December. "

Six years later, April 4, 1921, with much fanfare and expectation, Mt. Zion held its first services - Reverend Whitaker proclaimed the church that faith built - one of the most striking new buildings in the city and another monument of pride for the Greenwood area. In addition to its faith, it had cost $92,000, and Mt. Zion assumed a $50,000 mortgage.

On June 1, 1921, men rushed to the church to protect their place of worship as a white mob was gathering outside. A race war was in progress. A rumor that Mt. Zion stored weapons had incited vigilantes into attacking the church. A battle ensued. The mob rushed the building and was turned away time and time again. Finally, the church was torched, some said by airplanes. About 50 of the men ran into the mob from the burning building. About ten were killed, some with their hands in the air. The others were arrested by "Special Deputies" and taken to concentration camps.

Later, Reverend Whitaker challenged law enforcement officials, city leaders, the clergy, and anybody else who could offer any proof or testimony that there were hordes of weapons stored in the church. His members stood 24-hour guard over the debris. He challenged city and church leaders to come witness the clearing for any evidence of weapons. It was concluded there were none. After marshal law was lifted, afraid, shocked and shaken, Mt. Zion members met to discuss their dilemma. There was no insurance. Their policy had carried a fire exclusion. No claims would be paid for damage caused by riot. The church pledged to pay the $50,000 and the rebuilding effort began. Thirty-one years later, October 21, 1952, the new church would be dedicated and the $50,000 riot debt paid in full.

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THE DESTRUCTION OF GREENWOOD