History - In The Beginning (1836 - 1866)
During the past 151 years, Zion Baptist Church has cherished her history and magnificent past. Zion is the product of the sacrificing labors of great and useful Christian men and women. Today, we sincerely acknowledge, cherish and seek to perpetuate their labors of love and experiences of tireless patience.
This historical monument, the first Baptist church in Marietta, has been located here on the corner of Lemon and Haynes Street for one hundred forty eight years. A new facility was built across the street at 165 Lemon Street, in 1978, thereby extending the boundaries of its influence and usefulness.
Prior to 1866, blacks, most of whom were former slaves, were members of First Baptist Church, the oldest white Baptist church in Marietta. Black and white Baptists worshipped together in the same building during slavery. In fact, in 1788, the first all black Baptist church was started in Savannah by George Leile and Andrew Brian, both of whom were black ministers, aided by Thomas Burton and Abraham Marshall (one of the persons who
introduced the Baptist denomination to Georgia). Thus, blacks have been intimately involved in the growth and development of the Baptist church in Georgia from the very beginning.
On January 9, 1836, the first black member, a female slave known only as "Dicey," was received and enrolled at First Baptist Church at a church conference. This fact is noted in the minutes of the conference meeting. It is later stated that the church grew rapidly in both black and white members at that time. During the 1840's to the 1850's, the black church membership had grown to such an extent that a separate gallery or balcony section was constructed and reserved at the slave's section to allow continued worship by both slave and master in the same building. This building, the first church building of any denomination in Marietta, was an old frame building located on what is now known as the Confederate Cemetery on Powder Springs Road. In 1842, a split occurred in the denomination between "missionary and anti-missionary" forces. This fact prevented Jenny, a female slave from being allowed to transfer her membership from First Baptist Church as noted in their minutes from a meeting during the height of the controversy. In 1843, First Baptist Church began to record the status of its black members. Free blacks who were members had both a first and last name, whereas the slaves had only a first name recorded. That membership roll was survived and shows the names of all one hundred ten "Colored Members" from October 7, 1848 to July 12, 1863. During the period from 1847 to 1848, First Baptist built a new church building on what is now Kennesaw Avenue, at a total cost of $1,278, which included a gallery for the slaves to worship.
By 1850, Cobb County had a total population of 13,843 persons which included 2,272 slaves. First Baptist had an enrollment of 142 members, of whom 59 were black. Black members of First Baptist Church had their own church conference, with meetings held on the second Sunday of the month. By 1851, a resolution was passed requiring compulsory attendance by black men at the conference meetings. First Baptist kept minutes for both conferences in the same record book. A black person was appointed "watchman" over the other black members to report any disciplinary problems. The Tallapoosa Association received $133.45 of which $14.75 was received from the black members of First Baptist. It is interesting to note that then, all persons, black or white, were baptized in the same place, Rock Springs, at the foot of the Kennesaw Mountains (approximately two miles from the church).
The records of First Baptist Church included a disagreement and discussion on whether or not to extend the gallery or to cut a window in the front of the church in 1851, presumably due to increased black membership. 1851 is noteworthy due to the recorded petition of "Brother Ephraim, a servant of Brother Dobbs", who asked to be allowed to perform marriages to "persons of color". The minutes from that meeting show that the church felt it was "inexpedient at the present time for Ephraim to marry persons of his own color", but permitted him to preach in prayer meetings when called on by the watchmen.
In 1853, Grant, a watchmen and a slave, preferred charges against "Clarinda and Heddy" for misconduct. Clarinda confessed and was restored to good standing. However, at that time, Grant was having differences with Ned, another slave, so the church suspended these two slaves and elected Ephraim and Cuffie as watchmen. Then Heddy confessed and was restored; Grant and Ned settled their differences and Grant requested the church to restore him as watchman. This was objected to and Ephraim remained the watchman. Black members were recorded as donating $3.50 that year to aid missionary efforts in Africa.
In 1855, black members petitioned First Baptist Church to be allowed to have their own "African Church". The conference asked the former pastor of First Baptist Church, Rev. F. C. Johnson, to drop the petition. It is recorded that the black congregation voted unanimously to withdraw the petition. When "Brother Ephraim was called up to answer for his actions, he treated the church members with perfect contempt" and said they could do with him "what they pleased". Ephraim was excluded from the church and restored on June 3, 1855, two months later.
Cobb County prospered and the number of slaves increased. As abolition pressure increased across the country, the restrictions on slaves became more and more severe. Sister Lydia, "belonging to Dr. Tenant", applied for a letter of dismissal from First Baptist Church in order to join another church, but was refused because she did not have a certificate from her "master or mister" allowing her to do so.
In April 1856, a special church conference was called to ask the blacks why they had refused to "commune" on the previous Sunday. Blacks stated that they did not feel "prepared to take communion as their minds were rather frustrated about the alteration made relative to their occupying a portion of the house and they thought they would wait until another time". The blacks unanimously said, "they did not think of rebelling against the church and were sorry the church thought so."
In May 1856, First Baptist Church members voted at the request of the Black members to "give them the privilege and power to secure a place of worship to themselves while continuing as members of First Baptist". The church appointed a committee to assist them in procuring a lot and drawing of rules by which they will be governed". The black congregation also asked to have two deacons of their own color, and that Brother Ephraim be licensed to preach. First Baptist "set apart and ordained Joshua - property of Mrs. D. A. Campbell and Richard - property of the estate of Dr. S. Smith as deacons.
In 1858, the Noonday Baptist Association, consisting of twenty churches in Cobb Count were formed. This association met annually and in 1859 used the black church as a place to conduct the business of the association. That same year, the minutes of the "colored conference" reported that "Binder - property of Mr. Chovin, was excluded for harboring a runaway slave". During the Civil War years, there were fewer records kept. However, it is recorded that in 1861, the white men of First Baptist Church congregation went to the police to find out why the black members were being prohibited from conducting a business meeting and prayer service before their regular worship service. The prohibition was resended and blacks were allowed to worship as before without interruption or censorship.
In the 1862 minutes of the Noonday Baptist Association, it was written: "With final regard, the death of Brother Caesar, a colored minister, a member of the church of Marietta. We do not know his age or length of ministerial service. He was living, worthy, pious servant of the Lord". At that time there were about twice as many black members of First Baptist as white.
By 1863, so many whites were fighting in the Civil War that First Baptist could not have a business meeting, but the "colored conference" did. It granted Brother Ephraim a license to preach. Upon application to the "Interior Court" (now the State Court), they were informed that "colored persons could not be licensed to preach" where upon white members of First Baptist Church appointed a committee to "investigate". Later the committee reported that the matter was being considered by the then, state legislature. In July 1863, Brother Ephraim's license was confirmed.
Records for 1864 are scant due to the occupation of Marietta by federal forces. In fact, First Baptist Church was used as a hospital, first for confederate soldiers and later for northern soldiers. The blacks were still known as members of First Baptist Church even though they had a separate place of worship and a licensed pastor of their own.
In 1865, it is recorded that "a delegation from the (black) church applied for letters of dismissal or to be allowed to secede and form a separate and distinct body". The request was postponed awaiting a decision of the state legislature on that subject.
First Baptist Church, in 1866 granted letters of dismissal to sixty six females and twenty three males at their request. ON APRIL 8, 1866, ZION BAPTIST CHURCH WAS FORMALLY ORGANIZED WITH REV. EPHRAIM B. RUCKER (FORMERLY KNOWN AS BROTHER EPHRAIM) AS ITS PASTOR
Written and compiled by Willie Louis Henry Buford