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Zion Baptist Celebrated As Oldest Black Church West Of The Mississippi

DENVER (CBS4) - Zion Baptist Church has nearly 150 years of history in Denver and has really been a beacon in the African American community.

"There's a lot of history here that a lot of people don't know about," said Gequinn Mattox, a member of the church.

(Credit CBS)

Zion became a sanctuary against racism and discrimination 149 years ago. It lay at the center of life for many African American families.

"Because of the segregation and the racism, the church served as a place where African American people could come and have a social, worth and value-type of setting. No big i's and little u's," said Reverend Frank Martin, current pastor at Zion Baptist Church.

Zion Baptist Church is a beautiful stone building in Denver's Five Points neighborhood. Inside, the church features breath-taking stain glass windows, rich woods, and deep red interior. But this church came from humble beginnings. It started as a one-room church on Halladay Street in 1877.

"My mother walked from that little building that you're talking about with her mother to this present site when she was a child," said Sister Annette Groves, the historian for the church.

Groves was born at Zion and in her 81 years at the church, she's only known two pastors. Dr. Reverend Wendell Liggins was pastor for more than 50 years. Pastor Reverend Frank Davis took over 21 years ago, and is still going strong.

"Tell me about the role that Zion Baptist Church played in the community?" CBS4's Gloria Neal asked Davis.

"The first (Denver) NAACP meeting was held right in this sanctuary," Davis replied.

This was the beginning of several firsts for Zion Baptist Church. The city's first black baby doctor, Justina Ford was a member. The first school for black children began at Zion, and many black churches began as a result of Zion. This church has always garnered respect within the community.

"You would have people walk past the church, whether it was on Sunday … the people would even take their hats off when they came by," said Deacon John Stovall, a member of the church for 62 years.

One thing that's always been true at Zion Baptist Church is that once members come together to worship, they go out into the community and serve.

"We've always reached out. We've always been that beacon of light in the community. We've always been here to serve the community, the homeless, the needy," said Mattox. "We were here then, and we're here now and we will be here into the future."

Zion stands as a symbol of what has been and what will be.

"Zion is very important to me from the stand point of self-development spiritually and sharing my life with others," Stovall said.

"It has offered a lot of stability," Mattox added.

"It's just so important. Every inch of my life has been touched by Zion Baptist Church," said Groves.

- Written for by Special Projects Producer Libby Smith

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