A new mural at Mount Zion Baptist Church honors Black history in Athens

Posted on:

< < Back to

ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — In honor of Black history in Athens, a mural depicting the origins of the historic Mount Zion Church is temporarily replacing the church’s rose window.   

The mural is made of hundreds of pieces of painted fabric designed to resemble stained glass, emulating the church’s famous rose window, which is gone for rehabilitation.   

As a tribute to Black ancestors, the mural will be unveiled on Wednesday to mark this year’s Juneteenth celebration.

A panel from a new mural at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Athens pictures a gathering in a home where the church began.
A panel from a new mural at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Athens pictures a gathering in a home where the church began. [Betty Kankam-Boadu | WOUB]
Dozens of volunteers collaborated at Passion Works Studios to paint and cut the fabric based on muralist Keith Wilde’s design. Wilde then filled in the finer details with another group of more experienced volunteers.   

We had a lot of community members, both older folks and younger folks,” said Wilde. “It was really great to see all these people come together, excited about making art, excited about supporting the Mount Zion Baptist Church.”    

At the top of the mural is a circular panel picturing the church as built in 1905. On the left, church financiers and Berry Hotel owners Ed and Mattie Berry point a young couple to the church. On the right, a choir represents the church’s renowned Gospel Voices of Faith Choir. 

Below are three rectangular panels. The first shows a gathering in Joseph and Henrietta Miller’s home in Athens, where the church started. The second shows a baptism in the Hocking River, and the third shows a gathering in front of the wooden structure where the church moved after leaving the Millers’ home.

“This is the biggest and most ambitious project I have ever been involved in but also one that I think is the most important and solid,” said Wilde.   

From 1905 until the 1990s, Mount Zion Baptist Church was the gathering place for the Black community in Athens and southeast Ohio. It was a cultural and social symbol for Black Americans.  

The church dissolved in the early 2000s, and the building is one of the few remaining examples of Black American architecture in southeast Ohio.  

The historic structure is undergoing rehabilitation after receiving a $7.3 million grant from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s Appalachian Downtown and Destination Funds to become a community center.  

While this restoration work is ongoing, The Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society says the mural serves as a reminder of what the church represents. 

“Now we have the entire history of our ancestors who had been enslaved, who were on their way to Buxton, Canada, to freedom, who stopped here and built a community,” said Tee Ford-Ahmed, the society’s communications director.