In the spring of 1877, eighteen members of the old York Street Baptist Church, after seeking the self-government and free expression denied them by the leadership, withdrew their membership to organize a new church. For over a year, they rented an old Mill located at the Northeast corner of Preston and Broadway. Refusal by African-American leaders of their denomination to organize them, two Caucasian pastors, Dr. John Lansing Burrows of the Broadway Baptist Church and Reverend John Priest Green of the East Baptist Church, championed the cause and organized Zion Baptist Church on Thursday, August 8, 1878.
The eighteen charter members were Brothers Thomas L. Barrett, John Willis, J. S. Woods, Sandy Wells, Thomas P. Hill, Benjamin Smith, Andrew Jackson, Charles Ward, John Radford, Anthony Barrett, B. W. Welsh, Jerry Byars, Lewis Troutman, Nathaniel Caldwell, Edward Bowman, John Bums, Joseph Niln and Jerry Troutman.
Unable to maintain their present meeting hall, Zion moved to Wingfield’s Blacksmith Shop, at the time located on Ninth Street and Broadway for worship. However, due to the rapid growth of membership, the congregation began rental of an old church, formerly used as a carpenter shop and gymnasium on Broadway opposite of Center Street.
Operating for over a year with only various guest ministers, Reverend Phil Alexander was elected as the first pastor of Zion Baptist Church. During the first 15 years of existence, Zion elected a total of six pastors; following Reverend Alexander’s brief pastorate were, Reverend W.R. Davis, Reverend M. M. Bell, Reverend R. T. Hoffman, Reverend G. E. Scott and Reverend W. M. Jamison.
Under Reverend Jamison's pastorate, a new church was built on Center Street (now called Armory Place). The cornerstone was laid by the Masonic Fraternity in March of 1882, and the completed edifice, featuring stained glass windows and an organ were dedicated on July 9, 1882, by the Reverend A. Heath, pastor of Fifth Street Baptist Church.
The Reverend W. H. Craighead was extended “the call” to pastor after Reverend Jamison’s death in 1893. It was under the pastorate of Reverend Craighead that vast crowds began to gather, and Zion became recognized as the largest and leading church of the state. Within thirty-five years of his pastorate, the congregation outgrew the edifice on Center Street.
With its current membership looking to move, and being strategically place at Twenty-second and Walnut Street (now Muhammad Ali Boulevard), it was voted unanimously to purchase the current church edifice on November 12, 1927. Featuring a spacious auditorium, Educational building with 38 rooms, chapel, dining hall and kitchen; the membership began worshiping on December 9, 1928.
Reverend G. H. Winstead, a member of the Church, served out the unexpired term left from the passing of Reverend Craighead on August 22, 1942. Reverend Winstead was rewarded for assisting the church liquidate its indebtedness by being extended the “call” for an additional two years, with a third term after the church was cleared of debt. After that tenure, Reverend Isaiah Wright, another member of the Church, served as supply pastor.
Reverend D. E. King, then pastor of Washington Street Church in Paducah Kentucky, was invited to preach on June 9, 1946. On July 17, 1946, Reverend King was elected Pastor and he assumed his duties on Sunday December 1, 1946. During his tenure, a completely renovated sanctuary and educational building were erected. On November 4 and November 11, 1956, thirteen white members led by Reverend Willard P. Macy, family and members from Weaver Memorial Baptist Church joined Zion, making Zion the first interracial church in Kentucky since slavery. After a pastorate of eighteen years, Reverend King accepted the call to the Friendship Baptist Church in New York City. Reverend Charles White, a member of the Church served until the election of a new pastor.
Reverend A.D. Williams King, brother of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was elected to Pastor in November of 1964, after preaching at Zion on many occasions. Reverend King assumed his duties in February of 1965, and instituted the January through December Month Clubs, aimed at uniting members by their birth months. He also instituted a federally operated Credit Union, and upon Kentucky Governor Breathitt’s request, he was invited the witness the signing of the Civil Right Bill. Later he was invited by President Lyndon B. Johnson to witness the Civil Rights Conference in the nation’s capital. Reverend King led many protests and marches to fight Urban Renewal and to seek open housing for African-Americans. In April of 1968, after the assassination of his brother, Reverend King returned home to Atlanta to serve as Co-Pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church, until he passed away just ten days before his thirty-ninth birthday.
When Reverend King left the church and city in August of 1968, Zion went into earnest prayer in selecting a shepherd. Members Larry Hunt, assistant pastor Reverend Arthur L. Roberts and Reverend W.C. King, pastor of Bethesda Baptist Church served the church during the interim.
In January 1969, there was a unanimous vote for Reverend H. D. Cockerham, to be selected as the next pastor. Reverend Cockerham was the speaker that year for the Progressive National Baptist Convention, and was a last minute replacement speaker for church services that Sunday. Reverend Cockerham addressed himself to the liquidation of the outstanding debt of the Church. To achieve this goal he proposed a plan -- a mammoth tea that would draw upon the resources and talents of the religious community. Under his leadership, the church grew and by the third year, the unqualified success of the Expansion Teas made possible a ceremonial burning of the mortgage against the Church. Zion was free of all indebtedness the following year. The proceeds from the teas allowed ownership of fifteen separate parcels of real estate, the complete renovation of the nursery, the addition of a library, a men's lounge, and a new heating system, security systems for the Church and parsonage, and new hymnals.
During Pastor Cockerham's administration the church reached its 100th year of existence and a historic marker was permanently installed outside the building with the help of Senator Georgia Davis Powers. In 1985 a new roof was installed and the entire church was tuckpointed. In 1987, Plexiglas was installed over the stained glass windows in the sanctuary. In 1988, the Church solicited a written proposal from Trinity Church Builders and Trinity Design Group for the construction of a church annex. In 1989, The Bud Church Furnishings Company was recommended for the task of padding the church pews.
In 1990, the Elmer P. Lysle Building for Business came into fruition and the church offices were relocated, and the old offices were renovated into a workroom and a Counseling Office. Pastor Cockerham’s office was renovated, the Craighead Fellowship Hall was carpeted and towards the end of 1991, a church bus was bought allowing senior members rides to church. In 1992, the sound system in the sanctuary was replaced and church records were all computerized. The sanctuary was plastered and painted in early 1993 due to moisture damage and the gravel lots were paved for parking. Contributing to the spiritual growth and development of the Church, a School of Religion to promote Bible study and religious education for leaders, was established; organization of a Board of Christian Education and the expansion of the Youth Department, the formation of the Pastor's & Omega Choirs, the Golden Years & Willing Workers Ministries.
In Preparation for the 117th Church Anniversary Celebration, the first Women's Tea was held in the Friendship Hall. Each month club was asked to donate $1,017.00; the proceeds of $12,033.96 were made for the anniversary celebration.
In 1997, a new air conditioning system was installed and the D. E. King Sidewalk Chapel was restored. In 1998, renovation of the second floor of the Educational Building began with the installation of an elevator, and in 1999, the renovations were completed with new Sunday School classrooms, a room for the Golden Years Ministry, a computer lab and office space.
In 2001, Reverend Cockerham formed a “Millennium Committee” composed of members from all parts of the church to raise $50,000. A theme was chosen: "Windows of Heaven" with scriptures from Malachi 3:10, Genesis 7:11. With the $50,000 goal met, the catwalk above the Sanctuary was rebuilt, the Sanctuary roof was repaired and in 2002, the basement was renovated. 2004 saw the formation of the Zion Community Development Corporation (ZCDC), with a partnership with Dann C. Byck Elementary School to assist at-risk students.
In January, 2005, Reverend Cockerham officially retired after 35 years of faithful service. Now Zion was faced with the task of selecting its next pastor. During this interim period the Associate Ministers; Reverend Walter Holder, Jr., Reverend Garry Spotts, Reverend Larry Williams, Minister Patricia Whalen, and Minister Nigel Wallace, stepped up to the challenge to keep Zion functioning without interruption.
A pulpit committee was formed consisting of twelve members within the congregation representing the diversity of the church. The committee began the reviewing a multitude of resumes submitted from ministers across the country. The selection process eventually narrowed the candidates down to three leaders. These individuals were invited back to Zion to preach, teach, and undergo intense interviews from the congregation. In October 2005, a special call meeting was held to cast votes for one of the final three candidates by the congregation of Zion Baptist Church, Inc.
The Holy Spirit moved on the congregation to choose Reverend Gerald J. Joiner of Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Roswell, Georgia as the next Pastor of Zion Baptist Church, Inc. Reverend Joiner willingly accepted the call from Zion and assumed the responsibilities of becoming the Shepherd of Zion in November 2005.
Reverend Gerald J. Joiner was officially installed as the next Pastor of Zion Baptist Church, Inc. on Sunday, January 15, 2006, with Reverend Frank Lewis and the congregation of Zion Missionary Baptist Church of Roswell, Georgia as special guests. Pastor Joiner hit the ground running and began to make his mark in Zion history. He is a great preacher, teacher, motivator, and visionary that has already made marked changes in Zion. Under his divine direction from God and his leadership, Pastor Joiner began to add the spark back into the membership of Zion Baptist Church, Inc. that will set the Louisville community on fire.
In June of 2006 Pastor Joiner's initial campaign was to lead our membership in restoring a portion of our historic church's beautifully vaulted ceilings. He proclaimed that "God's house was far too beautiful to let it stand in disrepair" thus we needed to expediently restore it and in two months the situation was rectified.
On April 18, 2007, Pastor Joiner and the board of The Zion Community Development Corporation extended invitations to dignitaries and friends to attend the Dedication and Open House of the Zion Manor Senior Apartments at 2201 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd. Construction of the 34-unit complex featuring one- and two-bedroom units had begun on September 8, 2005…with the ground breaking ceremony held on September 12th.
In June of 2007, members banded together and pledged over $20,000 to retire the debt of a brand new organ purchased for the sanctuary, the purchase note was burned during morning worship in celebration. Zion also acquired 14 pieces of property, some were torn down for additional parking, while 4 properties were renovated for residential improvement to provide safe and affordable housing in the Russell-area neighborhood.
To coincide with Vacation Bible School, a 3-day outdoor event called the Youth Explosion was formed. Streets were blocked off, foods and T-shirts were sold, games were played and the Reverend Efrem Smith from Minneapolis was the guest speaker each evening and Sunday morning. The Youth Explosion had become an annual event, featuring vendors and entertainment acts from various groups/churches to provide an enjoyable Christian street festival for the community.
Pastor Joiner started 2008 by establishing a unique identity for Zion, creating our “Here To Serve” Motto, basing our litany from Matthew 25:35-36.
Later in the year, the Youth Department held the “Go To High School, Go To College” Program sponsored by the Alpha Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., The Program consisted of weekly lessons preparing youth in a wide variety of topics, ending with a graduation ceremony for those that completed the program.
Early 2009 saw Zion unveil a new website, while that September; the much needed parking facilities were paved and black-topped, as well as acquisition of two additional parking lots, providing the church with over 80 off-street parking spaces. On October 4, 2009, the dedication ceremonies were held for the "H.D. Cockerham Center for Consignment and Food Distribution", a two-story facility that houses Zion’s consignment store and Dare-to-Care food bank.
Seeking to "Strive to Win in 2010!” Pastor Joiner instituted the J.A.M. (Join A Ministry) campaign so Zion could R.O.C.K. (Reach Others for Christ's Kingdom) the Louisville community. The church By-laws and Constitution were also revisited and revised, bringing them up to date.
In December 2011, we celebrated the 60th presentation of the Handel’s Messiah. It was well attended and Gwendolyn Finley received an award for having participated in all of the presentations.
In March 2012, the Women of Zion presented their 5th Annual Hat Show “Heavenly Hats”. Friendship Hall was beautifully decorated to resemble heaven, the models, both female and male stepped to the music in beautiful hats, and Craighead Hall was set up for vendors. We also sponsored a Community Explosion that brought neighbors, vendors, singing groups, young people, and many members of the community.
On June 10, 2012, the Media Marketing Ministry had the official “Here to Serve” Brand Launch at Zion. The end of the year saw the installation of 3 70-inch monitors in the sanctuary, allowing for an enhanced multi-media experience during worship.
In 2013 Pastor Joiner, Sisters Ann Buchanan and Rhonda Jones went to Jamaica for Christian training and missionary work in the mountain areas. From this learning/working experience has come forth a community effort to take back our neighborhoods. The kick-off service of prayer for the ministry took place at Zion in our sanctuary on July 3, 2013.
A new roof, the pulpit renovated to a fully functional stage, and a brand new state-of-the-art sound system completed renovations in the summer of 2013.
In March 2014, Zion hosted the World Day of Prayer, and later in the year, the sanctuary received another renovation…a brand new color scheme.
2015 has seen the implementation of a totally revamped computer lab, used for the R.E.A.C.H. Community Tutoring Program, the acquisition of a 16-passenger church van, and the renovation and rededication of the “D.E. King Sidewalk Chapel.” Zion also upgraded the A/V system to enable streaming with the installation of 2 video cameras in the sanctuary and 3 70" monitors to allow streaming of services in the Lower Level, Craighead Fellowship & Friendship Halls.
Pastor Joiner's future vision for our church incorporates the addition of a Youth Center, a Wellness Center and a Family Life Center. You can see that we have many things of which to be proud... but we do not rest on our laurels. Because we are “Here To Serve!”