EAST MT. ZION
East Mount Zion Baptist Church History – The Greenstone Church on 100th Street
Connecting the future with the past, today.
For generations, East Mount Zion has served as an African American community anchor and source of spiritual enrichment. It was the first African American Congregation to hold religious services on Euclid Avenue, representing a foothold for African Americans from the segregated central neighborhood to a predominantly white neighborhood. East Mount Zion Church was designated a local landmark by the City of Cleveland Landmarks Commission in 1980.
The history of East Mount Zion Baptist Church exemplifies the possibility of place, community impact, partnership, and purpose. A product of the Great Migration, East Mount Zion Baptist Church was established in 1908 by Alexander Roberson. He moved to Cleveland from South Carolina in 1890, following years of service to Patrick Calhoun, the grandson of former Vice President John C. Calhoun, a stalwart pro-slavery leader and owner of the Fort Hill Plantation. East Mount Zion Baptist Church became the first Baptist church at the city’s east end. The church grew from gatherings in private homes to services at the Wigwam, also known as the East End Republican Club, located at the corner of Cedar Avenue and E. 100th Street. The church secured the property of Rev. H. D. Wiggins on Frank Avenue and Colonial Court for the erection of a church edifice, worshipping under a large tent on the grounds until the church building was completed in 1910.
The church’s first pastor was the Reverend C. D Holly (1908-10), succeeded by Rev. Hill (1910-11), Rev. J. E. Thompson (1911-14), and Rev. Washington Page (1914-16).
Following the leadership of these pastors, the church called the Reverend Benjamin K. Smith, who led the East Mount Zion Baptist Church to the corner of Cedar Avenue and E. 103rd Street, to purchase the former Cedar Avenue Baptist Church for $45,000 in April 1923. Following Reverend Smith’s tenure, Pastor Ernest Hall would lead the church, further revolutionizing Sunday school work, modernizing the basement, and leading a capital campaign that allowed the church to burn their mortgage.
In 1939, EMZ was blessed with the visionary leadership of Pastor William Downs from South Carolina. EMZ would experience her most immense numerical growth under Pastor Downs’ spiritual guide. Between 1939 and 1955, EMZ grew from 200 to 1800 active members. In 1955, the beloved Reverend William M. Downs led the congregation to its current home, the former Euclid Avenue Christian Church at 9990 Euclid Avenue, becoming the first African American church on the historic Millionaire’s Row. Within three years after the move, a Mortgage Burning Service celebrated the final payment on the $125,000 mortgage, a testament to the strength and agency of the congregation. Pastor Downs would pass away in 1976, being the only pastor in EMZ history to be elected “Pastor for Life.”
Thereafter, in 1977 the Lord sent the Reverend A. Charles Bowie who served for forty-two years, until his retirement in 2018. In 2003, the congregation in honor of Pastor Bowie, built the Educational Building expanding the campus to 50,000 square feet of space on 2 acres of land to host gatherings of over 1200 people in its more than 10 meeting rooms, large gathering hall, and Akron Plan Style sanctuary. Pastor Bowie leading with the ministry mantra “if you have the faith God has the power” lead the church to higher heights. Through his leadership ministries such as Junior women, brother hood, youth of distinctions, Aid to Education were established.
In 2020, the Lord Led to EMZ the visionary leader Reverend Dr. Brian A. Cash. Since taking the helm as Senior Pastor of EMZ in February 2020, the Reverend Dr. Brian A. Cash has demonstrated his steadfast commitment to Building the Kingdom with the Kingdom mantra that “we should never allow limitations to hinder imagination.” Under a renewed Vision to remain on the corner of 100th and Cedar Dr. Cash led the task of restoration with the mission of stewarding EMZ’s architectural and cultural legacy and developing successful partnerships—with other Black churches, nonprofit organizations such as CRS, and major funders in the community such as the Cleveland Foundation—to advocate for the continued preservation of East Mount Zion Baptist Church. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and Kingdom collaboration, Dr. Cash led the church leadership to establish a 501(c)(3) and work to gain placement on the National Register for Historic Places to help secure grant funding for the work ahead. Despite a global pandemic, Dr. Cash has led the East Mount Zion Baptist Church to reach people with the message of Christ worldwide through new advancements in modern technological methods for sharing the Gospel.
Oral History Project: The Museum
East Mt. Zion Baptist Church is truly historical and by the blessings of the Lord and the guidance of Holy Spirit, we are curating a museum to share the rich history of The Greenstone Church. Researchers and historians are needed so that we can share the full history of 114 years (2022)!