Honoring their past
Mt. Zion unveils historical marker
Members of Mt. Zion Union American Methodist Episcopal Church gathered Sunday to pay homage to the church’s long history in the New London Road community.
With help from the Delaware Public Archives and State Rep. Paul Baumbach, church leaders unveiled a historical marker that recounts the history of the congregation.
“They’re excited a part of their history has been documented in the community,” Pastor Eric McClain said of his congregation.
Mt. Zion was founded in 1868 in an abandoned blacksmith shop at the corner of New London Road and Ray Street. Three years later, the church acquired land on the opposite side of New London Road and built a new building using wood from the blacksmith shop.
Mt. Zion moved to its current location, at the corner of New London Road and Cleveland Avenue, in 1981.
The church played an integral role in the New London Road community, which was Newark’s African-American neighborhood during the days of segregation.
At the time, most of the church members lived within walking distance. Now, as student rental housing has saturated the neighborhood, most members travel from out of town to get to the church, said Wilma Jones, who has attended Mt. Zion for more than 70 years.
“It’s important,” said Jones, one of the few church members who still live on Cleveland Avenue. “There’s still a link to the past.”
As more and more of the community’s old structures disap- pear, like the Elk’s Lodge which was demolished earlier this year, commemorating the area’s history is important, she said.
“All that’s really left is the plaques they put up,” she said.
When she was a child, Jones said, the church was the focal point of life in the community. Raised by a minister, she attended services there three times a day.
Jones reminisced fondly about church picnics and vacation bible school in the summer. The three churches in the area, Mt. Zion, St. John’s A. U. M. P. Church and Pilgrim Baptist Church often teamed up for neighborhood events, she added.
“It was a fun community,” she said.
Sunday’s ceremony marked the end of a years-long process to get the historical marker, which faces New London Road near a staircase leading from the sidewalk up to the church building.
“It’s a blessing to be part of such a rich history,” said Bishop Linwood Rideout, a regional church leader who joined the Mt. Zion congregation for the ceremony.
The state’s historical marker program is administered by Delaware Public Archives and funded by state legislators through their community transportation funds.
Bishop Linwood Rideout (left) and Pastor Eric McClain unveil a plaque commemorating the history of Mt. Zion Union American Methodist Episcopal Church on New London Road.