by Ron Thomas
The HCHG dedicated its first historical marker in a ceremony at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Haleburg on July 24, 2004. Located on Stovall Drive, the historic church was established and the building erected in 1871 by freed slaves. The church structure stands today in much the same form as when it was build, and many of the descendants of the founding families have continued to support the church for nearly 125 years. The historic marker, purchased by the Henry County Historical Group (HCHG), the Historic Chattahoochee Commission, and friends of Mt. Zion, celebrates the contributions this Church has made tot he spiritual lives of its members and to the Haleburg community for over a century.
Mrs. Myrtis Keith presided over the ceremony and made a welcoming address. The opening prayer was given by the Rev. Eddie Sttringer, followed by a bible reading by Carolyn Stringer. Mrs. Ella Howard led an old hymn which had been a particular favorite of her father, Charlie Lane, a stalwart member of the congregation for many years.
Hon. Roger Money, Mayor of Haleburg, was introduced and expressed his appreciation for the role Mt. zion baptist Church has played in the history of the community. Mrs. Judy Tye of the Screamer community then addressed the assemby as President of the Henry county Historical Group, and on behalf of the Historic Chattahoochee commission, of which she is a board member.
Larry Smith, Vice President of the HCHG and official Henry County historian, chronicled the history of Mt. Zion Baptist church from its establishment in 1871 to the present. The church actually pre-dates the town of Haleburg, and was placed on the Alabama Register of Historic Places in 1987 as the oldest active Black church in Henry County.
Mr. Smith recounted how the Church building had been beautifully restored, almost to completion, when it was devastated by a tornado early in 2003. Smith praised the efforts of Deacon Ceffer Stovall, who, with same determination that founded the Church and has sustaned it over the years, spearheaded its rebuilding. Stovall secured assistance from Ebenezer Church, 1st Presbyterian Church of Dothan, community members, and the Mt. Zion congregation, and within months the damage was repaired and the restoration completed.
Mr. Smith also introduced the Hon. Locy Baker, District 85 Representative to the Alabama Legislature, and Ron and Gayle Thomas of the Henry County Historical Group.
Following remakrs by Rev. Elbert Melton, current pastor, Mrs. Lessie B. Ross of Jacksonville, FL spoke of her memories of growing up in the church in the early years of the 20th century. At that time, the front doors of the church faced east, rather than west as they do today. She also reminisced about the early days of "Halesburgh." (That's how she said it, and that's how it originally was.) The center of the community in her childhood was the store run by Mr. Miller.
Mrs. Myirtis cobb and Rev. Carnel Sanders also spoke of their upbringing in the church and community, remembering the days when the churchyard would be full of wagons and Model-A Fords, the revivals, the dinners-on-the-grounds, and the many beloved members who have gone on to their rewards.
Rep. Locy Baker was sgiven the honor of unveiling the marker, the 23rd historic marker erected in Henry county, but the first by the HCHG. After his remarks, everyone was invited to a delicious meal prepared by church members at the Haleburg Community Center. Activities continued with several family reunions on Saturday afternoon, and church services on Sunday.
The Henry County Historical Group is honored to have participated in this milestone event for Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Other markers soon to be erected by the HCHG include ones for the Headland square, Newville, and Zornville. For membership in the Henry County Historical Group and to receive its quarterly publication, The Patrick Henry Orator, send $25 to HCHG, 9217 CR 99, Headland, AL 36345.