Historical Information on St. Mark A.M.E. Zion Church

Picture of original St. Mark

Before the end of the Civil War, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination (Zion) only existed in the Northeast U.S. and Canada. After the Civil War, the denomination expanded to the South. The missionary sent to North Carolina to gather the freed blacks into Zion churches was James Walker Hood (1831-1918). Nearby Chatham County has many Zion churches that were founded in the 30 years after the end of the Civil War. These churches would provide a population that was central to the establishment of Zion in Durham when their members migrated from the farms in Chatham County to the city of Durham.

Church Pic 1935In February 1890, twenty-five years after the A.M.E. Zion Church came to North Carolina and eleven years after the Central North Carolina Conference was organized, seven people banded together to establish a Zion Church in Durham. These seven persons were Gaston Bynum, William F. and Flora Colley, Sarah Womble Marsh, Jerry and Derbie Richmond, and Jordan Wilson. These founders had come from Chatham County and various places in South Carolina where they no doubt had been members of Zion Churches and wanted to attend one in Durham. [1] The founding of St. Mark reflected the times as many Durham churches for African Americans were founded in the 1890s, including Mt. Calvary Congregational Christian (now Mt. Calvary United Church of Christ), Second Baptist (now First Calvary Baptist), West Durham Baptist, Union Baptist and Covenant Presbyterian.

The first meeting place for the St. Mark congregation was the home of Flora and William Colley, located on Willard Street less than a mile west of the site that was to become the permanent location for St. Mark. The first pastor assigned to the church was Reverend C.H. McIver, who served the church for two years 1890-1892. The group met at the Colley’s house for only three months. Presumably because of the need for more space, they first moved to the White Cross Elementary School located around the corner from the Colleys on Matthews Street. Later, they moved to Main Street and worshipped in the upstairs of the old Post Office building. From there they worshipped in the old Masonic Building in the Hayti section on Fayetteville Street. While the congregation worshipped at various sites, five pastors in addition to Rev. McIver served St. Mark, each for only one or two year

1966 Picture of St. MarkIn spite of the short tenure of the pastors and having no permanent place of worship, the St. Mark congregation grew numerically and moved toward permanency. When St. Mark was founded, the tobacco factories in Durham were expanding, there was an increasing number of new businesses, and the population was rapidly growing. Residential housing, including many rental units, was available in the communities contiguous to St. Mark. Many African Americans came to Durham to work in the factories and in the homes of the burgeoning middle and upper income Whites as domestic workers. This population became members of St. Mark, the existing churches such as White Rock Baptist and St. Joseph’s African Methodist Episcopal, and the other churches founded during this era.

In 1897, the St. Mark congregation bought a parcel of land from the estate of Mrs. Minerva Fowler of Durham [2] for the sum of $140.00 (approximately $4,000 in 2013 dollars). The land purchased was on the corner of Pine and Pickett streets, five blocks south of Main Street. This lot established the permanent site for St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.  In spite of changes in the community and “urban renewal” which took away all sites contiguous to St. Mark, St. Mark has remained at this site although the streets have been reconfigured so that the lot where St. Mark sits is now at the corner of S. Roxboro Street and Lakewood Avenue.

Cornerstone Laying


Three buildings have served the St. Mark Congregation. In 1900 the first church was built, the white church building shown in the foreground of this picture (source: Open Durham.org), taken from the vantage point of where the new Southside apartments are now constructed. A gray brick building served the congregation from 1924-1953. While the present building was being constructed, the St. Mark congregation worshipped in the Booker T Theater located on Pettigrew Street in the heart of Hayti. The present building was completed in 1954 during the pastorate of the Reverend Dr. S.P. Perry.




Reverend Jesse B. Watson

– founder of Mt. Olive A.M.E. Zion Church in 1917, originally located in the Brookstown Community; now of W. Club Boulevard


S.P. PerryReverend S.P. Perry, Pastor 1936 – 1956, pastor when the present edifice was built in 1954

–    a leader among ministers In the Durham Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance during his tenure in Durham

–    a leader in the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs

–    a member of the Board of Trustees of Lincoln Hospital


Rev. R.L. Speaks
Rev. R.L. Speaks

Reverend Ruben L. Speaks, pastor 1956 – 1965

–    a site supervisor for seminarian/interns from Duke University School of Religion

–    operated a School of Religion at St. Mark for beginning ministers

–   established a 7-day church that served all demographics in the Southside Community

–    a civil right activist in Durham



Isiah H. Marsh     Mr. Isiah H. Marsh 1884-1947

–   first African American machinist foreman at Leggett and Myers Tobacco Company

–    leader in West End community development

–    preacher steward at St. Mark for 40 years



William Frederick Hines
William Frederick Hines, Sr.



Mr. William Frederick Hines, Sr. 1900 – 1973

–   Whited Community Precinct Chairman

–    activist for neighborhood improvement




Dr. Lucinda M. Harris
Dr. Lucinda M. Harris



Dr. Lucinda McCauley Harris

– founder and president of Durham Business College




Dr. F. George Shipman
Dr. F. George Shipman & wife, Louise




Dr. F. George Shipman

–     Dean of the School of Education at North Carolina Central University

–      President of Livingstone College (1969-1982)





[1] Descendants of Gaston Bynum, William and Flora Colley, and Sarah Womble Marsh are members of St. Mark today.

[2] When Rev. Edian Markham, an African American Methodist Episcopal missionary and former slave, came to Durham in 1868 to establish a church, he bought property from the then living Minerva Fowler, on which he built a brush arbor for worship and established St. Joseph’s A.M.E. Church.