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Camp Zion Church

Spanish Camp,Texas

A discussion of Camp Zion Missionary Baptist Church would not be complete without an understanding of the historical period during it's development. Camp Zion is an outgrowth of the Emancipation Proclamation which took effect on January 1, 1863, declaring slaves in the south free - if only symbolically - and heightening momentum for the abolition of slavery two years later through the 13th Amendment. For slaves across the country, especially those with roots in the South, it was believed that words of Lincoln's signing of the proclamation was not received in Wharton County until June 19, 1865.

The Camp Zion Missionary Baptist Church is located on Farm Road 1161 in the Camp Zion community. The church is located about one mile West from Spanish Camp which derives its name from a brief encampment of General Urrea in 1836 during their pursuit of Sam Houston and other revolutionaryís; and about two miles from Egypt, Texas which is located near Mercers crossing on the Colorado River a major trail between Texana and San Felipe. The Camp Zion community historically consist primarily of a group of Black sharecropping families whose primary occupation was farming (corn and cotton).

Original members of the Camp Zion community were ex-slaves and/or descendants of slaves from the Winston Plantation. Even today in this community, a majority of the land purchased by ex-slave descendants of these families remains intact and family members live in their own homes and continue to be a viable part of the church.

Shortly after news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached this farm community in 1865, as free people the members of the community worshiped from house to house on different plantations. The members of the congregation knew where church was held on a particular Sunday by the early ringing of bells at a particular house.

In 1870, ex-slave, Rev Hillary Hooks, officially organized the Camp Zion Baptist Church on a small hilly section of land which was used on the Winston plantation as a church site. A crude one room log building was believed to have been constructed by Rev. Hooks and other slaves on this section of land where the current church now sits. It was not until 1887 that a land grant was made to the Camp Zion Baptist Church to formalize the churchís location on the acre of land previously used by the church.

The land grant was made from James E. Winston to the trustees: Hillary Hooks, Frank Sanders and Sye Skanes of the camp Zion Baptist Church and school purposes only. Mr. Winston was a plantation/ land owner with property near the Jet Honest place and the Mrs. Eula Davis farm family. Hillary Hooks was the overseer of the Winston plantation and the first pastor of Camp Zion Church.

Rev Hooks remained pastor of Camp Zion from 1870 to 1884 and was followed by Rev. R.B. Evans. The congregation under Rev Hooks and rev Evans was believed to have totaled approximately 50 members. A small addition was made to the church by the congregation in the late 1880ís on the one acre plot to accommodate the growing membership.

Shortly afterwards, in 1905 a land grant of two and a half aces was received from the Duncan family (another plantation owner) to provide a cemetery for ex-slaves and members associated with the Camp Zion Baptist Church and three other nearby black churches?: Mount Vernon, Rising Star and St. Paul Methodist Church. The cemetery is about one-half mile from the church and today is known as camp Zion Community cemetery. The cemetery has always been managed by trustees of Camp Zion. Baptismal for the church were done in Peach Creek )(near Spanish Camp), the Caney (in Mt. Vernon community) and the Colorado River in Glen Flora.

Because of a dispute between church members, a segment of camp Zionís membership left in 1888 to join a newly formed Black Church (Rising Star Baptist Church) in the Spanish camp Community. The pastor of Camp Zion during this period was believed to have been Rev. M. Davis. Following the split the membership of Camp Zion was reduced to approximately 40 members. Nevertheless, the influence and the significance of the church continued in the community. By the turn of the 19th century, Camp Zion Baptist Church had expanded its mission by becoming one of Wharton Countyís Common School Districts for Black children in the Camp Zion and Spanish Camp communities. The first teacher for the school was Professor George William. For the school period from 1905-1906, enrollment of the Camp Zion School was reported to total 86 students with two teachers (Professor Sam Martin and wife Lottie Martin. The Camp Zion School remained until 1918.

Under the leadership of several pastors, the Camp Zion Baptist Church and school grew rapidly and took other critical functions during the period from 1913 Ė 1936. The camp Zion Church building served as a home for many families of the community during the 1913, 1914, 1922, 1929, 1935 and the 1936 floods. During World War I, Camp Zion served as a meeting place for the American Red cross Chapter to the Camp Zion, Mt. Vernon, Spanish Camp and Egypt communities. The Red Cross Chapter remained at Camp Zion until the end of the war in 1918. This chapter served as a clearinghouse for Black soldiers and a place for women of the community to knit socks and gloves for the American troops.

From the period 1920 to about 1935, the churchís building at the original location was renovated several times. Though the churchís entrance previously faced East toward Spanish camp, during this period the entrance to the church was changed to face north. Like most black churches throughout Wharton County, the churchís architecture was very similar to Sam Houstonís Steamboat House in Huntsville. That is, a small white frame building with twin towers at the entrance. In an effort to encourage the congregation and families to meet and to share, cotton was planted on the churchís small site to assist less fortunate families.

In 1921 Camp Zionís business meetings and activities were routinely documented. In the 1930ís the church lost the large Robertson Family to another newly established church, Mt. Vernon Baptist two miles away. However despite this loss, Camp Zion continued to prosper as a place of worship for Blacks in Wharton County. Black missionaries throughout Wharton County would make annual pilgrimages to the Camp Zion Baptist Church for spiritual and educational inspiration.

The influence of the church was major and was reflected in its leadership roles in the newly formed Twentieth Century District Association. Through its association with the District Association, members of the Camp Zion Baptist Church served roles in the southern Black Baptist organization throughout the state of Texas.

Through the years Camp Zion has produced college professors, teachers, doctors, nurses and other medical/health related professionals, ministers, morticians, engineers, bankers, ranchers, musicians, computer specialists/consultants, and technical experts in various fields and technologies. The influence of its members and ex-members remains in the community and throughout our nation.

Camp Zion Church, an institution which dates back to 1870 is one of the oldest black churches with roots at itís original location in Wharton County. It I a product of ex-slaves of the State of Texas; a social service site and organization which made valuable contributions in world war I; and it is a clear vehicle for the delivery of spiritual and educational excellence then and now (for more than 130 years). This relic (rich in Texas and our Nations history) must be properly maintained and shared with all regardless of race, creed, color or national origin in Wharton County and The state of Texas.

Camp Zionís history must be preserved and has been rightfully designated as a Texas Historical Landmark site. It symbolizes the fight, the determination and perseverance of a community of people then and now. It symbolizes not only what history is, but what dreams were and are still all about. Finally, it symbolizes and demonstrates that branches from this community have spread throughout this nation and have not forgotten their roots nor the bridge that brought them over. To this date this church is still active, and many of the descendants of the founding congregation still worship here. See Historical Marker

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