Special to Iredell Free News

Mount Pleasant A.M.E. Zion Church will celebrate 156 years on Sunday, May 19, at the 11 a.m. service. Rev. Dr. J.C. White and members invite the public to attend.

Mount Pleasant is the oldest structure associated with a black congregation in the city of Statesville. The church is also the only African American edifice in Statesville that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The founders of this great church, Sidney Smith Murdock and Alfred Bailey, will be honored during the service.

Also, as part of the service, the congregation will travel to the Green Street Cemetery and place a wreath on the grave of Alfred Bailey. The location of the grave of Rev. Sidney Smith Murdock, the first pastor of Mount Pleasant, is unknown. Both founders and their wives are buried in the Green Street Cemetery.

Mount Pleasant African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is located at 237 South Center Street in  Statesville.


A Brief History of Mount Pleasant African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

The Founders

In an amazing act of Christian faith, just three short years following the close of the American Civil War (1861-1865), a group of African Americans, educators and former slaves supported by their friends and co-workers met to form what would become Mount Pleasant AME Zion Church. On March 3, 1868,

Sidney Smith Murdock, and Alfred Bailey along with their wives, Eugenia and Marie, purchased a half acre of land from a Mrs. Bell for the princely sum of $5. The plot located on South Center Street in the area referred to locally as Depot Hill was sanctified and the seeds of Mt. Pleasant were planted. The group sought and received acceptance into the body of the A.M.E. Zion congregational fold, serving as the site for one of the early denominational conferences in 1882.

Mount Pleasant’s first pastor, the Rev. Sidney Smith Murdock (1825-Feb. 21,1896), worked as a blacksmith by day and served as a teacher at the Statesville Freedmen School from its founding through the 1869 school year. Rev. Smith Murdock was one of the churches co-founders. Prior to the end of the Civil War Rev. Smith Murdock had attended the local White Methodist Church. Once provided the opportunity for freedom, control and advancement, Rev. Smith Murdock took full advantage of that opportunity leaving the yoke of the White church behind.

Rev. Sidney Smith Murdock served not only as the first pastor of Mount Pleasant from 1868 until 1886, but also as a presiding elder of the denomination and a local county magistrate. Sydney Smith Murdock was the son of Andrew (1785-1840) and Amerillis Anne Allison Murdock (1796-1870). His wife was Eugenia Fitzpatrick. Together they were the parents of seven children.

Working hand in hand with Rev. Sidney Smith Murdock was his good friend and fellow Christian soldier Mr. Alfred Bailey (March 22, 1828-.1902)., a former slave. Mr. Baily never learned to read or write; however, he did not let those misfortunes prevent him from working to achieve spiritual and economic liberty for himself and his children. He owned a blacksmith shop in Statesville. Mr. Bailey also purchased a home on Davie Avenue in Statesville and lived there with his wife Mariah Bailey, until his death in 1902.

The other friends who were primary founders of Mount Pleasant were W.M. Pearson, W.A. Russell, John Pickens, James Hampton, Jackson Spann, Alex Gaither, R.D. Bailey and Issac Hide. On June 3, 1891, these men acquired the full and clear deed to the church and the land as trustees of Mt. Pleasant.

The Place

The physical landmark that is Mount Pleasant was at first a set of two framed buildings which served the congregation until the construction of the current brick structure in 1903. The total cost for the building you see standing on Depot Hill today was $4,500.00. On a sunny Wednesday afternoon on June 24, 1903, the Rev. W.A. Blackwell laid the corner stone of the brand-new Mount Pleasant A.M.E. Zion church. The brickwork detail was quite elaborate for the time and remains a unique and beautiful structure to this day. The architecture of the church hearkens back to Italian cathedrals with a large pointed arch filled with hand-made stained-glass windows as the central feature. Facing the rising sun in the east, these windows, during the Sunday morning service bring awe-inspired joy to the congregants seated beneath their brilliant hues. High above the main set of stained-glass windows reaching almost to the peak of the gabled roof is a single round window with the Star of David, muntin design. The Names of the founders, Sidney S. Murdock and Alfred Bailey are permanently etched under the Star of David. To each side elevation are exhibited pointed-arch stained-glass windows between brick arches and brick pilasters. As one walks inside the building you are struck by the grand pipes composed of beautiful gold and tan mounted directly behind the pulpit and the choir loft. Over the years the grand pipe organ has suffered irreparable damage and sadly no longer trumpets the beautiful sound to match its golden luster. The grand pipe organ has been replaced with another organ; however, the beautiful gold pipes remain in their hallowed position. The half circle platform has two steps on each side which leads to the pulpit. The half circle holy communion table rest beneath the pulpit, a chancel rail for prayer at the altar, commemorating the holiest of holy places

The church has undergone several structural repairs and renovations. In 2019 the heating and air conditioning system was replaced. Most recently under the leadership of our current pastor, Rev. Dr. James C. White, a new roof was installed, parking lot repaved, interior walls painted, new organ and piano, new sound system and two rental houses restored. Also, security lights have been installed around the church and parking lot.

On Friday, May 12, and Saturday, May 13, 2023, the 132nd Session of the Statesville District Conference was held at Mount Pleasant A.M.E. Zion Church in Statesville, North Carolina. Rev. Dr. James C. White was host pastor. Friday evening’s District Evangelism Service started at 7 p.m. The Reverend Dr. J. Ruth Davis, Presiding Elder of the Hendersonville District was the Evangelist Preacher. The Mayor of Statesville, the Honorable Costi Kutteh, welcomed the Statesville District of the A.M.E. Zion Church to the 132nd Session of the Statesville District Conference. City Councilman Fred Foster presented the church an award for outstanding work in the community. On Saturday the District Conference Session began with registration at 8 a.m. The Business Session, conducted by Statesville’s District Presiding Elder Dr. David R. Baker, began at 9 a.m. The conference ended with a lunch catered by Chick-fil-A of Statesville.

The People

Mount Pleasant A.M.E Zion Church members have always provided community leadership. On March 9, 1916, the Statesville Negro Graded School was destroyed by fire. Charles Webster Foushee, principal of the school and chairman of the Mount Pleasant Trustee board, along with the congregation and pastor, opened the church as a temporary location for the school. For the next six years, several classes were held in the basement of the church until the community built a new Negro school in 1922.

The new Negro Graded school was named Morningside. Throughout the early part of the 20th Century, Commencement exercises for the City and County Negro schools were held in the church sanctuary. In 1985 under President Ronald Reagan, the federal government declared Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday a holiday, Mount Pleasant’s Christian Education Department started the MLK Prayer Breakfast in Statesville honoring Dr. King. Mrs. Rosella Harris Vaughn and Mrs. Paula Dalton Gabriel renewed the breakfast after the Statesville Ministerial Group stopped having it. The MLK Prayer Breakfast has now become the MLK Weekend with sponsors and volunteers throughout the community.

Four of the congregation’s ministers later were consecrated Bishops of the A.M.E Zion Church; Bishop George Lincoln Blackwell, Bishop Lynwood Westinghouse Kyles, Bishop William Andrew Stewart, and Bishop Herman L. Anderson.

The first African American registered nurse in Iredell County was Zera Spann, a member of Mount Pleasant AME Zion Church. During the 1940 polio outbreak, nurse Zera Spann worked with the Polio hospital in Hickory, North Carolina.

In early nineteen hundred, Center Street, from the Train Station on Depot Hill through downtown Statesville, was filled with an abundance of business activity. Crowds walking, vehicles and horse drawn carriages coming and going from the train station to the magnificent Vance hotel, stopping to buy food and drink at the stores and cafes along the way. Horses could stop and drink at the watering station provided by Mount Pleasant church. The church was located between these businesses. Her presence was known by the protruding uneven entrance towers on the front of the church. The smaller tower on the northside and the larger tower on the southside. The larger entrance tower was also a bell tower. The church bell rang each Sunday morning signaling the start of service. Due to its prominent location, locals and members alike began referring to Mount Pleasant A.M.E. Zion Church as Center Street A.M.E. Zion Church.

There was a foreclosure in 1940 which was satisfied by T.C. Abernathy and the church redeemed ownership on November 26, 1940. A copy of the Substitute Trustee’s Foreclosure Deed is available at Mount Pleasant. Mount Pleasant Church has undergone growth through 155 years. The church and some members purchased much of the surrounding land. The area formally known as Bailey’s Corner is now a parking lot for the church. Bailey’s Corner was a spot on the corner of Garfield and Center streets where Mrs. Ann Bailey’s Fish Market stood. The lot to the north formally Piedmont Bakery was purchased on August 2, 1989. Piedmont Bakery sold bread for 10 cents a loaf. Honey buns, cookies and cakes were inexpensive too. The church had planned for a new addition to be added later where the bakery stood. The proposed new addition would include, a Fellowship Hall, Sunday School rooms, Ladies Lounge, Men’s Lounge, Handicap Restrooms, Kitchen, Offices, Janitor’s Closet, and a Supply Room. Another acquisition for Mount Pleasant Church was the Elks Lodge building on Garfield Street. The building sat vacant for several years and was eventually torn down. The church owns the house on the corner of Wagner and Garfield Streets and two lots on the north side of Center Street on either side of the Food Market. In 1968 a new parsonage was built on Wall Street. The parsonage is currently used as a rental house.

The Children

Mount Pleasant nurtured all children and youth from birth to adulthood. Each child was taught age appropriately in Sunday School, Varick Christian Endeavor, ushering, as an acolyte, and singing in the choir. They were encouraged to use their talents and taught how to speak in public. One of the Sunday School teachers, Ms. Bertha Sherrill, declared each third Sunday, Children’s Talent Day. On this Sunday, children were encouraged to use their talents by singing, playing an instrument, or saying a poem.

Each year the church held a week of Vacation Bible School under the direction of Mrs. Ruth Reid, Christian Education director. And in later years under the direction of Mrs. Paula Gabriel, Christian Education director, and Mrs. Faye Shephard, Sunday School teacher. They were assisted by Ms. Sarah Reeves, crafts, Mrs. Onever Clemmons, and Mrs. Bertha Pate. Mrs. Lashandra Mammon was also a leader with Vacation Bible School.

Many of the youth whose Christian journey began on the old ship of Zion at Mount Pleasant went on to serve as pastors themselves. In this number we count Rev. Dietrich Morrison Danner (Dee Dee Morrison), Rev. Patrick Tate (Pat Tate), Rev. Mary Scott (Mary Scott), Overseer Anya Smith Brown (Anya Smith). Presiding Elder Richard Harris, Brother William Brawley (Kelly). Elder Linda Walker Bishop and Pastor Shirley Walker Stevenson. Michael Gillespie, a member of Mount Pleasant, became a pastor also (Rev. Michael Gillespie). Mt. Pleasant is a home for Christian leadership fertile ground for sewing faithful and fruitful seeds.

During the end of the 1990s leading into the new millennium, Mr. Henry Shephard, under the Statesville District A.M.E. Zion Church, chartered Mount Pleasant’s Boy Scout Troop 605. During this time, Gerwood Shephard and Cameron Williams earned the rank of Eagle Scout, scouting’s highest honor. Not to be outdone, Mrs. Faye Shephard chartered Girl Scout Troop 59 at Mount Pleasant. Samantha Norman received the Gold Award under the leadership of Mrs. Shephard.

Mount Pleasant Church was known for the dramatic Christmas and Easter plays directed by Mrs. Nellie Davis during the late 1960s through the late 1980s. During this period, costumes were curated, and custom sewn by Mrs. Onever McDowell Clemmons and Mrs. Mary McClelland Watts. Following the death of Mrs. Davis, affectionally known as Ms. Nellie, the seasonal plays fell under the direction of the Christian Education Department of the church. Directors included Mrs. Faye Shephard, Mrs. Lozona Tate, Mrs. Paula Dalton Gabriel, and Ms. Nelda Davis. The Christian Education Department of youth took over leadership again in the late 1990s as Ms. Nellie’s granddaughter, Mrs. Tonya Byers Murdock became artist and dramatic director.

On November 24, 1980, the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources Division of Archives and History presented a certificate to Mount Pleasant stating that Mount Pleasant had been entered on the National Register of Historic Places. Mount Pleasant A.M.E. Zion Church is the oldest structure associated with a black congregation in Statesville.

Mount Pleasant African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church stands this day only by the grace of God. For it is by His grace and mercy that the members of this great church continue the work for the Lord. Trusting God and attending the community through Faith, Hope, Love, and Service


The information provided here was collected from a variety of sources including self-published materials on Mount Pleasant from previous anniversary booklets, local newspapers (Statesville Record and Landmark) data from the Iredell County Historical archives housed in the Iredell County public library, online information at Family Search .org and oral histories collected from church members in the period. We would like to provide a special thank you to Mr. Steve Hill, Statesville Historic Society, for the aerial picture and other information. We would like to thank Mrs. Faye Shephard, Mrs. Patricia Parson, Mrs. Jackie Click, Ms. Nelda Davis, Mrs. Lozona Tate, Mrs. Paula Gabriel, Mrs. Juanita Walker, Mrs. Elaine Grant, and Mr. Donald Ivey for the information they provided. Additional information about Mount Pleasant AME Zion Church can be found at the Iredell County Courthouse public records room.

(1) Book D4pg.454, date of Reg.1870;(2) Book D15 pg.338, date of Reg.1891.
(3) Book D53 pg. 46, date of Reg. 1915; (4) Book D144 pg.332, date of Reg. 1941

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