Church History




Reverend Dr. Nilous M. Avery, II, Doctor of Ministry (D. Min.)

Pastor, Teacher, Servant Leader

Established 1867

Old Site: 413 North Church Street, Salisbury, NC (1867 – 2004)

Current Site: 1920 Shirley Ave., Salisbury, NC (2004 – present)

A Brief Historical Summary of the 2nd Oldest African-American Baptist Church in Salisbury, North Carolina


The Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church of Salisbury, NC is said to have its beginnings with the late Rev. Harry “Uncle Harry” Cowan, known as the father of Baptist Ministers in North Carolina. Rev. Cowan was born a slave to Peter and Betty Thomas Ellis on January 20, 1810 near Mocksville, NC on a plantation owned by Thomas L. Cowan, a wealthy landowner and later a resident of Salisbury.

Rev. Cowan was converted to Christianity in 1825 and licensed to preach in 1828 at the age of eighteen by Cowan, his master and an Elder in the Presbyterian Church of Salisbury. Thomas Cowan granted his four plantations in Rowan and Davidson counties to Rev. Cowan as a field for his ministry. Thomas Cowan had a lawyer prepare a license for Rev. Cowan that read in part: “This is to certify that whosoever is interested about my man Harry, he has the privilege to preach and to marry, also to baptize anyone who makes a profession of faith.” (Article, Black Churches Harry Cowan’s Legacy, The Salisbury Post, October 27, 1984)

Over the next thirty (30) years, it is said Rev. Cowan baptized 1,500 souls. When the Civil War broke out in the early 1860’s, Rev. Cowan, now fifty (50) years old, was made the body servant of General Joseph Johnson of the Confederate States of America and went to war. Rev. Cowan preached the gospel every night of this memorable struggle except the night Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was shot accidently by one his own men and died soon afterwards.

In 1865, Rev. Cowan, serving as joint Pastor with Zuck Haughton, established Dixonville Baptist Church in Salisbury. It is believed to be the first black Baptist Church in Western North Carolina. The church was named for a white man named Dixon who gave about an acre of land under a brush arbor near the National Cemetery in southeastern Salisbury. The congregation used an abandoned Confederate hospital as its first church building. In 1926, the church’s name was changed to First Calvary Baptist Church. A new building was constructed in 1967 and the church still stands about 90 feet from the original site.

Two years after co-founding Dixonville Baptist Church, Rev. Cowan founded Mount Zion Baptist Church (1867) where he served as Pastor for twenty-four (24) years. The original building was destroyed by fire. A new building (old site) was built in 1907 on the original site, 413 North Church Street, and still stands today. In 1986, the old site was named to the National Register of Historic Places in America.

In addition to forming over forty churches, Rev. Cowan is credited with preaching over 1,000 funerals and conducting over 1,000 weddings. He died in Winston-Salem, NC in March 1904 at the home of Mrs. H.H. Hall, an adopted daughter. Rev. Cowan was ninety-four (94) years old! It is believed Rev. Cowan is buried in an unmarked grave in the historic Dixonville Cemetery on South Long Street in Salisbury near First Calvary Baptist Church.

A stone was placed in the rear of Mount Zion Baptist Church (old site) in 1979 in memory and honor of Rev. Cowan commemorating him as “the father of African-American Baptists in N.C.” Ironically, “no stone marks the resting place of one of Salisbury’s most illustrious citizens” (Salisbury Post, 1987). On May 22, 2007, a state historical marker was erected and unveiled recognizing Rev. Cowan. The marker is located on North Main Street in Salisbury, one block from Mount Zion (old site).


(Compiled from church archives)

1867 – 1891: Reverend Harry Cowan

(See introduction)

1891 – 1892: Reverend M.L. Minnifield

Very little is known of this pastorate other than the church history records “Mount Zion continued to grow and serve the community under his leadership.”

1892 – 1895: The “unknown years”

Records are scarce regarding the pastorate and the church.

The only known record is a written promise to pay to George W. Wright the sum of $520.00 with 8% interest. This note was signed March 15, 1893 by the following Trustees of Mount Zion: J.L. Holt, M.L. Hargrave, Moses Wren, Calvin? (Last name not legible), and J.S. Holt. It is believed M.L. Hargrave was the lone signer of this note. The other names have an “x” for marks next to their names. An N.L. Young was the witness of this note.

1896 – 1902: Reverend John Washington

According to state convention records, Rev. Washington came to Mount Zion from Charlotte, NC. Rev. Washington is listed in the 1896 minutes of what is known today as the General Baptist State Convention of N.C., Inc. as Pastor of Mount Zion.

Prior to this period, Rev. Washington was a participant in the following (“History of the General Baptist State Convention,” The Centennial Celebration of the General Baptist State Convention of N.C., Inc., pp. 8-9):

  • “In 1867 at the First African Baptist Church in Goldsboro, N.C. … this little known band organized the Educational Missionary Convention, known today as the General Baptist State Convention of N.C., Inc. Among those present at this first meeting were … John Washington.”

  • “The Rev. John Washington was the first missionary sent out by the state convention.”

  • “When the State Directors of Christian Education were listed, Rev. John Washington was the first director.” Rev. Washington also served as Moderator of the Rowan Missionary Baptist Association of North Carolina from 1870 to 1875.

1902 – 1929: Reverend Dr. Fisher Robert Mason, D.D.

Dr. Fisher Robert Mason, known as the boy wonder preacher, singer, educator, publisher, organizer, and builder, was born in Davie County on September 9, 1878 to Spencer Mason (farmer) and Lucinda. His mother, along with her father Burleson Mason, was brought from Virginia to North Carolina in the 1860’s probably as indentured servants or slaves. Dr. Mason was a student in the State School of Salisbury when he became the fourth Pastor of Mount Zion at the young age of twenty-four (24).

Dr. Mason married Fannie M. Bryant on May 18, 1904. Fannie was a daughter of the Rev. William and Mrs. Elizabeth Bryant. Two daughters were born to Dr. and Mrs. Mason.

According to Dr. Mason himself, Mount Zion grew from a membership of about fifty (50) to nearly six hundred (600) members under his leadership. His stewardship of service included:

  • Construction of the historic old site on North Church Street

  • Historic site enlarged and made modern with (1) three-sided balcony, (2) connecting parsonage and educational building, (3) basement with a kitchen and coal furnace, (4) large ceiling fans in the sanctuary, and (5) heated baptismal pool.

  • Property value increased from about $700.00 to more than $30,000 by 1910

  • Conducted the Graded School of Salisbury with three teachers (1908-1912)

  • Installed a Pipe Organ in 1912 (built by Steene & Turner of Springfield, Mass.)

  • Along with Mrs. Mason, established the Fannie Mason School at Mount Zion in 1922; operated by Dr. Mason, Mrs. Mason, and her sister.

  • Edited a church newsletter, The Mount Zion Messenger (an original 1913 edition is still in our possession)

  • Church membership handbook published and approved in 1926 (a copy is in our possession)

  • A 1917 report indicated Dr. Mason had conducted more than 200 weddings, 500 baptisms, and 180 funerals during this period of time from 1902.

  • Co-founder of the Western N.C. Baptist Sunday School Convention

  • Co-founder of the Pastor’s Workshop at Shaw University, Raleigh, NC

  • Served as Treasurer of the Rowan Baptist Association

  • Considered one of America’s outstanding preachers in his day

  • Records of the Sunday School at Mount Zion in the early 1900’s affirm Dr. Mason’s passion for Christian Education (average attendance in Sunday School: 200 – 300+ each Sunday!)

  • Dr. Mason eventually moved to High Point, NC where he served as Pastor of Temple Memorial Baptist Church (several relatives still attend there).

  • Dr. and Mrs. Mason are both buried in Oakdale/Union Hill Cemetery in Salisbury.

1929 – 1973: Reverend Dr. William McKinley Wyatt, D.D.

Dr. William McKinley Wyatt was called to become the fifth Pastor of Mount Zion in 1929. He came from First Baptist Church in Lexington. Dr. Wyatt served the longest tenure of any Pastor at Mount Zion, forty-four years. At the time of his sudden death in 1973, he was also Pastor of Jerusalem Baptist Church in East Spencer where he served since 1938.

Dr. Wyatt, a native of Dinwiddie, VA, was a son of Mr. and Mrs. William Wyatt. He received his education at Dinwiddie Institute and Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC. Dr. Wyatt married Miss Rosalie Freeman. To this union was born two children, Rosalie and Virginia.

Dr. Wyatt, well-known in local, regional, state, and national convention circles, led Mount Zion to new heights of notability and respectability. Mount Zion was widely regarded as a fortress of Christian strength. Thus who came under Dr. Wyatt could never forget the “Deacon’s Stand,” full of up to twenty deacons each Sunday, the huge numbers in Sunday School reminiscent of those during Dr. Mason’s tenure as Pastor, or the Youth Choir accompanying him on various speaking engagements. His stewardship of service included the following:

  • Moderator, Rowan Baptist Association (1965-1968)

  • Recording Secretary, General Baptist State Convention of N.C., Inc.

  • Executive Board, Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Missionary Convention

  • Board of Trustees, Shaw University, Raleigh, NC

  • Member/Supporter, National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.

At Mount Zion, Dr. Wyatt established:

  • Worship Services on all holidays

  • Purchase of a church bus

  • Annual church outing to High Point

  • Annual bus trip to the beach

  • Annual Shaw University Day Rally

  • Development of a Junior Church

  • Purchase of pews currently in the old site

  • Emphasis on Christian Education (particularly the youth)

  • Junior Deacons for the boys and young men

In 1973, death took from the midst this soldier of God. For approximately one year, the Mount Zion church family prayed for God’s guidance in its search for an under shepherd to lead them to higher heights. In 1974, God answered the prayers of the saints and servants.

1974 – 1991: Reverend Dr. Samuel R. Johnson, Jr., D.D.

Dr. Samuel R. Johnson, Jr. was called as the sixth Pastor to lead Mount Zion onward. He came with a vision of where Mount Zion should go in the future as a leader in the community, the state, the nation, and the world. Dr. Johnson was born in Roanoke, VA on July 23, 1916 to Mr. Samuel and Mrs. Louise Johnson. He married Eva Henry. To this union was born a son, Paige.

Dr. Johnson continued the traditions of previous Mount Zion Pastors who heeded the call of Jesus in Matthew 28:19: “Go ye therefore and teach all nations…” Dr. Johnson’s stewardship of service included:

  • Restoration and renovation of the old site on 413 North Church Street

  • Re-organization of church ministries

  • Conversion of the attached parsonage into an educational facility

  • Over 100 year old Pipe Organ restored in 1982

  • Mount Zion placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986; confirmation received January and official membership presented to the congregation on March 16, 1986.

  • Consultant for Food Lion Stores (headquartered in Salisbury, NC)

  • Board of Directors, Piedmont Correctional Center

  • Board of Directors and Leadership for numerous civic and religious organizations including the NAACP and the United Ministerial Alliance of Salisbury

  • Instrumental in establishing the Salisbury-Rowan Human Relations Council

  • In 1975, established the Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with the “Committee of 100,” as well as the Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Awards Service and the MLK Prayer breakfast

  • Auditor, Rowan Baptist Association

  • Executive Committee and General Board, General Baptist State Convention of N.C., Inc. Avid supporter of Livingstone College, Salisbury, Shaw University, Raleigh, Virginia Union Seminary, Richmond, VA, the National Baptist Convention, and the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Missionary Convention

  • Received numerous awards including: Honorary Doctorate Degrees from Virginia Union Seminary, Richmond, VA, and Livingstone College, Salisbury; “Man of Troas” Award (twice) from Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Missionary Convention, Washington, DC

Dr. Johnson’s tireless efforts in the church and community left an impressionable mark on the Salisbury community as well as the state and nation. He stressed and embodied the idea that we must “lift while we climb.” Dr. Johnson laid the foundation for many of the benefits the Mount Zion family and the Salisbury-Rowan County community now enjoy.

He was very outspoken on issues of concern regarding the treatment and equality of humanity (i.e. – fair housing and employment, civil rights, economic equality, community relations, educational opportunities, church involvement, etc.). Dr. Johnson was such as influential personality, he received threats from hate groups and the church needed law enforcement protection during the Annual King Day celebrations.

Dr. Johnson was a giant in the struggle for equality as well as political, social, economic, and religious freedoms and opportunities. He was called from labor to reward on July 31, 1991. Again, the Mount Zion family went into prayer for one year. They asked for God’s guidance in sending a servant of God’s choice to uphold the blood-stained banner of Jesus as a soldier of the cross. Help was on the way.

1992 – present:

Reverend Dr. Nilous McKinley Avery, II, D. Min.

Help from God came in the form of a “young man from the hills of Asheville, N.C.” The seventh Pastor of Mount Zion, Dr. Nilous M. Avery, II, left the school system of Asheville where he served as a teacher assistant, teacher, coach, assistant principal; at the Hill Street Baptist Church he served as Minister of Music and Associate Minister where his father served as Pastor.

Dr. Avery, the oldest of four children, was born on August 6, 1958 to the late Reverend Dr. Nilous M. and the late Mrs. Christine Watson Avery. He is married to the former Nicole Denise Hill. They bring to their union Joshua D. Avery and Raven L. Hill.

Dr. Avery was educated in the Asheville City Schools where he graduated from Asheville High School. Dr. Avery received his undergraduate degree from Shaw University, Raleigh, NC, teaching certification and education administration training from Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC, Master of Divinity Degree from Shaw University Divinity School, Raleigh, and his terminal degree, Doctor of Ministry, from Hood Theological Seminary, Salisbury.

Dr. Avery has served and continues to serve on numerous boards, committees, commissions, and councils locally, regionally, statewide, and nationally. He has served as an officer, board member, Chair of the General Board, and Chair of the Executive Committee of the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Inc.

On October 29, 2014, Dr. Avery was elected as the 32nd President of the General Baptist State Convention of N.C., Inc., which comprises over 500,000 Missionary Baptists, 1,600 churches, and 60 associations. Also founded in 1867 (Mount Zion founder Rev. Cowan was one of the GBSC founders), it is the oldest and largest African-American organization in North Carolina, and one of the oldest and largest African American organizations in the southeastern United States of America.

Since that Sunday on July 26, 1992 when the congregation voted to call Dr. Avery as Pastor and Servant Leader, Mount Zion has used its historic foundation to soar to new heights on God’s wings of abundant blessings and underserved grace. Through the power, presence, and provision of God’s Holy Spirit and servant leadership of Dr. Avery, Mount Zion has continued to Embrace the Past, Enhance the Present, and Envision the Future.

God’s work through Dr. Avery and the Mount Zion faithful has been and continues to be a ministry of inclusion, involvement, expansion, and evangelism. Dr. Avery’s emphasis on congregational inreach and community outreach has led the church to move beyond the walls, from the “seats to the streets.” The focus is on being a community church.

During the early tenure of Dr. Avery, Mount Zion’s stewardship included:

  • Emphasis on church auxiliaries & committees as Ministries of Service

  • Christian Education re-organization and ongoing emphasis

  • New Disciple’s Orientation

  • Spiritual Gifts training for all leaders and members for a

  • “3-D Gifts-based” ministry (Discovering, Developing, Deploying)

  • Music Ministry reorganization; addition of other musical instruments into worship

  • Reorganization of Youth Ministry; now includes a Family Life Ministry to serve the children, youth, and parents/guardians in a holistic ministry

  • Tape Ministry which is now the Media Ministry with state of the art equipment

  • Transportation Ministry (Purchased a new van)

  • Renovations, Restoration, and addition to the old site: paved driveway (1993), outside facelift/paint, siding, gutters (1993-1994), air conditioning for 2nd floor educational building (1993), new liner for baptismal pool (1994), New Roland Piano (1993), plexiglass to preserve historic stained glass windows (1994), new sound system (1996)

  • Ordination of first female deacons, September 17, 2000

This historic worship celebration was held after three years of training and praying. The following were ordained: Sister Dixie Dalton, Brother Walt Howell, Jr., Sister Eva Johnson (widow of former Pastor Johnson), Sis. Ruby Miller, Brother Benjamin Neal, Brother Ronald Phifer, Sister Mary Frances Robinson, and Sis. Christine Vinson.

  • Numerous ongoing Ministry opportunities that Exalt the Savior, Equip the Saints, and Evangelize the Sinner.

And God had a greater glory for Mount Zion to pursue!

Climbing higher to fulfill the purpose: GGEO: Glorify God and Edify Others!


God’s vision of Kingdom Building for Mount Zion began in 1992 with prayer, faith, and $1,990.00 in the building fund. In 1994 during a required Spiritual Gifts Workshop training for all ministry leaders, Dr. Avery revealed a God-given vision for a Worship & Ministry Campus.

The first step would be the need for property because the historic downtown site was “land-locked” with no room for expansion. Dr. Avery said, “Community contributions involve the ongoing responsibilities of the church to provide a place for worship and ministry.” He explained and taught at length how Mount Zion would need a facility to serve the needs of God’s people as the people served their God who would provide.

Dr. Avery instructed the Trustee Ministry to begin the search for property. He also presented a system of sustained giving to provide the needed funds. This biblical principle was tithe and offering! The following is a timeline of the move to GGEO: Glorify God and Edify Others through a Worship and Ministry campus.

  • Purchase of 9.5 acres of property on Shirley Ave., Julia, Dr., and Clancy St. (1995)

  • Purchase of additional 4 acres connecting the present tracts (1998)

  • Secured the services of COGUN Industries, Inc./Charlotte, NC to design/build (2002)

  • Plans for Phase One approved (September 2003)

  • Purchase of 1 acre connecting and surrounding the present tracts for a total of 14.5 acres (December 2003)

  • Secured the services of F & M Bank, Salisbury, NC to finance (November 2003)

  • Groundbreaking (January 2004)

  • Site work/Construction began (February 2004)

  • Street paved in front of the property courtesy of the City of Salisbury at the request of the church (October 2004)

  • Construction completed at a cost of $1.2 million (November 2004)

  • First Service (November 28th, 2004)

  • Pre-dedication Services (December 7th – 9th, 2004; Rev. Dr. Nilous Avery, Sr., messenger)

  • Services of Celebration, Consecration, & Dedication (December 12th, 2004; messenger and choir - Rev. Dr. J. Vincent Terry, Sr., Mount Peace Baptist Church, Raleigh, NC)

The New Worship & Ministry Center Phase 1, with a seating capacity of 325, includes a half court basketball floor, and a platform for the pulpit, music ministry, and stage productions. It also provides banquet seating for approximately 150 –200 persons.

Surrounding the multi-use area is space for 8-12 classrooms that include a health/wellness room, a computer lab, a nursery / preschool / daycare section, an administrative wing with a waiting

area and four offices, a storage room, a commercial kitchen, restrooms in the front and rear of the building, and a baptistery with dressing rooms.

This project was the first phase of a multi-phase plan for the site that will eventually include a fully dedicated sanctuary/conference center (Phase 2), an expanded pre-school, a senior adult center, an environmental walking trail, and recreational fields.

The MZMBC (Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church) Ministry Campus houses several church and community ministries including: (1) the GGEO Community Foundation, Inc. (Generating Greater Empowerment Opportunities), (2) Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Ministry, (3) Community Health Fitness Sessions and Classes, (4) Senior Adult Enrichment Programs, and others.

Under Dr. Avery’s vision, leadership, and desire for expanded ministry, Mount Zion was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in March 2005 (Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church of Salisbury, Inc.). The GGEO Community Foundation, Inc. was established and incorporated in May 2009 and officially became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in April 2011.

In May of 2017, we completed the purchase of adjacent property for future expansion of our God-given mission for Wholistic Ministry, which follows the example of Jesus who ministered to the whole person.

Through it all, Dr. Avery continues to preach, teach, and stress the need for the church to GGEO through numerous “Cradle-to-Cane” Ministries of congregational inreach & community outreach for all ages. Membership has grown, Ministry leaders receive ongoing training, numerous individuals have been licensed to preach and ordained for the gospel ministry, God’s people are edified, and God is glorified.

Dr. Avery refuses to take credit. He constantly says, “This is God’s work…this is God’s Church…I am God’s servant…these are God’s people. We don’t deserve it, we haven’t earned it, but we thank God for it. We are excited and delighted that we have been invited by God to GGEO: Glorify God & Edify Others!”

In the year of our Lord 2017, our 150th Sesquicentennial Celebration was held to commemorate 150 years as a victorious branch of God’s glorious kingdom here on earth. Two years later, God is indeed blessing us beyond measure to fulfill this year’s church theme for 2019: UPWARD, INWARD, OUTWARD!

We lean on the shoulders of those who have come before us.

We stand on the promises of God.


Serve with a Passion for God and Compassion for People

We are

Kingdom Builders, Citizens, and Servants


Pray, Plan, Produce, and Praise


Embrace the Past, Enhance the Present, and Envision the Future

We are

Equipped, Encouraged, and Empowered for Kingdom Building, Living, Serving

We GGEO: Glorify God and Edify Others!

“The joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion … Let Mount Zion rejoice!” Psalm 48:2, 11

Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come;

God’s grace has brought us safe thus far, God’s grace will lead us home.






(Revised June 2019)