ABOVE: Atlamese Pritchett.
It took 7 years to build the church because nobody, no institution would loan Mt. Zion the money to build the church…Because they wouldn’t let black folk do it. But guess how we got it? The officers of the church that owned property had to put their homes up for collateral because they wouldn’t take the church as collateral even though we owned it. We owned that property and the property that’s across the street we owned that too at the time…
ABOVE: One Hundred and One Years, “A Journey With Jesus Christ – Step By Step Through Faith and Prayer” 1880-1981, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church commemorative booklet.
Florida native Altamese Pritchett came to Orlando in 1935 from the country, Summerfield, where her grandfather was a minister. Her grandmother, Mrs. Maggie Baker Hemingway, was president of the district convention. When the family moved to Orlando they joined New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Winter Park which was in the same convention so her grandmother could continue as president. She says she can still picture her grandmother back in the Amen Corner with the Deaconesses in the little country church in Summerfield, Florida.
ABOVE: Mrs. Maggie Baker Hemingway holding her Bible.
In the 1930’s the family found a house at 813 W. Livingston Street and joined Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church. They would walk from their Livingston Street home to the church Sunday mornings for Sunday School, 11 o’clock service, home for Sunday dinner, and then back to church at night for the evening service.
She remembers going to Red Circle for Girls where you learned church etiquette, Bible verses, and how to act in church. BTU, Baptist Training Union, Junior Church, and church choir were activities she enjoyed as a youth and then helped lead the groups as an adult.
Throughout her life at Mt. Zion she has served in the choir. Starting as a “little fella” in the choir, then the young adult choir, and the senior choir. Ms. Pritchett also sang in the Jones High School Choir and went from Jones High School to Florida Memorial College in St. Augustine on a singing scholarship.
She says, “My church has been my life, it’s been my heart, it’s been the thing that keeps me going.”
ABOVE: Legacy of Love photo at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church in downtown Orlando. Pictured from left to right are church matriarchs: Ona May Walthur – Grandmother of Reverend Michael Spooney, Maddie Gordon – Mother of Altamese Pritchett, Theola Gordon, Theresa Armistead, Ruth Thomas. Photo courtesy of Altamese Pritchett.
Altamese Pritchett is one of the oldest lifetime members of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church and can remember the church leaders, buildings, and families including the churches that have grown out of Mt. Zion, The Mother Church. She remembers Rev. R. L. Jones who was there when she joined in the 1930’s up to the current pastor, her relative, Reverend Spooney. She details the vision and ethics of the great Reverend Staggers, her disdain for Rev. Thompson, and the community outgrowth of new leaders such as Rev. Sims who left Mt. Zion to start Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. Regarding the “discovery of one of our own”, current pastor, Dr. Reverend Robert M. Spooney, she says, “If anyone had ever told me Mikey was going to be a preacher that was the farthest thing from my mind. But he’s a good one.”
Ms. Pritchett says Reverend Spooney’s Wednesday night Bible study is “the bomb as the children say.” She thinks everybody that belongs to the church should go, but if you can’t, you can call the church office and get the phone version. She also enjoys the Senior Citizen Day activities at the church and the wonderful meals prepared by church member Chef Jones.
She is still able to climb the steps up to Mt. Zion with a little help and goes every Sunday. She says, “I know everything changes, but I feel the church should not. I love my church with the big white pillars…”
We invite you to hear church matriarch Altamese Pritchett speak her mind on the history of faith at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church in this oral history interview at her home on October 31, 2012.
LISTEN Part I (14:58) Early church life, Coming to Orlando as a Family, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Choir
LISTEN Part II (10:57) Sunday School, Raising Children in the Church, Stewardship, Church Pastors
LISTEN Part III (14:59) Mt. Zion the Mother Church, Community Churches, Church Leaders, Red Circle, BTU, Sundays, Building Mt. Zion, Racial Prejudice
LISTEN Part IV (15:14) Church Etiquette, Junior Church, Senior Citizen Day, Bible Study, Reverend Spooney
LISTEN Part V (11:24) Walking to Church, Church Car, Reverend Staggers, Reverend Spooney, Church Ethics, Church Finances, NAACP, School Desegregation
LISTEN Part VI (7:10) Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church members sue Orange County Public Schools, Altamese Prichett original plaintiff speaks on the case.
Altamese Pritchett, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church Part II
Altamese Pritchett, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church Part III
Altamese Pritchett, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church Part IV
Altamese Pritchett, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church Part V
Altamese Pritchett, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church Part VI