Updated: Jun 10, 2021
Easter Sunday 2021 I sold a painting of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Brenham, Texas.
Erected in 1921, it sits in disrepair as the steeple is falling in on itself, and needs immediate attention. I drive by it every day and each time I make that turn towards home I have the same feeling of sadness watching it erode knowing it is a historical building and the damage I am seeing on the outside is nothing compared to the interior damage done to the steeple.
This church links directly to the Black history of Washington County and the strength that was shown and the courage that was mustered by the Christians in this town to find the highest hill to perch for a time of worship, singing their praises to God.
I get the overwhelming feeling that this church needs to be a top priority for the historical society and crowdsourcing funds for its revival needs to happen. Within feet of the Blinn campus, I find it hard to believe a project hasn't been put in place to save it already, but nothing has been organized, yet.
I stopped one day during a beautiful sunset and captured a set of photographs for reference to paint. The sun was under the trees within minutes and I went home feeling lucky and grateful for taking the time to stop for the moment this church was having with the sun.
Once I began painting it I realized I did not know anything about the church, so I began looking into it on the internet and I have to admit there isn't much there. Although I did find more as I kept painting the other buildings in my History in Oil series, about Brenham. Link Below
CLICK the above link to read the entire study, here is an excerpt.
"Washington County blacks also asserted their rights as free persons by creating autonomous community institutions such as schools and churches. The law of slavery had clearly prohibited such activities. Fearful that literacy might sew the seeds of insurrection, pre-war legislators had made it illegal for anyone to teach slaves to read or write, in effect banning schools for slaves.' 5 They also effectively prohibited autonomous African-American churches by enacting statutes that prohibited more than a handful of slaves or free blacks from meeting without white supervision. 16 Despite these regulations, unsupervised black religious meetings often took place surreptitiously, outside the reach of the law. 17 According to oral tradition among Washington County African Americans, their slave ancestors established "brush arbor" churches that met secretly in order to avoid the ever-present slave patrols that had the authority to break up such gatherings and beat the slaves who participated in them.' 8 Freedom and the principles announced by the occupying Union Army and the Freedmen's Bureau made these restrictions relics of the past. On June 19, 1865-still celebrated as "Juneteenth" Day by Afro-Texans-General Gordon Granger, the commander of Union forces that occupied the state, proclaimed that Texas slaves were free and entitled to "absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property."'19 Washington County African Americans promptly availed themselves of their newly won rights as free men and women to create community institutions. African-American churches-many of which had an underground existence during slavery-blossomed in the months and years following the war.20 Members of these congregations mustered their meager resources to build modest churches or to refurbish dilapidated structures purchased from whites. These buildings not only served the spiritual needs of Washington County blacks, but they were centers of community life. In at least one instance, a church doubled as a schoolhouse. 21 Indeed, rather than waiting for northern benevolent societies or the Freedmen's Bureau to provide schools, Washington County blacks began to create their own. In early 1867, the Bureau agent at Brenham reported that local blacks would soon "have a small building ready ... for a school which will accommodate about twenty scholars-also a place provided for the teacher to live in."'22 Moreover, bigger plans were in the works: "they are building a schoolhouse capable of holding a large number of scholars," the agent commented, "but as it is being done by contributions of labor and material it... progresses slowly."
African Americans and the Meaning of Freedom: Washington County, Donald G. Nieman