by Clayton L. Long
Avondale is changing. Granted, the streets still sit where they have for years and still bear the same names. The railroad tracks across the heart of town have not moved. But Avondale is changing, nonetheless. On the south side of those tracks, Avondale has become a stomping ground for the young people of Birmingham flooding in and out of breweries. Many spend their Friday and Saturday nights here and maybe even their Sunday mornings. They then make their exodus home over the mountain. Some decide to stay and plant roots for themselves. They are not very deep, but they are roots nonetheless.
The north side of the tracks, however, tell a different story. On the north side sits Tom Brown Village, as it has since 1961, and at the heart of the village sits Zion Spring Baptist Church, as it has for even longer. Although built years apart from each other, with changes along the way, they now look one in the same. The church bears the same red colored bricks as the surrounding apartment buildings. But aesthetic aside, Zion Spring and Tom Brown are one in the same. It is part of the fabric of this community that has been steady and consistent, despite what has happened south of the tracks. Zion Spring Baptist is a congregation historic to and a product of the Avondale community that works to bring social justice to the neighborhood.
That’s why when Mayor Randall Woodfin and Church of the Highlands Pastor Chris Hodges announced plans to plant a church in a crime-ridden neighborhood of Birmingham, it struck a nerve with Zion Spring pastor Adam Mixon. Mixon deemed the move as a slight to local leaders who have been working towards healing in favor of a quick fix from outsiders, especially after having had experience with the Highlands location already in Woodlawn. In his open letter to Mayor Woodfin and Pastor Hodges, Pastor Mixon wrote,
“Your present mindset seems to overlook how white communities, and yes the white church, have been complicit in creating the circumstances that the black community and the black church have been forced to deal with…The superficial charity applied to our communities, though well-intended, is a salve that anesthetizes but does nothing to dislodge and eradicate the cancerous root that will eventually destroy us all…Beyond this, the combined clumsiness and arrogance of these efforts make it even harder for the long established black churches in these areas to make progress.”
And in the Facebook post the preceded the open letter the Pastor wrote,
“Assimilation is not integration… black businesses failed because of integration… our neighbors were robbed of an economy… drugs and guns filled the gap – crime is the construct of an absent economy…And now (and again) the black church is in the crosshairs of a host of well-meaning, paternalistic, Bible-quoting gentrifiers with dreams of taming the savages and healing our dark lands… oh wait, I’ve heard this story before… we know how this ends.”
As the rest of the letter and post make clear, Pastor Mixon’s strong words don’t come from a place of division but from a deep desire for reconciliation for the community he has been a part of for years.
Although Mixon was not born in the church, he has been serving as their pastor for 18 years. As the letter notes, the church’s resources are limited. That’s why Mixon also works full time as an engineer both to support his family and to receive biblical training to better serve the church at his own expense. That’s also why the sanctuary fire in 2001 that damaged 20% of the building was a devastating blow but not enough to move the congregation from their home of over fifty years.
Zion Spring Baptist was formed in 1927, with their current location being built in 1948 under the leadership of Pastor S.M. Lockett. During the Civil Rights Movement, it was one of sixty meeting churches for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights as demonstrated by the historical marker next to its front door,.
The tradition of social activism at Zion Springs demonstrated in the Civil Rights Movement is alive and well today. It can be seen not only in the previously mentioned open letter to Mayor Woodfin in which Mixon demonstrates concern for the community’s economic and crime related problems, but also by another open letter from August 2019. Pastor Mixon, along with twenty-nine other local clergy members, signed an open letter declaring their congregations as “sanctuaries” for immigrants affected by potential U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. Social activism can also be heard from Mixon’s pulpit, as demonstrated by a Bible study on September 11, 2019, in which Pastor Mixon discussed tangentially the effect of irresponsible shopping on impoverished developing nations.
Zion Spring is affiliated with the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. and members of both the New Era Progressive Baptist State Convention of Alabama (NEPBSCA) and the Village Spring Manly District Association. The heart for social justice demonstrated at Zion Spring can be found in very mission statement of the NEPBSCA, in which Mixon serves as the Dean of the Educational Congress, with, “NEPBCA is a Religious organization aiding and assisting people in their community with various issues. family, hunger, homelessness.” From their theology to their action, Zion Spring is about the betterment of their Avondale home.
From their history in the Civil Rights Movement, to their theology, to their political activism today, Zion Spring Baptist Church is a faith community by Avondale for Avondale that won’t be going anywhere soon.
Zion Spring Baptist Church
Address: 528 41st St N, Birmingham, AL 35222
Congregation Organized: 1927
Opened at Current Site: 1948
Affiliations: National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., New Era Progressive Baptist State Convention of Alabama, Village Spring Manly District Association
Debro, Anita. “Fire Doesn’t Hinder the Pace For Zion Spring Baptist Church.” Birmingham News, September 26, 2001.
Gauntt, Joshua. “Church of the Highlands Announces New Campus in Heart of Crime Ridden Area of Birmingham.” https://www.wbrc.com. Accessed October 24, 2019. https://www.wbrc.com/story/38079857/church-of-the-highlands-announces-new-campus-in-heart-of-crime-ridden-area-of-birmingham.
Macedonian Ministry. “Get to Know Reverend Adam Mixon!” Accessed October 24, 2019. https://macedonianministry.org/get-to-know-reverend-adam-mixon/.
Long, Clay. “Field Notes: Zion Spring Baptist Church,” September 17, 2019.
Long, Clay. Zion Spring Baptist Church Cornerstone. 2019. Photo.
Long, Clay. Zion Spring Baptist Church Front. 2019. Photo.
Long, Clay. Zion Spring Baptist Church Streetview. 2019. Photo.
“More than 30 Clergy Declare Houses of Worship ‘Sanctuary’ for Immigrants – al.Com.” Accessed October 24, 2019. https://www.al.com/news/2019/08/more-than-30-clergy-declare-houses-of-worship-sanctuary-for-immigrants.html.
“National Baptist Convention – Envisioning the Future Exceptionally – What We Believe.” Accessed October 24, 2019. http://www.nationalbaptist.com/about-us/what-we-believe.html.
“New Era Progressive Missionary Baptist Convention of Alabama, Inc – About.” Accessed October 24, 2019. https://www.facebook.com/pg/New-Era-Progressive-Missionary-Baptist-Convention-of-Alabama-Inc-348507799123453/about/?ref=page_internal.
Poet, Pastor. “An Open Letter to Mayor Randall Woodfin.” Pastorpoet (blog), May 4, 2018. https://pastor-poet.com/2018/05/04/an-open-letter-to-mayor-randall-woodfin/.
“Tom Brown Village” – Bhamwiki.” Accessed October 24, 2019. https://www.bhamwiki.com/w/Tom_Brown_Village.
Vincent, C L, C H George, Atty Oscar W Adams, Mrs Lucinda Robey, C J Evans, G C Gissentanner, and Mr Lewis Willie. “About ‘The Movement’ and the Movement Churches,” n.d., 4.
“Vincent et al. – About ‘The Movement’ and the Movement
Churches.Pdf.” Accessed October 24, 2019. http://www.bhistorical.org/pdf/BHS_Newsletter_05_06.pdf.
 “Tom Brown Village.”
 Poet, “An Open Letter to Mayor Randall Woodfin.”
 “Get to Know Reverend Adam Mixon!”
 Debro, Anita. “FIRE DOESN’T HINDER THE PACE FOR ZION SPRING BAPTIST CHURCH.” Birmingham
News, September 26, 2001.
 Vincent et al., “About ‘The Movement’ and the Movement Churches.”
 “More than 30 Clergy Declare Houses of Worship ‘Sanctuary’ for Immigrants – al.Com.”
 “New Era Progressive Missionary Baptist Convention of Alabama, Inc – About.”
Published November 8, 2019.
Clay Long ’20 is a religion and political science double major.