Follow the green arrows on the signs as you walk
Efforts to plant an A.M.E. Zion Church in Massillon began as early as 1876, but the official establishment of the was recorded in 1884 under the leadership of Reverend Joseph Armstrong, a traveling minister. Early worship services were held above Baltzly Drug Store on South Erie Street.
In 1886, Dwight Jarvis, a prominent Massillon land developer and member of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, donated an Oak Street property near the Ohio and Erie Canal, where the parish built a small frame church.
Within two years, the pastor left, and the Rev. Edward L. Kemp of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church came to their rescue. Fr. Kemp, a southerner with compassion for people of color, repaired the A.M.E. house of worship and led services there while continuing as rector at St. Timothy’s.
About a year later, learning that the building belonged to the A.M.E. Zion Conference, Fr. Kemp surrendered it, moved the congregation to the Sunday School room of St. Timothy’s, and continued to assist the A.M.E. Zion congregation until 1890, when the Rev. Jehu Holiday was appointed pastor.
In the late 1950s, the church’s name changed from Oak Street A.M.E. Zion to St. James A.M.E. Zion honor the late James R. Ballinger, a prominent Massillon dermatologist, who had served as Sunday School superintendent for 18 years.
The Oak Street church was razed in 1976, as part of Massillon’s Lowry-Price urban renewal project. Without a physical house of worship, membership dwindled. The Rev. Karl Bucey of First United Methodist Church invited St. James members to worship with his congregation. Many did, while others chose to worship in the Franklin Elementary School auditorium.
When the Rev. Dennis Vernon Proctor, a graduate of The Ohio State University School of Law, came to Massillon to lead St. James, he and Rev. Bucey supervised construction of the current church, which was completed in 1980.
St. James, Massillon’s oldest Black congregation, has been the religious home of Dr. Ballinger; the late Oscar W. Ritchie, the first Black professor at any state university in Ohio); Civil Rights legend the Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr., who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot; and many Massillon civic leaders.
For more detailed and interactive in-person tours, I hope you’ll join me or Mandy Altimus Stahl for a walking tour of downtown Massillon, Historic Fourth Street, or Massillon Cemetery.
Directions: Retrace your steps along Tremont Avenue, walking eastward back to First Street Southeast, where we talked about St. John’s Church. Turn left and walk north along Veterans Memorial Park toward the Massillon Museum, where you started your walk.
Congratulations! You’ve completed a two-mile walk. For more detailed and interactive in-person tours, join Margy Vogt or Mandy Altimus Stahl for a walking tour of downtown Massillon, Historic Fourth Street, or Massillon Cemetery. Visit margyvogt.com for a complete schedule.