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John Baugh & the Mt. Zion Church

Community member and HSPV friend Gary Lett worked hard to get the Mt. Zion Church on 8th and Main St. (just south of the Civic Center) designated as a Pomona landmark; it is the first Pomona landmark that was designated for its importance to the African American community. Today, we’d like to share more about the church’s early history with you. The Church was built to house the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist congregation, which first met on July 2, 1916, according to an announcement in the Pomona Progress. Reverend John B. Baugh was the first pastor and apparently had organized the congregation, finding local African American Baptists who had no home church yet. The congregation largely consisted of the Baugh family and the Marks family, both of whom would remain prominent African American families in the region for some time.

June 30, 1916 - Pomona Progress

July 28, 1916 - Pomona Progress

July 31, 1916 - Pomona Progress

Reverend Baugh in particular has an incredible story. Born into slavery in Tennessee in 1846 to Anthony Baugh and Jane Dodson, Baugh escaped his enslavers and joined the Union army in the 55th Regiment of the United States Colored Infantry. He served in the military for two years.

African American soldiers who joined the Union army faced intense racism and discrimination, but they persisted. For example, despite their skill and demonstrated bravery, they were blocked from official leadership positions. They were also initially paid less than their White counterparts. However, after some soldiers and officers protested, even refusing to accept any pay, Congress relented and passed a bill to ensure equal pay. Stories like these demonstrate the potential in community organizing and peaceful protest, though progress is slow, hard-won, and vulnerable to backlash.

In 1915, he left Tennessee for Pomona, wife (Lottie) and four children in tow. Baugh’s addresses in city directories lead to vacant areas near where the church stands today The Baughs were an influential family in Pomona; they’re frequently mentioned in local papers for their activity in the community. Both worked extensively for the local Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) post. In 1932, community members formed the John Baugh Club, which met regularly to discuss civic engagement and politics. Baugh remained in Pomona until his death in 1939. His death was noted in local papers as he was one of the few surviving Civil War soldiers in the area.

From the Pomona Progress Bulletin. Clockwise: 1) July 4, 1936 Pomona Progress Bulletin 2) January 15 1931 - Pomona Progress Bulletin 3) August 6, 1935 - Pomona Progress Bulletin 4) August 13, 1932.

The Baugh family had several children. Two of them show up in local records frequently as they were well-known baseball players: Robert and John M. Baugh. John M. in particular was known for his “twirling” pitches that struck fear into the hearts of high school teams across Southern California!

March 7, 1920 - The Bulletin. Note that John M. Baugh is credited as "one of the best and surest high school pitchers in the state of California."

Robert Baugh, 1920 PHS Yearbook, Courtesy of Pomona Public Library

John Baugh, 1920 PHS Yearbook

There’s obviously quite a lot more research to be done here, but we wanted to introduce some of what we have so far. Stories like these help us humanize the past and develop a greater understanding of and respect for the hard work and sacrifices of those who came before us.

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