The house at 36 Nash Street (Buffalo , NY) has a very special place in the 20th century history of Buffalo's African-American community. From 1925 until 1987, the residence was the homestead of the Rev. J. Edward Nash, Sr. family. Rev. Nash was the pastor of the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church from 1892 until his retirement in 1953. His widow continued to occupy the home after his death in 1957. She died in 1987.
Rev. Nash's leadership and presence in Buffalo's African-American community during the first 50 years of the 20th century earned him legendary status in that community. During most of that period he was the most widely known and respected African-American in the city. Rev. Nash was involved in the efforts to bring branches of the Urban League and the NAACP to Buffalo. He was a long-time leader and treasurer of the Western New York Baptist Association. For 32 years he was secretary of the Ministers Alliance of Buffalo. That inter-racial body was one of the most influential religious groups in Buffalo. Rev. Nash called and led several community political meetings of black Buffalonians to intercede on behalf of local black citizens who were in danger of being wronged because of their race.
Because he was widely respected by the city's white leadership, Rev. Nash had direct access to the mayor and other local elected officials. He often used his access to elected officials and business leaders to gain benefits for the African-American community and/or its individual citizens.
Rev. Nash had a statewide and national reputation. In 1910 he was host to Booker T. Washington during Washington's meeting with "Afro-American Citizens of Buffalo." An invitation and printed program found in papers that were recently discovered in Rev. Nash's study at 36 Nash Street indicate that the famous Tuskegee educator met with "Afro-American Citizens of Buffalo" on Thursday evening, March 10, 1910 at the Michigan Street Baptist Church. Washington was introduced at that meeting by Rev. Nash. Washington apparently gave a second address that night at Buffalo's Westminster Methodist Church to a largely white audience of "several hundred people, who listened to an instructive exposition on the problems of the black race." The second address was reported by the Buffalo Daily Courier on March 11 in an article titled "Only Hear Worst side, Never Best Says Negro Educator." Rev. Nash was also an officer in the Buffalo branch of the Booker T. Washington dominated National Negro Business League.
A close friend and former classmate of Rev. Nash at Virginia Union College was Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. (pastor of Harlem 's Abyssinian Baptist Church). Rev. Powell was an occasional guest minister at the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church, and a guest in the Nash home at 36 Potter Street (now Nash Street). Rev. Powell was the guest speaker at Rev. Nash’s 50th anniversary celebration as pastor of the Michigan Street Baptist Church. Many of Rev. Nash's sermons and letters that are an integral part of Buffalo's African-American community history were written in his study at 36 Nash Street.
Many of the nationally known African-American leaders that Rev. Nash brought to Buffalo were house guests at 36 Nash Street. Some of the important unwritten events in the history of Buffalo's African-American community were probably first conceptualized, discussed, and set in motion in the Nash home at 36 Nash Street. (Papers from the Nash collections will certainly confirm such assumptions).
In October, 1999, a delegation of members of the Michigan Street Preservation Corporation were taken on a tour of the inside of the former Nash home by Bishop William Henderson. Jesse Nash, Jr., owner of the house, had allowed Bishop Henderson to occupy the bottom floor of the Nash home since the late 1980s when the elderly Mrs. Frances J. Nash gave up residence. Members of the Michigan Street Preservation group were keenly aware of the historic significance of the Nash home, but they were not prepared for what they found inside the house.
When the Michigan Street Preservation group walked into Rev. Nash's personal quarters and study, it was as though they had entered a time capsule, a time capsule that had been left by Rev. Nash himself. The furniture, typewriter, desk, victrola, and other furnishings were in good condition. His letters, papers, and books seemed undisturbed since their last use by Rev. Nash. The upstairs was a virtual museum of African-American home furnishings from the pre-WWII era. It was apparent that Mrs. Nash did not disturb the contents in her husband's “space” following his death. Bishop Henderson also kept that part of the house closed off and undisturbed after he moved in.
Later the Michigan Street Preservation tour group would discuss their feelings and thinking at the moment of discovery. Even without communicating with each other, they had all reached the same conclusion. That is, that the Nash Home was a community treasure, a time capsule, and a potential community museum that should be restored, protected, and shared with the larger society. The Home and its contents was a valuable piece of the 20th century history of the Buffalo African-American community.
During the weeks following the aforementioned discoveries at the Nash Home, the Michigan Street Preservation Corporation consulted with numerous authorities, including representatives from the Buffalo-Erie County Historical Society, Ted Lownie (an architect who specializes in restoring and preserving historic properties), legal advisors from Kavinoky & Cook LLP, and community leaders about steps to be taken in preserving the Nash Papers, restoring the Nash House and opening it to the public as a community museum and education facility.
The first cache of J. Edward Nash Papers that were discovered in the Nash House consisted of “approximately 140 linear feet of books and periodicals, and over 50 linear feet of manuscript materials.” The manuscript materials were rough sorted and placed in archival boxes and stored in the University of Buffalo Archives. At that time, the manuscript papers totaled 31 boxes of materials. About two years after the discovery, those materials were placed on loan to the Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier to be prepared for microfilming. More materials were found at the Nash House site and were added to the original manuscript Papers. The newly discovered boxes were removed from the attic of the home by students from Kevin Cottrell’s class in the African-American Studies Department at the University of Buffalo. The entire manuscript collection was sorted, organized into file folders, indexed, and prepared for microfilming by a team of members from the Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier. The Nash Papers were microfilmed in the Monroe Fordham Regional History Center at Buffalo State College.
The microfilmed papers of the Rev. Dr. J. Edward Nash, and those of his wife Mrs. Frances Jackson Nash, are now part of the Afro-American Historical Association’s “Buffalo Afro-American Microfilmed Collection.” Copies of that Collection are presently housed in the North Jefferson Branch Library and Center for African American History and Research; the Butler Library Archives at Buffalo State College; and The Monroe Fordham Regional History Center, Buffalo State College. Researchers are encouraged to use the collection. The original papers are owned by the Michigan Street Preservation Corporation and are now part of the Nash House and Community Museum.
The Michigan Street Preservation Corporation(MSPC) is helping to spearhead efforts to redevelop and restore the historic neighborhood around the Nash House, which includes the Michigan Street Baptist Church (built in 1845), the site of the former Little Harlem Supper Club, the Colored Musicians Club, and the numerous dwellings that made up the once thriving community. Through the generosity of the City of Buffalo, the County of Erie, the State of New York and a number of other benefactors, the Nash House was restored and opened as the Nash House Museum in May 2007, providing a snapshot of life in the early 1900’s on Buffalo’s East Side and a glimpse into the life of one of Western New York’s most influential African-American leaders. The overall Michigan Street Preservation Corporation’s plan is being coordinated by George K. Arthur and the members of the MSPC Board of Director’s. George Arthur is a longtime advocate for community development and retired former President of the Buffalo Common Council.
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