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.
Rev. Nash knew for certain that we were coming behind him, and that we would find his papers and “do the right thing” in preserving them for posterity. He may not have known our precise identities or when we would come, but in his spiritual mind, he was absolutely confident that we would come. And so, over the span of most of his life, he assembled this remarkable collection of personal papers.
That very thought posed a question that puzzled me for a long time. What enabled Rev. Nash to summon the confidence, and the assurance, that the papers that he had carefully saved over a life-time would be managed and preserved in a way that would allow posterity to have access to them? The personal papers of Black Americans usually ended up on the trash heap after their demise. What enabled Rev. Nash to know with such seeming certainty that his papers would be an exception to that rule?
That is an especially perplexing question when one considers the historical context of Rev. Nash’s early life. He began saving his personal papers almost a quarter of a century before Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Moreover, at that time, very few established historical agencies would have been even remotely interested in Afro-American history, not to mention the personal papers of a little known black man. What gave Rev. Nash the audacity to think that the papers and historical evidence of his life and times would be preserved for posterity? Certainly, there were no existing persons or agencies that were possibilities for performing that task. During the process of helping to sort through and create a filing system for his extremely large collection, I was able to read some of his letters, his sermons, poetry, speeches, and other unpublished writings. It was then that the answer to the puzzling question became clear. In my mind I posed the question to Rev. Nash: What makes you think that all of the papers and materials that you have meticulously saved for more than half-a-century will be preserved for posterity’s access after you are dead and gone I think that his answer to my question would have been simple and straightforward. “God didn’t say anything to me about preserving and preparing those materials for posterity’s access. He just instructed me to save them. In God’s own time, he will send forces to preserve them in a format that will allow posterity to access them.” And in time he did. He sent Kevin Cottrell and George K. Arthur. He sent the Michigan Street Preservation Corporation, the Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier, Buffalo State College, and numerous other entities with expertise and resources. And he will send more. For me, there is a powerful spiritual message in all of this—do the job well that providence has assigned to you, and keep the faith. God will take care of the big picture.
Monroe Fordham, Professor Emeritus
Department of History
Buffalo State College