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Historic sign from Michigan Avenue Baptist Church returned

Having laid fragmented and unnoticed for years in a warehouse, a piece of Buffalo's past was made whole and turned over Thursday to new caregivers for its place in African-American history.

Timed to coincide with the celebration of Black History Month, a sign once affixed to the front of the historic Michigan Avenue Baptist Church was donated to the Michigan Avenue Preservation Corp.

Roughly 3 by 5 feet, the sign -- also known as the directory or order of services -- is believed to date back to the turn of last century. Originally found at an estate sale, it spent years in the William Street warehouse of Sloan's Antiques and Modern Furniture.

"It was in pieces," said Max Sloan, whose late father, Sol, founded the business. "I eventually put those pieces together. That's when I realized the importance of it."

It was a newspaper article about the restoration of the Nash House, home of the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church's longtime pastor, the Rev. J. Edward Nash, that set the younger Sloan into motion to give it back to the community.

"We don't get rid of Buffalo history. We don't send it out of town," Sloan said.

He said he mentioned the piece to an acquaintance who is a director of the Uncrowned Queens Institute, which sponsored the program Thursday in the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society centering on the sign's return.

Addressing the gathering, Sloan dedicated the donation to his father, an Auschwitz survivor who died last November, and to those who traveled the Underground Railroad to escape slavery and seek a new start. "Like my parents," Sloan said.

"We are only here today because of those who came before," Sloan said. "My dad would have loved to be here today, to be part of returning this directory to the church. My dad was about giving. The Nash family is about giving."

Jesse Nash, 80, son of the late pastor, was among those in attendance. Thursday was the first time he had seen the sign since its reclamation.

"My dad's name is on it as pastor," Nash mused. "As his son, I say 'Thank you, Max.' "

Nash talked about various facts depicted on the sign and how, on their own, they lack significance.

Like the address of 36 Potter St., which was the parsonage of the church.

"Thirty-six Potter Street doesn't have any significance at all in terms of the history of the church until 1925," he said, when it became the Nash homestead. Potter Street became Nash Street in 1953 by a unanimous vote of the Buffalo Common Council. "We gave it significance," Nash said.

"This piece is very interesting to me, and certainly will have an important place in the overall historic compilation of the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church."

The Nash House is nearing the end of its restoration and is expected to open by June as a museum and research library.

Renee Matthews, president of Michigan Avenue Preservation Corp., formally accepted the church sign at the close of Thursday's program. "This directory will hang -- viewed and preserved -- in the Nash home," she said. "This small home tells a big picture of . . . history."


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