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Nash Home receives historic designation Federal status will enhance efforts for preservation, provide access to grants

Jesse Nash Jr., 81, remembers much about his upbringing in his family's Nash Street home.

He remembers the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Sr., the famous cleric and father of the late congressman and a college roommate of his father who visited often when Nash was a boy.

Once, Powell gave a speech called, "Nobody Knows Who God Is," delivered in the Nash Home.

"It was so dramatic," said Nash, only 6 at the time. "I will never forget that."

Even before that, other key historic and civil rights figures were welcomed there. W.E.B. DuBois was a friend of his father, the Rev. J. Edward Nash, who was pastor of historic Michigan Street Baptist Church from 1892 to 1953.

And Booker T. Washington was a guest in the Nash Home whenever he came to Buffalo in the early 1900s, historians said.

Because of that significance, Nash's childhood home was awarded a spot on the National Register of Historic Places this month, joining the nearby Colored Musicians Club and Michigan Street Baptist Church. That means the home is eligible for tax credits and has better access to grants.

More importantly, the designation means the Nash House -- which was built in the early 1900s -- can be preserved, said George K. Arthur, president of the Michigan Street Preservation Corp., which owns the building and its contents after it was donated by Jesse Nash in 1987.

And it means the civil rights heritage corridor in the Michigan Avenue-Broadway area -- including the street named for Nash in the early 1900s -- now has three federally designated structures around which to build a tourism market and spur economic development.

And once all three are up and running as museums, re-enactments and events would tie them together as one destination point.

"The three of us hope to be able to tell the story," Arthur said. "What we mean by that is you can come to the Nash house. View the history there, take the garden pathway to the church and get a history of the Underground Railroad; and when you leave there, you can go to the Colored Musicians Club to have refreshments and light food and listen to some nice music and be able to get the history of that club."

Currently, work is being done on the house in time for a ceremony in the next couple of months honoring the designation and the opening of the Nash House as a museum.

The original furniture, typewriter, desk, Victrola and other furnishing appeared as though the Nash family simply stepped away momentarily. There's also an original collection of every sermon the Rev. Nash delivered over 53 years.

Nash and his wife, Francis, moved into the home in 1925. The following year, Jesse Jr. was born.

The house is historically significant for its association with the life and career of the Rev. Nash, one of Buffalo's most prominent African-American leaders during the first half of the 20th century, said Claire Ross, program analyst for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The office also helped to get the designation.

"Roots are always important no matter what people think," Ross said.

The Rev. Nash was the son of a freed slave and came from Virginia to Buffalo in 1892 to serve as pastor of Michigan Street Baptist Church. He earned the respect and admiration of leaders from around the nation and had respect for everyone in the community, Ross said.

"He had friends in high places and seemed to help a lot of people in that community," she added.

He helped orchestrate some of the leading civil rights causes in the nation in the early 20th century, said Felix L. Armfield, a Buffalo State College professor who wrote an article in American Heritage magazine in support of getting the Nash House listed on the National Register.

And he thought it was important to make the church available to all black people because it was one of the few places available for them to gather to discuss social and civil rights issues, Jesse Nash said. At the same time, he walked a fine line in his associations with DuBois and Washington, Arthur said.

Washington, was against the NAACP and was a vocal critic of DuBois, a founding member of the civil rights organization. Yet, the Rev. Nash never took a side against the others. He could have alienated Mary Talbert and her husband, also key historical figures who hosted a meeting of the Niagara Movement -- forerunner to the NAACP -- in their home or at their church, Jesse Nash explained.

"In dealing with the race issue, my dad had to think about W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington," said Jesse Nash. "My dad was deeply concerned about that. He was friendly with both men, and he encouraged Washington and DuBois to stop the public arguing and bring their positions together."

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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