Jesse Edward Nash Sr. is remembered as one of the most revered and influential voices of Buffalo’s African American Community and the Civil Rights Movement. Nash first arrived in Buffalo at the age of 24. Although still a young man, he had already gained a formal education and substantial life experience. He was born in 1868, just after the Civil war, to two former slaves in Virginia. There, he worked as a farmhand, blacksmith, teamster, mason, and Potomac River boatman before turning to the ministry at age 18. He graduated from the Seminary in 1892 with several ministry offers, but Nash chose to move to Buffalo to fill a vacancy at the most prominent African American church in the city, the Michigan Street Baptist Church. Many factors went into Nash’s decision; relatively small church size, the church’s involvement both locally and nationally, the encouragement he had received from members of the church, and Buffalo’s famous association with the Underground Railroad.
Nash was described as an impressive figure, both physically and morally, which quickly gained him a reputation; one that he would build on over the next 60 years. Nash’s leadership and presence in Western New York during the early 1900s earned him legendary status not only within the African American Community, but the white community as well. This was something very few black leaders at the time were able to accomplish. Nash used these connections to gain access to political leaders and power brokers throughout New York State to further his cause of aiding and supporting the local black community. He hosted dignitaries and national figures such as Booker T. Washington, WEB DuBois, and was neighbors with Mary Talbert (orator, activist, suffragist and reformer).
Reverend Nash left an enduring legacy, not only for the citizens of Buffalo, but for the whole United States. In 1915 Reverend Nash helped to found the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and in 1927 the Buffalo Urban League. The primary function of the Buffalo Urban League was to welcome African-Americans to Western New York from the south, by helping them find housing, jobs, and a community. The urban league still exists today with the mission “To help African-Americans and others in underserved communities achieve their highest true social parity, economic self- reliance, power, and civil rights.” Reverend Nash also served as treasurer of the Western New York Baptist Association, secretary of the Baptist-Disciples Ministers Fellowship, was chaplain at Meyer Memorial Hospital (before it became ECMC), and advocated for fair housing. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Virginia Union University in 1912, and awarded one of the first Brotherhood Awards from the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
Nash retired as pastor of the Michigan Street Baptist Church in 1953. Just one year later, in honor of the Reverend, the City of Buffalo decided to rename Potter Street to Nash Street. The former Nash residence, at 36 Nash Street, was designated a historical landmark by The Buffalo Preservation Board and Buffalo Common Council in 2001. The house was restored and opened to the public as the Nash museum in 2007. To learn more about Reverend Nash and his enduring legacy please visit the Nash museum https://www.nashhousemuseum.com/