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Nazrey Church: A Beacon of Hope in Amherstburg since 1848

nazrey.jpgBuilt in 1848, Nazrey A.M.E. Church was a terminus on the fa-mous Underground Railroad. Many refugee slaves and oppressed free blacks first felt true freedom within its walls.

After crossing the Detroit River to Amherstburg, Ontario, one of the narrowest points of entry, these individuals became people in a nation where they were recognized and respected, some perhaps for the first time, as fellow human beings.

Upon arrival in Amherstburg they discovered that Nazrey played a significant role in their new found life, initially, by offering itself as an interim resting place until permanent housing could be found. Later, it served as both a school, to educate those who had been denied that privilege and as a centre of socialization where numerous everyday skills (second nature to Europeans by right of birth) were taught.

Over the decades, many leaders within the Black community emerged because of the Nazrey foundation. Nasa McCurdy, a former slave and stone mason who helped build the church, had a descendant, Howard McCurdy, elected as member of Canadian Parliament.

In 1975, an Annex, built by five members of the congregation and spearheaded by Melvin and Betty Simpson, was created to house the first North American Black Historical Museum. Its continuous mission, to preserve and promote the often overlooked and untold history of Black culture, a culture which has come to be known as the "Black Thread in the Canadian Tapestry".

Its focus includes the Underground Railroad, Canadian Black settlement and the accomplishments and constitutions of the people of African origin.

The Simpson's were required to locate another site due to government restrictions regarding church usages and to that end, raised over $300,000 which allowed them to purchase the present museum building which opened in September,1981, just months before Melvin Simpson died. Betty Simpson remains active with the museum to this day.

Nazrey Church has been undergoing a badly needed restoration and on September 23rd, the resurrection of Nazrey will be celebrated with a service to mark its re-opening and recent National Historic Site Designation. The day's events include baptisms of Nazrey descendants, a plaque unveiling, Time Capsule activity, cake, and continuous musical tributes. The opening ceremonies start at 11 a.m.

Nazrey and the North American Black Historical Museum are located in Amherstburg at 277 King Street. Call 736-5433 for directions or more information.

Next Story: Black Presence in Windsor & Sandwich



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