Correspondence between the Reverend J. Edward Nash, Sr., Pastor, Michigan Street Baptist Church, Buffalo, NY and African-American Soldiers during World War II

By Smith, Gabriel | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, January 2004 | Go to article overview
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Correspondence between the Reverend J. Edward Nash, Sr., Pastor, Michigan Street Baptist Church, Buffalo, NY and African-American Soldiers during World War II


Smith, Gabriel, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


There is little else that compares to the personal magnitude of a letter. In a letter, one will impart to another the very personal, the very emotional, or the very frightening. Without having to bear the awkwardness of face to face communication, one can speak the uncomfortable truth. A soldier will write many letters: a letter to a mother, a friend, a sweetheart, or a confidant. Letters home from soldiers convey the isolation they feel so far from home or reveal fears they would not dare to divulge to other soldiers. A soldier's letters home also serve as a testament to the circumstances of the war in which they serve.

During the Second World War, African-American soldiers found that the circumstances of the war in which they fought often times stood in contrast to the world from whence they had come. The reality often conflicted with the ideals they had sworn to fight for, and if needs be, die for. Segregated units in the armed services, Jim Crow segregation at home, unequal access to jobs and education, and a general marginalization as second-class citizens constituted only a small portion of the situation faced by young African-American soldiers as they enlisted or were drafted into the military on the eve of U.S. involvement in World War II. This reality marked the perception of African-American soldiers as they prepared to fight a war against the Axis powers, and for the liberation of the Jewish people of Europe who had suffered at the hands of Nazi racism. What an irony this must have seemed for a young African-American soldier, who could see in the genocide of the Jews the lynchings of the South.

For the young African-American soldiers from the Michigan Street Baptist Church of Buffalo, New York, this irony would have been felt. Nonetheless, as true patriots committed to the ideals of democracy and the liberation of all subjugated peoples, they marched off to war. The Michigan Street Baptist Church had been the anchor of their community prior to entrance in the service, and would continue to be so during their service. Approximately 40 young black soldiers from the Michigan Street Baptist Church were involved in the deployments of World War II. (2) Their correspondence with their Pastor, Reverend J. Edward Nash, would serve as a testament to truth of the circumstances of the war in which they served, their personal experiences, and the endeavors of their spiritual community at home to tend their needs.

The Michigan Street Baptist Church of Buffalo, New York has a long and distinctive history within the local African-American community and the City of Buffalo at large. (3) The church was originally formed some time between 1832 and 1837, comprised of the Black congregants of the Washington Street Church--the first Baptist church in Buffalo. (4) The Michigan Street Baptist Church came to inhabit its building at 511 Michigan St. in 1846, after a campaign of fundraising within the community. (5) In 1974, having been witness to, and participant in, nearly a century and a half of struggle for racial equality, the church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The church's role in the struggle for racial equality is as old as the organization of the church itself. As was the case of other black churches being organized at this time throughout New York State and the United States, the Michigan Street Baptist Church rose to the challenge of confronting the scourge of slavery. In 1842, before the congregation possessed the ability to worship in a building of their own, the church adopted a resolution opposing the institution of slavery. (6) Buffalo's close proximity to Canada provided a stream of fugitive slaves seeking safety across the border, and the church availed itself as a "stop" on the Underground Railroad. (7) In the twentieth century, the Michigan Street Baptist Church was involved in campaigns for decent housing, civil rights, and equal employment opportunities for African-Americans.

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