Built in 1848, Nazrey was a terminus on the famous Underground Railroad. Many refugee slaves and oppressed free blacks first felt true freedom within her 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 found 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.
With Nazrey as their foundation, over decades many leaders within the Black community emerged. Nasa McCurdy, a former slave and stone mason who helped build the church, had a descendant elec5ted as an M.P. In 1975 an Annex, built by the last five members of her congregation, was created to house the first North American Black Historical Museum. It’s continuous mission – to preserve and promote the often overlooked and untold history of the Black culture. A culture which has come to be known as the ‘Black Thread in the Canadian Tapestry’.
Through dedicated leadership and committed volunteers the new found attention Nazrey is experiencing has created renewed hope for a healthy future. The threat of crumbling walls, (and) a sagging roof or a bad storm that could have brought this beacon of freedom to the ground diminishes day by day, as the resurrection process continues. This humble house of worship, as seen through Freedom’s eyes, is now a treasured National Historic Site. Nazrey has been given a new life, a new light, a new day!
Restored use of the Nazery A.M.E. Church will enable the museum to hold heritage services and weddings, and showcase exhibits, while providing another venue to host community events. Increased awareness of Canadian Black contribution and achievement will surely lead to improved cross-cultural understanding. The resulting enlightenment will foster much needed tolerance and harmony, helping to wipe out racism and prejudice. Other benefits, such as improved economic opportunities, could well arise through increased tourism and heritage partnering. Most importantly, the history of the Blacks in Canada is a saga that touches on many underlying issues of global significance. Issues that may very well be cleared up or erased by knowing the whole story and the true story presented at our museum.
From Emancipation Gala program honouring Betty Simpson July 31, 1999.