Pastor Requests Center Street Name Change
"Bishop Nazrey Way" would honor first Bethel AME pastor, Underground Railroad icon.
What's in a name? For the congregants of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a whole lot. The Morristown church and its pastor, Sidney Williams, are hoping Town Council agrees.
On Tuesday, June 26, Williams formally requested Town Council consider renaming Center Street after Willis Nazrey, the first pastor for the church. If approved, it would become known as "Bishop Nazrey Way."
Born a slave in 1803 in Virginia, Nazrey served as Bethel AME's first pastor in 1845. It also was the first church of African-American descent in Morris County.
In 1852, Nazrey was ordained as a Bishop in New York. In response to the 1850 passage of the Fugitive Slave Act–which required fugitive slaves be returned to their masters–he was sent to Ontario, Canada (then British North America) to found Methodist-Episcopal congregations. There, Nazrey established the new Canadian-based British Methodist Episcopal Church to serve Underground Railroad refugrees who settled in the area.
In 1856, in Ontario, work began on what would become known as The Nazrey African Methodist Episcopal Building, which was added to Canada's list of historic places in 1999.
Nazrey died in 1875.
"We believe Center Street should be renamed," Williams said to Town Council. "We ask for your consideration."
Council President Michelle Dupree Harris noted during the meeting "this would a highlight for the African-American community."
This wouldn't be the first time a street was renamed to honor a figure in Morristown history. Clyde Potts Drive was renamed in honor of the former mayor. In 1991, High Street became Cattano Avenue, in honor of former mayor Anthony Cattano Sr., father of current councilmember Anthony Cattano Jr.
The resolution calling for the Center Street name change is expected to be placed on the next council agenda, for July 17.