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NY names 2 streets for Baptist pioneer Samuel Simpson

NEW YORK (BP) — New York has renamed two streets to honor the late Samuel Simpson, noted as a pioneering African American Southern Baptist pastor and community revitalizer.

“Reverend Dr. Samuel G. Simpson Way” marks the corner of 187th Street and Tiebout Avenue outside Bronx Baptist Church, and the corner of Strang and Murdock Avenues outside Wake-Eden Community Baptist Church, two congregations Simpson founded.

It’s “highly unusual” for New York to name two streets for one individual, said Frank Williams, the current pastor of both congregations who remembers Simpson as a leader, mentor and friend.

“The longer I’m in ministry, the more my appreciation grows for the wisdom, the patience and the insight that Dr. Simpson had with me while I had the opportunity to learn under his leadership,” Williams told Baptist Press days after the July 2 ceremonies renaming the streets. “He demonstrated a love for people that I now realize is one of the key components of becoming a pastor. … I’ve found myself actually functioning like him more and more.”

Simpson, a Jamaican immigrant, was highly regarded in Southern Baptist life at the local, state and national levels as a pioneer in racial reconciliation, and in New York as a leader who helped revitalize a blighted and underserved Bronx after community unrest and riots during the 1960s and 1970s. He was widely known in New York as the “Bishop of the Bronx.”

Ken Weathersby, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee vice president for convention advancement, also commended Simpson.

“He was able to work across cultural barriers to make a great impact for Jesus Christ in New York City and in the SBC,” Weathersby told BP. “I was blessed to be in his presence many times. His favorite statement, ‘God is good. It is good to be good, and it is good to do good.”‘

Michael Chance, minister of encouragement at Graffiti Church and Community Ministries, became friends with Simpson while serving as staff development director of the Metro New York Baptist Association.

“He was just a remarkable, remarkable man,” Chance said. “He just had a spirit of humility. He was full of graciousness. No matter who you were, he respected you; he talked with you as someone who deserved respect.

“When he and Mrs. Lola (Simpson’s wife) first came to the Bronx, God really laid it upon his heart to do Bible studies and plant ministries through every neighborhood in the Bronx,” Chance said. “That part of the Bronx was just full of burned out buildings. There was gang activity.” Simpson and others worked to rebuild the area, focusing on Christian and urban renewal.

Simpson died in February 2015 at the age of 83. His widow Lola Simpson told of his pioneering work as an African American Southern Baptist in New York, sharing a memory of when he told fellow black pastors in the 1960s that he was Southern Baptist.

“They laughed at him,” she said in her remarks at the noon street renaming ceremony outside Wake-Eden Community Baptist Church. “Those who lived here in the 1960s, you don’t have to wonder why they laughed at him. … He was a black man representing the Southern Baptist Convention in the Northeast, in New York, of all places.”

But when Simpson found a small home in which to plant a church with only a handful of members, other Southern Baptists stepped in to help.

“We started when the South Bronx was on fire in 1963,” she said. “And the Southern Baptist Convention bought that building for $25,000, and that is where all of this started. And so, we thank the Southern Baptist Convention.”

New York City council member Andy King, who presented the proclamation renaming the streets, said the honor is not lightly given.

“When we do in the city of New York a street renaming, [the signs] are beacons for our neighborhoods, reminders, that shining light, that inspiration that individual offered while they moved around in the flesh,” King told Bronx News 12. “When we rename the street Rev. Simpson, Rev. Simpson will always be an inspiration to those who look, and it tells the story of the impact the people had on our neighborhoods.”

Simpson was a founding member and two-term president of the Clergy Coalition of the 47th Precinct of New York and was a past chairman of the board for the Council of Churches of the City of New York. He was instrumental in founding several New York churches, including Protestant Community Church in Northern Bronx, Honeywell Baptist Chapel and New Hope Mission in Spring Valley, and Grace Baptist Chapel in the Bronx.

See BP’s 2015 Simpson obituary.