‘My father would be very proud:’ Part of Hamilton street to be named for longtime minister

Part of South Fourth Street soon will become “Rev. Dr. Norman L. Townsel Sr. Way,” after the longtime Hamilton minister.

Hamilton City Council recently voted unanimously for the honorary name change, between Pershing Avenue and Central Avenue, with Townsel’s family present.

For 46 years, Townsel led Hamilton’s largest African-American church, Pilgrim Baptist Church, on the street where the honorary renaming will occur, when signs are ready in coming weeks.

As the first African-American pastor in Hamilton to earn a doctorate degree, along with two master’s degrees, he was a “standout preacher, teacher and advocate for educating the black youth of the city,” according to a city proclamation Mayor Pat Moeller read.

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The church is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. As its leader, Townsel made many improvements, including developing the Notre Dame Center, now known as the Sherman Manor. Among other improvements, the church built a new edifice, an addition, and started a day care center.

The church grew in numbers, spiritually and financially under his leadership, during which nine people were called to ministry, three of them women, officials said.

Officials said one accomplishment of which Townsel was proudest was the creation of a scholarship committee, made up of educators and others who believed education was key to leaving poverty behind. Hundreds of students in the congregation went to college on scholarships, becoming lawyers, teachers, doctors, pastors, nurses, accountants and architects, among other professions, and the committee continues today.

He served on numerous city, hospital and nonprofit boards and led the move in 1968 for hiring of African-American teachers and school administrators. When racial tensions simmered in the city, he was a voice of reason, with city leaders often asking him to quell tensions. That made him a controversial figure with some.

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He was an assistant principal and teacher in the Princeton school system and a professor at Payne Theological Seminary.

Among his honors were the City of Hamilton Distinguished Achievement Award, Martin Luther King Citizens Award, 2004 Freedom Fighter Award, and the Writers Award from the national publication, “The Worker.”

Moeller said in such street namings, he likes using the word “way,” because, “it’s the way they lived that’s so important, and that’s what we need to role-model ourselves after.”

“On behalf of the family, we would like to thank you, council, for recognition of our father’s dedication to the city of Hamilton,” said Norman Townsel’s son, Norman Townsel Jr. “We would also like to thank those of you who came from the congregation to witness this momentous occasion.

“My father would be very proud, and we are very proud that it’s happening. And we look forward to driving down that street, and seeing that name.”

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