SIMPSON, Melvin ‘Mac’ Thomas and Betty Ruth Beatrice (nee Johnson)
Co-founders: North American Black Historical Museum (now: Freedom Museum), Amherstburg
Born: October 17, 1916; and May 11, 1925
Death: January 7, 1982 (Melvin); and April 4, 2014 (Betty)
Involvement in community projects can provide meaning to life, beyond what can be achieved through one’s occupation. So it was for the husband and wife team of Melvin and Betty Simpson, two of the founders of the North American Black Historical Museum (now the Freedom Museum) of Amherstburg.
Mr. Simpson, a native of Essex County,Ontario attended General Amherst High School as
a youth, where he belonged to Cadets and the Glee Club. He had a fine baritone voice and there are several reports of his singing performances to be found in the local paper. From his father, Jerome “Rome” Simpson, who for many years was a head gardener on Bob-Lo Island, Melvin must have acquired a skill for working with plants, as he found employment as a floral designer at Gray’s Greenhouse, also in Amherstburg. Mrs. Simpson, (daughter of Harriet and Harlan Johnson) grew up across the road from the Simpsons in Colchester. As an adult she worked in Windsor at Hotel Dieu as an EEG technician.
In the early 1960s Mr. Simpson became more involved in community activities. For a period he was on the Board of Directors for the House of Shalom. An Amherstburg Echo newspaper article reported, “He noted the apathy of young black people and he felt they needed to be inspired by the achievements of their forefathers.” He felt the need could be best served by devoting permanent space to local black history. Mr. Simpson was a long time member of the Nazery African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church on King Street. In 1964, the Simpsons, along with the pastor and other parishioners, developed plans to construct a Centennial museum on adjacent property to the church, itself an institution with roots going back to the mid 1800s. Despite a sod turning ceremony in 1967 and the support of local MP Eugene Whalen, it would be many years before the dream was realized.
The North American Historical Museum received its charter in 1975. Many fundraising
campaigns and applications for government grants later, the North American Black Historical Museum and Cultural Centre celebrated its official opening on Sunday September 20, 1981. Sadly, just six months after the museum’s doors opened to the public, Melvin Simpson died at age 65. Likenesses of Mr. Simpson may be seen in a carved bust, and a painted portrait, owned by the museum. More recently his portrait is one of many notable people contained in a Black history mural, installed in Paterson Park, in Windsor’s west end. The Mac Simpson Award, administered by the Freedom Museum, is given annually to at least one student of African descent who is currently attending a secondary school in the Essex County region and will be continuing to post-secondary studies.
His wife, Betty Simpson, also instrumental in helping to establish the centre, continued her association with the museum after her husband’s death. For many years she served on the museum’s board of directors. In 1982, the Town of Amherstburg presented Mrs. Simpson with a plaque officially recognizing the work she and her husband performed to save and promote local Black history. She was one of seven local people recognized by the Government of Canada in 1993, receiving the Canada 125 medal. Mrs. Simpson died April 4, 2014.
Amherstburg Echo. Oct. 20, 1916.
Amherstburg Echo. June 1, 1934, p. 5.
Amherstburg Echo. Jun3 17, 1938, p. 14.
Amherstburg Echo. Dec. 13, 1956, p. 1.
Amherstburg Echo. Sept. 23, 1981, p. 14.
Amherstburg Echol. Jan. 13, 1982, p. 16.
Windsor Star. July 31, 1967, p. A12
Windsor Star. May 22, 1970. p. 21
Windsor Star. Feb. 26, 1972, p. 34
Windsor Star. July 26, 1977, p. 17
Windsor Star. July 13, 1979, p. 61
Windsor Star, Jan. 8, 1982, p. A7
Windsor Star. Jan. 7, 1982, p. C7
Windsor Star. Sept. 13, 1983, p. 3
Windsor Star. Feb. 24, 1993, p. 45
Windsor Star. April 9, 2014, p. D4
Windsor Star. April 10, 2014, p. A2
Freedom Museum (Amhertburg, Ontario) http://amherstburgfreedom.org