Who Was Reverend James A. Polite? 

Reverend James A. Polite Avenue in the Bronx

Good morning, everyone! As some of you may know, many of the articles you see on this site are prompted by comments on my social media spaces. The picture you see above is of a street sign for Reverend James A. Polite Avenue, and it is the cover photo on my Facebook page. More than a few people have asked me who this person is, and if we are related. The answer is yes, and I would like to go a little further. This wont be a complete history, as there are things that I still don’t know. To explain who Reverend James A. Polite is, I have to go into some family history. Reverend Polite is my great uncle, or to put it another way my grandfather’s brother.

James Arthur Polite (1899-1980) was the pastor of Thessalonia Baptist Church in the Bronx for over 40 years. Born in Beaufort, South Carolina, James was one of four Polite brothers who migrated to New York. James, moved to the Bronx, while his brother Henry (my grandfather) chose Harlem as his residence. In addition to his four decades as pastor of Thessalonia Baptist Church, James was also an activist who did a lot for the Bronx community. He was a member of the NAACP, and was so distinguished in his missionary work, that he was invited to the independence ceremony of Guyana in 1966. He was also a part of the Progressive Baptist Conference.

Due to all of his work in the community, James Polite was fondly remembered in the South Bronx. He passed in 1980, and to commemorate him, Stebbins Avenue was renamed back in 1981. Late last decade, I wrote the Bronx County Historical Society for information about the street renaming. It turns out that there was an article in the New York Times about it.  In addition to this renaming, Reverend Polite also had a playground named after him, and Thessalonia Baptist Church has a community center as well.

This picture at the top of this post was taken when my mother took me to visit Reverend James A. Polite Avenue a few years back. She wanted me to know the family history. Something for which I am grateful. I do know that Reverend Polite had a son, who I have not met. While it is a point of note that this is a prominent part of my family history, I yet and still have decided to make my own way. My literary pursuits are my way of adding to the legacy of the Polite family in New York. If you are interested in knowing where I got my information from, here are some of my sources:


“More and More Streets Get A Change but in Name Only” by Edward A. Gargan, New York Times, May 1982

History in Asphalt: The Origin of Bronx Street And Place Names, John McNamara


Until next post.. Peace!






  1. Dear Mark–What a blessing to find this treasure! I see that this was written in 2016 but I must tell you that I was “born” in Thessalonia Baptist Church! This was in the early 1960s. My first consciousness of God was right there! Your great uncle Rev. James Polite christened me. My parents met there while singing in the choir. Rev. Polite married them. He was very close to my parents and like a father figure and adviser to them. I am in the DC area now and have come across some Polites and wonder if they are related to the late Rev. Are you familiar with Veneda Polite and/or Pamela Polite, both from NYC? I enjoyed this article and I will keep up with your blogs. Bless you.

  2. Thank you so much, JS Granger. I am grateful to know of the extent of James Polite’s influence on the people who knew him personally.

    As far as I know, I am not related to Pam or Veneda Polite. I’m glad you enjoyed this article.

  3. Thank you for posting this. Beautiful! I’ve been studying my family roots and I’ve discovered alot of family from Beaufort County S.C. There are many Polites down there. We may be related. A York Polite lived close to my great grandparents York and Louisa Williams. I’ve already discovered that many of the neighbors are family. I’m interested in finding out more. Thank you again for this wonderful discovery!

  4. Thanks for sharing. I live on Rev James A Polite Ave in one of the new buildings and Thank God daily for my studio apartment as well as the whole block and Founder and Family. It’s such a blessing to have received affordable housing and my Home Church is Mount Hermon in Highbridge but since COVID, I have been worshiping at Thessalonia because they are open and never close, and God has an anointing there.

  5. You’re welcome, Donna. I’m glad to hear that Thessalonia is doing great things for the community. Thank you for reading this article, and thank you for your comment.

  6. I used knew Rev. Polite and his wife Clara very well I think my mom and dad started going to Thessalonia in the 1950’s I was in the Jr, church choir and the young adult choir. I worked as the church clerk when Mrs Jones and Mrs. Mapps were the secretarys.. and I used to teach Sunday School when I was about 18. I actually lived in his old house when he moved uptown. I was married by him . I never knew he had so much family. He was a very humble and caring man. You have a lot to proud of. Be blessed and enjoy your day. I live in Georgia now, but I miss Thessalonia and all my friends because that’s where I grew up. Was there for over 25 years.

  7. Hi Marc, Just found out today from my sister, that Rev. Polite married my mom and dad in his apartment in 1945.

  8. Good evening, Lorna. Awesome! Thank you so much for sharing that memory of Reverend Polite with me. I appreciate your comment.

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