Reverend Dr. Coleman Briggs Passes Away at 90

By Jennifer L. Warren

NEWBURGH – Words can barely do justice to the impact Reverend Dr. Coleman Briggs had on the City of Newburgh.

Dubbed in 2002 as one of Newburgh’s Most Influential Persons, Briggs passed away last Wednesday, April 15, after suffering a long, strong fought battle with tuberculosis and recently falling victim to Covid-19. The pastor, preacher, teacher, brother, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather as well as friend and mentor to so many, carries the lofty distinction of the first African-American elected to the Newburgh School Board. Known as a trailblazing, positive, righteous and loving figure throughout Newburgh, Briggs fought relentlessly to end segregation as well as provide a better setting for the residents in the City he loved, Newburgh. And Newburgh loved him back, renaming the original Mill Street, home to The New Hope Baptist Church where he was a distinguished pastor for 52 years, “Dr. Coleman Briggs Way.”

Born March 29, 1930, the eldest of 10 siblings, Briggs went on to earn two Doctorate Degrees, both while working full-time at Empire National Bank. After his first wife Dorothy passed away, he diligently and lovingly raised their six children by himself. He would later go on to remarry, Pastor Dollyann Newkirk-Briggs, who cared for him for several years before he was moved to Wingate Nursing Home a year-and-a-half ago. A pastor herself, Newkirk-Briggs will carry on her late husband’s teachings at Baptist Temple Church.

Those pearls of wisdom were golden to so many during Briggs’ long and impressive pastor tenure. Beginning his career at Progressive Baptist Church in Kingston, Briggs moved on to Poughkeepsie’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, before finally landing in his long-time “home,” New Hope Baptist Church in the City of Newburgh in 1960. Delivering unwavering support, enlightenment and profound lessons to his congregations, Briggs was deeply respected. While Briggs was the Pastor at New Hope, the membership significantly spiked. Further, he led an arduous effort to renovate and expand the New Hope facility.

A President, Chairman, Moderator, and Secretary on several local Committees and Boards, Briggs was extremely active in prison ministry, specifically leading Bible classes at Wallkill Correctional Facility and Orange County Jail in Goshen. Additionally, he founded the Newburgh Bible Institute, led his integral Church ministry efforts, and wrote grants to aid assistance for funds and food for the United Way and the Regional Food Bank of New York. The testimony to his extensive involvements and accomplishments can be found in the numerous people whose lives he forever changed. One of them was City of Newburgh Mayor, Torrance Harvey, who was emotionally touched when hearing about the loss of Briggs last week.

“Dr. Coleman Briggs was a decorated Korean War veteran, who not only served our great nation in difficult times on the battlefield, but he too has served many days and nights on our City’s battlefield for justice and peace as well as equality for the people of Newburgh for many years,” Harvey posted on a social media site. “His abilities to bring people to the lord’s house were a blessing to so many; Dr. Briggs was and always will be a mentor to me and many others, and his rich legacy shall always be remembered for many years to come.”
Much of that legacy will transcend through his wife, Newkirk-Briggs in her ongoing role as a pastor as well as many others delivering the word of God.

“My husband was in a sense “Mr. Newburgh,” as he mentored so many young people who went on to be pastors all over the country,” said Newkirk-Briggs. “He truly loved the Lord, and was genuinely concerned about those who lived in poverty and had issues with crime.” Reflecting further, Briggs’ wife of nearly 20 years added, “If I had not married him, I would have never known what it was like to be in love; I called him Sugarbear, and I will miss him, but know that he gave all he could while he was here and that God now wants him now to be at rest.”

That rest officially came on Monday, when an impressive-sized procession, beginning at Rhodes Funeral Home in the City of New Windsor, traveled though the City of Newburgh, in honor of Briggs. In accordance with the Corona Virus social distancing guidelines, family, friends and community members, expressed their love and support from their vehicles.

Stopping first at New Hope Mission Baptist Church on 20 Dr. Reverend Coleman Briggs Way, the procession continued on to Baptist Temple Church on 7-11 William Street, before stopping at Woodlawn Cemetery in New Windsor, where Briggs was laid to rest.

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