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Archive for June 11th, 2020

delmarmitchell

Ellicott Mall Property shown in red. Delmar Mitchell Drive shown in orange.

Given what is going on these days, we are featuring streets named after our Black brothers and sisters this month here on Discovering Buffalo, One Street at a Time.  Specifically, this is Part 2 in a series of  four streets built in the 1990s in the Ellicott Neighborhood – Minnie Gillette Drive, Delmar Mitchell Drive, Ora Wrighter Drive and King Peterson Drive.   To read more about how the Ellicott Mall urban renewal project changed this neighborhood and to learn about Minnie Gillette, please read Part 1.  Today’s post is about Delmar Mitchell Drive.  Delmar Mitchell was the first African American elected to citywide office in Buffalo.  Parts 3 and 4 will be coming in the next week.

182x250-8c80b44abf53355884ecd0e80497c5f1Delmar Mitchell was born to Lee and Tobitha Mitchell in February 1918 in Providence, Kentucky.  He was raised in Glen Cove, Illinois, outside of Chicago.  He attended DuSable High School, the University of Illinois  in Champaign and DePaul University.  He served in the US Army during WWII, rising to the rank of captain and serving in both the Pacific and European fronts.  He earned a Purple Heart for his service.  He later worked for the US Department of Justice, in the Intelligence Section.

Mr. Mitchell moved to Buffalo in 1949.  He worked in the hotel business for 8 years, operating Mitchell’s Corner hotel and bar.  Mitchell’s Corner was located at 527 Genesee Street, at Camp Street (near Jefferson).  The building no longer exists.

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Campaign Ad for Mr. Mitchell in the Buffalo Criterion, 1963

He was first elected in 1957, when he was elected to represent the old 13th Ward in the Erie County Legislature.  He was named Masten District Councilman in 1961 after the death of Cora P. Maloney, the first African-American woman on the Council.   He was re-elected twice in the Masten District before winning election as Council Member at Large in 1965, the first African American to hold citywide office.  He became Council Majority Leader in 1970 and Council President in 1974, a position he held until 1983.  He was considered to be a skilled councilmen as well as a gifted consensus builder.  He was also known to take people into the back conference room of his Council Office, a room he called the woodshed.  At his last Council meeting in 1983, he is reported to have said “Lay your petty differences aside. Buffalo is greater than any individual. You tell me your dreams, and I’ll tell you mine.”

He was a supporter of many of the City’s efforts during the 1970s and 1980s.  He helped to bring about the Metro Rail, the Buffalo Hilton (later the Adam’s Mark, now the Buffalo Grand) and the Buffalo Convention Center.  He was also an important part of establishing an elected Board of Education for the city and the City’s school desegregation plan.  He was credited with ensuring that the Board would have a representative number of blacks on the School Board, and that the school board would be free of politics.

He was honored often throughout his career.  He was the Buffalo News Citizen of the Year in 1974.  He was awarded the Medgar Evers Civil Rights Award in 1983 by the NAACP.  He received an honorary degree from Canisius College in 1971.  He was honored by the 100 Black Men of Buffalo Club in 1994.

Mr. Mitchell was well respected by many of his fellow councilmen, and served as a mentor for many as they served both with him and after his retirement.  The Hamlin Park Community and Taxpayers Association installed a bust of Mr. Mitchell in the Delavan-College train station in 1994.    In 2018, the Common Council passed a resolution, sponsored by all nine councilmen, to name the new facility at 612 Northland in the Northland Corridor Redevelopment Project as the “Delmar Mitchell Entrepreneurial Center”.  The resolution states:  “Delmar Mitchell was a trailblazing leader for his community whose legacy can inspire people in Buffalo to emulate his enterprising spirit, commitment to community service, and zeal for personal professional development.”

Mr. Mitchell retired to Hinsdale/Olean, New York.  It’s reported that he joked with his friends that he was moving there to integrate the countryside.  He had four sons – Delmar Jr, Joseph, Gregory and Darryl.  Mr.  Mitchell died on December 16, 1996 at the age of 77.  He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.  After his death, the Buffalo News reported, “He was a man seeking racial harmony in a community that didn’t always want it. Perhaps if he could have taken Buffalo area citizens one-by-one to the back-back office for a talk about dreams, it might have worked out better.”

So, think of Mr. Mitchell as we continue to work to build a better community today.  Stay tune for parts 3 and 4 of this series coming next week.  To learn about other streets, check out the street index.

Sources:

  • McNeil, Harold.  “Delmar Mitchell, First Black To Win Citywide Office, Dies.  Buffalo News.  December 16, 1996.
  • “Delmar Mitchell”  Uncrowned Community Builders.  https://www.uncrownedcommunitybuilders.com/person/delmar-mitchell.  Accessed June 2020.
  • Buffao Common Council Minutes.  Oct. 4, 2018.  Agenda Item 18-1661
  • Tyler, Steven.  Desegregation in Boston and Buffalo:  the Influence of Local Leaders.  State University of New York Press, Albany:  1998.
  • Gates, George. “Remembering Delmar Mitchell:  Too Bad He Couldn’t Have Taken All of Buffalo to his Back-Back Room for a Dose of His Famous Persuasion and a Lesson that ‘Epidermis’ Doesn’t Matter”.  Buffalo News.  December 21, 1996.

 

 

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