Archive for November 25th, 2020

Screenshot (7)William L. Gaiter Parkway was a newer street relative to many of Buffalo’s streets.  The Parkway was constructed during the 1990s on an abandoned railway line from Kensington Avenue to Delevan Avenue.  The Kensington Expressway (Route 33) is near the middle of the parkway.  The road follows a portion of the path of the former Erie Railroad.  During planning for the roadway, it was referred to as the Northeast Parkway, but was quickly named after William (Bill) Gaiter.

7._bill_gaiter_-_akg8324William Luther Gaiter was born in 1927 in Alabama in a small town outside of Selma.  Mr. Gaiter moved to Buffalo by the 1950s and worked in Buffalo as a bus driver.  After events that happened in his hometown of Selma and throughout the south, he wanted to get involved in the Civil Rights movement by attending a 1966 meeting of BUILD(Building Unity, Independence, Liberty and Dignity) – the activist Black federation of religious and community groups.    The day after Reverend Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, April 5, 1968, he became President of BUILD.  In 1970, he became Executive Director of BUILD.    While he was director, he helped to develop the halfway house that BUILD ran, as well as an outreach recruitment center.

During this time, BUILD was a large part of the changes that were happening in the Black community.  BUILD confronted, demonstrated, picketed and fought for a better community.  City Hall, the School Board and the Police Headquarters were targets of change for the organization.

The organization convinced the Buffalo Board of Education to establish the BUILD Academy in the public schools.  BUILD Academy was established in 1969, serving as basically a charter school years before charter or magnet schools were a thing.  BUILD Academy was the first school in the city to provide free breakfast for poor children and the first to offer full day kindergarten.  Parents had a major say in how the school ran.  The school promoted Black cultural awareness and tolerance towards others.  The school moved from Clinton Street to Fougeron Street in the 1975.  The BUILD Organization faded in the 1980s and the school operated until 2018 when it was closed.  The school reopened the following year as PS 91 BUILD Community School.

Mr. Gaiter also headed a counseling program, STAR – Student Timeout for Academic Renewal.  He also developed a Behavior Counseling Program for high school students who were at risk of dropping out.

During Mr. Gaiter’s tenure as director of BUILD, working with Claudia Sims and Judson Price, he organized the first Juneteenth Festival in Buffalo in 1976.   Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery and is also known as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, and Jubilee Day.  It is officially on June 19th, which is the date the Union Army General arrived into Galveston Texas in 1865 to free the people in slavery.  Since Texas was the most remote slave owning state, it took the longest for the Union troops to arrive there and officially free the slaves.  While Juneteenth recognizes the end of slavery, it was still legal and practiced in Delaware and Kentucky until the 13th Amendment was ratified in December of that year.  The first Juneteenth celebrations were held in Texas beginning the following year and were held across the South into the 1920s and 30s.  After the Civil Rights Era in the 1960s, Juneteenth celebrations began to spread across the country.

Juneteenth Buffalo was established as a cultural alternative to counter the Bicentennial Celebrations happening across the country and in Buffalo during the Fourth of July 1976.  Juneteenth was originally held on Jefferson Avenue, which served as “Main Street” for Buffalo’s Black community.  The festival eventually outgrew Jefferson Avenue and moved to Martin Luther King Jr Park.   Buffalo’s Juneteenth celebration is one of the largest in the Country (often listed as 3rd largest or the largest, but I could not find sources to verify this fact.)

In 1984, he formed the Western New York Council for African Relief.  This organization worked to improve the quality of life in a selected African community and develop ties between Africa and Western New York.  He went to the village of Malika in Senegal to deliver more than $75,000 raised by 47,000 Buffalo school children.  During the famine in Ethiopia, he organized a fundraising effort to bring relief to the victims.  He developed a student Exchange Program that allowed 500 American students to study the Senegalese Culture.  He served as President of the Institute of People Enterprises, which he organized in 1978.  The Institute for People Enterprises served as a support organization for community groups to connect people and organizations.

BUILD fought to make sure that minority construction workers got their fair share of the work.  Mr. Gaiter fought with the University at Buffalo in 1968 to get minority workers on construction jobs.  In 1983, he was appointed Equal Employment Opportunity Coordinator for Erie County.  this position monitors and improves the county’s hiring of minorities and helps provide opportunities for minority businesses.  He remained a part of the struggle to increase opportunities for minorities – in 1996, he made sure that Roswell Park Hospital gave contracts to minorities as the Affirmative Action/EEO Officer for Roswell’s Remodernization Project.  He also worked with the Buffalo Affirmative Action Program, which recruited, trained and unionized minorities in the construction industry in Buffalo and WNY.

Mr. Gaiter was named Buffalo News Citizen of the Year in 1988.  In 1993, he received the Buffalo Urban League Evans-Young Humanitarian Award.  He was recipient of  many other honors, including the Buffalo Challenger Buffalo Citizen Award, Phyllis Wheatley Club Certificate of Appreciation,  and the Black Educators Association Community Service Award.  He also served on the Board of Erie County Crisis Center, City of Buffalo Manpower Planning Advisory Council, Board of Directors Sheehan Memorial Hospital,  and the Board of Architectural and Environmental Planning Traineeship Program at UB.

Mr. Gaiter also worked as a political strategist.  He was Field Operations Coordinator for Arthur Eve’s mayoral campaign in 1977.  He coordinated a Voter Registration Campaign which registered 10,000 new voters!  The democratic primary turnout for that election was a historic 81%.  That was the highest voter turnout in the history of the Northeast.  Mr. Gaiter also worked hard on the campaigns for Wilbur Trammel and George K. Arthur when they ran for Mayor.  He taught a course on Social and Political Organizing at the Cora P. Maloney College at the State University of New York in Buffalo.

William L. Gaiter died on April 20, 1997 while attending services at Free Spirit Missionary Baptist Church.  He left behind his wife and 14 children.

In August 1998, ground was broken for the Northeast Parkway project.  The road construction project was designed to connect American Axle directly to the Kensington Expressway.  The commitment to build the road was an agreement between American Axle and Mayor Masiello.  The road was built partly in an effort to save United Auto Worker jobs at the East Delevan Avenue plant.  The idea was that the road would provide better access in and out of the plant for both raw materials and finished products, allowing the plant to remain open.  Before the shovels were even in the ground, it was decided that the road was going to be named in memory of William Gaiter.

gaiter business center

William L Gaiter Business Center

Opening of William Gaiter Parkway also allowed vacant or underutilized brownfield land along the rail corridor to be put back to use.  In addition to supporting American Axle, the road improved access for a dozen other business when it opened.  Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation (BERC) created the William Gaiter Business Center, which opened in October 1999.  The center was designed as a business incubator to help grow the industrial, commercial warehousing and distribution companies in Northeast Buffalo.  The 25,000 square foot Business Center was 100% leased when it opened, occupied by five businesses.  Three of the businesses were minority or women-owned.  The businesses created 50 new jobs and retained 25 existing jobs.  The companies included QTA Machining,  American Window Creations, Quality inspection Services, American Rated Cable & Communications, and Gas Technology Energy Concepts.  Business Incubators such as this one are designed for businesses to get a cheap rent while they are starting out in order to grow and become successful.  The Business Center was purchased by Safetec International in 2015.

A multi use trail also runs parallel to William Gaiter Parkway.  There are currently efforts by the University District Community Development Association to build the Northeast Greenway Trail which would connect the existing trail along William Gaiter Parkway with the North Buffalo Rail Trail in North Buffalo.

So think of Bill Gaiter the next time you pass by William L Gaiter Parkway or next year when we celebrate Juneteenth, and as we continue our fight for more justice.

If you’d like to learn about other streets, check out the Street Index.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the page to be notified when new posts are made.  You can do so by entering your email address in the box on the upper right hand side of the home page.  You can also follow the blog on facebook.  If you enjoy the blog, please be sure to share it with your friends.


  • “William L. Gaiter”  Uncrowned Community Builders.  https://www.uncrownedcommunitybuilders.com/person/william-1
  • Obrien, Barbara and Mike Vogel.  “William Gaiter, Activist, Civil Rights Leader, Dies.”  Buffalo News.  April 21, 1997.
  • “Mayor Breaks Ground for Northeast Parkway”.  Buffalo News.  August 27, 1997.
  • “Remembering Bill Gaiter”.  Buffalo New.  August 25, 1998.
  • Sapong, Emma and Susan Schulman.  “Juneteenth Celebrates Slavery’s End”.  Buffalo News.  June 15, 2001.

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