Archive for February 25th, 2023

Black History Month

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Streets Named After Black People Shown in Red

Last week we talked about President’s Day.  This month is also Black History Month.  Did you know there’s kind of a connection between the two?  Black History Month started with celebrations of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays on February 12 and 14th respectively.  They both figure largely into Black History in the United States – President Lincoln for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and Frederick Douglas was a Black abolitionist, author and orator.  After their respective deaths, the Black Community began celebrating their contributions to African American liberation and civil rights on their birthdays.  In 1924, Carter Woodson, who pioneered the field of African American Studies, introduced “Negro History and Literature Week”.  It started as being recognized by his college fraternity, Omega Psi Psi.  In 1926, it was launched as Negro History Week by Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH).  By the 1940s, some communities began to recognize February as Negro History Month.  As the  Civil Rights movement arose in the 1960s, the week became Black History Month in additional places.  By 1976, the month had become widespread and President Ford urged Americans to participate in the observance of the month.  Rooting Black History Month in February, the month honors the legacy of Lincoln and Douglass, and includes the history and achievements of Black History in general.

history week

Notice in the Buffalo Times newspaper from 1930 about Negro History Week in Buffalo.

Negro History Week was recognized in Buffalo as early as 1924.  Local lectures were given at the Michigan Street YMCA, an important institution in Buffalo’s Black Community and information about the week was reported in the newspapers, including the Buffalo American (a Black Newspaper) and The Buffalo News.

The Black Community has early roots in Buffalo.  The first recorded Black man to live here was Joseph Hodge in the 1790s.  A Black Community grew in Buffalo, centered around Michigan Avenue.  In 1831, the Colored Methodist Society was organized as a religious body, the first African-American faith based institution in Buffalo.  The congregation worshipped in a house on Carroll Street and in 1839 they moved into a frame building on Vine Street.  Vine Street is no longer extant, it was off of Michigan Street between Eagle and Broadway; it was removed when William Street was rerouted.  In 1845, the original Vine Street Church was replaced by a new brick structure. The Vine Street African Methodist Episcopal Church remained on Vine Street until 1928, when they moved to Eagle Street, where they were located for another 25 years.  They moved to Michigan Avenue in Cold Spring in the 1950s and still operate as Bethel AME Church.


Michigan Street Baptist Church

The Michigan Street Baptist Church was founded in 1836 and in 1845, they built their church around the corner from the Vine Street Church.  The Michigan Street Baptist Church is still standing on Michigan Avenue, and is an anchor institution of the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor.

Michigan Street was home to a large celebration in April 1870 to celebrate the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which granted African American men the right to vote.  There was a 38-gun salute, worship services and a parade that ran down Michigan to Seneca, Seneca to Main, Main to Virginia, Virginia to Delaware, Delaware to Eagle, Eagle to St. James Hall.  The Hall was full for a celebration and a reading of President Grant’s proclamation upon the adoption of the Amendment.

Over the years, some streets have been named after members of Buffalo’s Black Community.

  • Nash Street – Named after Jesse Nash, one of Buffalo’s most prominent African American citizens in the first half of the 20th Century and the long time pastor of the Michigan Street Baptist Church.  His house is still located on Nash Street and now operates as a museum.  You can visit the Nash House Museum

    Dr. Nash’s Portrait on Buffalo Freedom Wall. Source: Albright Knox Art Gallery

    on Saturdays from 11am to 4pm.

  • Mary Johnson Blvd and Gladys Holmes Blvd – Named for Mary Johnson and Gladys Holmes, two community advocates in the Ellicott Neighborhood
  • Mary B Talbert Blvd – Named for Mary Burnett Talbert, who was named the most famous colored person in the country during her time.  She worked to advance rights for Black people and was a part of the Niagara Movement – which had it’s first meetings at her house on Michigan Avenue.  Three posts are dedicated to her, you can read them here:  Part OnePart Two, and Part Three


    Mary Talbert’s Portrait at Buffalo Freedom Wall. Source: Albright Art Gallery

  • Delmar Mitchell Drive – Named for Delmar Mitchell, the first African American elected to City-Wide Office
  • Ora Wrighter Drive – Named for Ora Wrighter, A Community Activist who fought for the people
  • Minnie Gillette Drive – Named for Minnie Gillette, the first African American County Legislator


    Minnie Gillette Portrait on Buffalo Freedom Wall. Source: Albright Knox Art Gallery

  •  King Peterson Drive – Named for King Peterson, the First (Acting) Black Mayor of a Major City.  He served as Acting Mayor in 1956 while the Mayor and Common Council president was out of town.  It was such big news that a Black man was a mayor, even temporarily, it was printed in papers across the country, including Chicago and LA.


    King Peterson Portrait on Buffalo Freedom Wall. Source: Albright Knox Art Gallery.

  • William L. Gaiter Parkway – Named for William Gaiter, former president of BUILD (Building Unity, Independence, Liberty and Dignity) the activist Black organization.


    Bill Gaitor Portrait on Buffalo Freedom Wall. Source: Albright Knox Art Gallery

As you can see, despite Buffalo’s strong Black Community since it’s founding, there are still few recognitions of the accomplishments of our Black Community Members in the form of street names.  Many of these street names have only been designated in the last few decades.

To learn more about important Black Buffalonians and the Black history of Buffalo, I encourage you to visit the following websites:

  • Uncrowned Community Builders – This website is run by the Uncrowned Queens Institute for Research and Education on Women, Inc, founded by Barbara Seals Nevergold, PhD and Dr. Peggy Brooks-Bertram, PhD..  They have been working to research, document and preserve the regional histories of African American women and men in WNY since 1999.  The project began as a part of the Women’s Pavilion Pan Am 2001 for the 100th anniversary of the Pan American Exposition to document the contributions of African American women and African women’s involvement in the Exposition and the contributions of African American women in the century after the Exposition.  They expanded their mission to also include “Uncrowned Kings” in addition to the “Uncrowned Women” and their website became Uncrowned Community Builders.  Their website is a tremendous resource and they have compiled biographies of more than 1200 African American men and women!
  • African American History of Western New York – This website is run by The Circle Brotherhood Association, a group of African American men practicing, and dedicated to, the quality of life, successful manhood and parenting, economic growth and development, and the pursuit of excellence and spiritual development.  Their website looks at the historical presence of Blacks in Buffalo, Rochester, Jamestown, Syracuse, Geneva, Ithaca, Corning, Niagara Falls, Canandaigua, Fredonia and WNY from 1700 to 2000.

I was really moved last week by the words of Judge Susan Eagan last week during the sentencing of the racist responsible for the May 14th massacre at Tops on Jefferson.  Judge Eagan spoke about the history of systemic racism and how it’s the responsibility of all of us to ensure that we put an end to it.  Here is an except from her statement:

The ugly truth is that our nation was founded and built in part on white supremacy, starting with the treatment of Native Americans by the first European settlers to the cruel, inhumane economic engine nation building practice of slavery, to indentured servitude, to Jim Crow laws, to government policies creating segregated public housing with communities of color often placed in environmentally hazardous locations, to the manner in which expressways were built, dividing urban neighborhoods to create easy access to government-subsidized developments in the suburbs with restrictive covenants prohibiting the sale of suburban homes to African Americans, to redlining practices in communities of color further devaluing those neighborhoods, to the GI Bill, a well-deserved financial boon to our servicemen unless of course, you were a serviceman of color, to the war on drugs and mass incarceration disproportionately of men of color to the school-to-prison pipeline, to inequities in education, employment opportunities and compensation to the existence of food deserts and inadequacies in health care.

Our history is replete with both individual and systemic discriminatory practices, many of them still firmly in place today. In fact, it is these very policies and practices that contributed to and made this atrocity possible.

The effects of these policies, some current and others decades and centuries old, created the segregation in our city and enabled this defendant to research and identify this target to maximize the impact of his evil intent. All of these policies and systems either sponsored or tolerated by the government and implemented by individuals were designed to destroy the very fabric of family life, opportunities for success, the creation of generational wealth and even the mere existence of hope in communities of color. The harsh reality is that white supremacy has been an insidious cancer on our society and nation since its inception. And it undermines the notions of a meritocracy in the land of opportunity that we hold so dear.

However, white supremacy is not inevitable, or unstoppable. It has been carefully cultivated and nurtured by individuals and the government for centuries. This is the history that we have all inherited. It has been passed down from generation to generation. We must acknowledge that history, see that history for what it is, recognize it and learn from it, or we are doomed to repeat it.

Let ours be the generation to put a stop to it. We can do better. We must do better. Our own humanity requires it. As an individual, we must call out injustice in our daily lives when we see it.

We must reject racism in all of its forms. We must be conscious of the power of our words and actions and the impact they have on those around us, both intended and unintended. We must demand better of our public servants in their efforts to address inequity and we must embrace government policies aimed at creating and fostering diversity, equity and inclusion. We must make the outpouring of support, love and compassion that followed this heinous act an everyday practice. We are stronger together.

These are hard and challenging times. Our characters are being tested. The future of our nation is at stake. Are we up to the challenge?

I believe that we are.

In the words of poet laureate Amanda Gorman, “There is always light. If only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.”

Perhaps soon we will have more streets named for Black people.  Of the more than 230 streets I’ve written about, I’ve only uncovered 9 streets that are named for Black people. Many of the streets are short, one-block streets as opposed to major thoroughfares.  Street names reflect our local history and commemorate figures and events that are deemed to be important to the local community.  Street names tell us a lot about our community – geographically of course they tell us where we’re going, but the names also show us what’s deemed important politically, socially and historically.  There’s a reason there’s so few that are named after Black people, and it’s a problem.  I know that naming a street doesn’t make up for all of the systemic racism that has plagued our city, but it could be a start.
Want 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.

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