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Ellicott Mall properties shown in red. King Peterson Road 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 4 in a series of  four streets built in the 1990s in the Ellicott Neighborhood.  To read more about how the Ellicott Mall urban renewal project changed this neighborhood and to learn about Minnie Gillette, please read Part 1.  Part 2 is about Delmar Mitchell and can be found here.  Part 3 looks at Ora Wrighter and can be found here.  Part 4 is about King Peterson Road.

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King Peterson’s portrait on the Freedom Wall.  Source:  Albright Knox

King W. Peterson was born in July 1915 in Pelham, Georgia to Samuel and Aurilla Carter Peterson.  The family moved to buffalo and King attended Buffalo Public Schools.  Following his graduation from Hutchinson Technical High School, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta Georgia.  Morehouse is a historically black men’s college that was founded in 1867, right after the Civil War.  At Morehouse, Mr. Peterson was a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.  He founded the Buffalo Alumni Chapter for the fraternity.

 

Mr. Peterson worked at the Buffalo Assembly Plant of Ford Motor Company.  He was elected to the Union Bargaining Committee.  He was also appointed International Representative of the United Auto Workers (UAW).

He began his public service when he was elected to the Erie County Board of Supervisors, representing the old Fifth Ward in the City of Buffalo. He served two terms on the Board and was then elected to the Buffalo Common Council as the Ellicott District Councilmen.  While on Council, he served as Chairman of the Legislation Committee and was President Pro Tem.  In 1956, he served as Acting Mayor for 10 days while Mayor Pankow and Common Council President William Law Jr. were attending the Democratic National Convention.  Under Council rules, when the Mayor and Council President were out of town, the President Pro Tem serves as Acting Mayor. While temporary, he was the first African American to serve in the capacity of Mayor of Buffalo.  There was some opposition to the idea of having an African American mayor, even for just a few days.  A public meeting was held to discuss the issue.  Only one person attended the public meeting – Rufus Frasier – who was black himself and attended to support Mr. Peterson.  Acting Mayor Peterson’s term as Acting Mayor of the second largest city in New York State was significant enough that it was reported in national newspapers of the time.

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Acting Mayor Peterson with Luke Easter (on the left), Dick Fisher and Joe Caffie. Source: Buffalo Courier

While serving as Acting Mayor, Mr. Peterson issued a proclamation to designate August 24, 1956 as “Luke Easter – Joe Caffie Night” in Buffalo.  Luke Easter and Joe Caffie were two black baseball players on the Buffalo Bisons.  A special celebration was held that night during the game at Offerman Stadium.

In 1967, Mr. Peterson was elected as a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention, representing the 55th Senate District.  He also served as Assistant Project Manager for the City of Buffalo where he executed the Hamlin Park Neighborhood Improvement Program.  The Hamlin Park program was one of the more successful of the City’s Urban Renewal Programs, as large scale demolition didn’t occur in Hamlin Park the way it did in the Ellicott neighborhood.  If you’re interested in a more in depth look at Urban Renewal and how it shaped the Hamlin Park neighborhood, I recommend this series by Mike Puma that can be found on Buffalo Rising. 

Mr. Peterson was a member of First Shiloh Baptist Church from the age of ten.  He served on the Board of Trustees for the church, and was named Trustee Emeritus.  He helped to establish the food pantry at First Shiloh, which still serves the community by providing food and clothing for those in need.  Mr. Peterson also served as a member of the building committee for the congregation when they built a new sanctuary and educational facility in 1965.

Mr. Peterson retired from public service in 1979, but was still involved with the community.  He served as President of the Buffalo Central Home Finders, Director of the United Way, Director of the Food Back of WNY, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Towne Garden Housing Development, Director of Shiloh Housing Development Corporation.  He was also a member of Buffalo Urban League and NAACP.

97918711_137864513074Mr. Peterson was married to the former Jannie McCarley.  They were married 72 years and had three children – Kenneth, Lawrence and Lorraine.  Jannie was the daughter of Reverend Burnie McCarley, the founder of St. John Baptist Church in Buffalo, and the namesake of the McCarley Gardens apartments.  Mr. Peterson died a few months after his wife, on September 23, 2012.  His portrait is represented on the Freedom Wall at Michigan and Ferry Streets.  Both King and Jannie are buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Our next series of streets will continue to focus on the Ellicott Neighborhood and urban renewal, as we move on to the Frederick Douglass Towers.  Stay tuned!  To read about other streets in Buffalo, please check out the Street Index.  Follow the blog on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/buffalostreets.

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Note from Angela:  Given what is happening right now in Buffalo and across the country, it doesn’t feel right to write about another “important” white man. I realize my platform isn’t as large as some, but I know I must use my voice to lift those who are suffering and fighting for justice. I know that most of you are here for the history and not the politics, but for the next two months, I am going to only write about streets named after African-Americans.  I am remiss for not doing this sooner.  Our black brothers and sisters have been here since the beginnings of Buffalo, and they deserve more recognition. For more information and resources, please check out the Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable website. If you are looking for a list of Black Owned Businesses to support, you can find that at this link.

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Ellicott Mall Property outlined in red. Minnie Gillette Drive shown in yellow.

The first series I’ll be writing about will be a series of four streets in the Ellicott Neighborhood – Minnie Gillette Drive, Delmar Mitchell Drive, Ora Wrighter Drive, and King Peterson Drive.  These four streets were created as part of the same project in the 1990s.  Today, Part 1 will be on Minnie Gillette Drive.  Stay tuned for Parts 2 through 4 which will posted over the next two weeks. 

The Ellicott Neighborhood is a neighborhood on the near East Side of Buffalo.  Up through the first half of the 20th Century, the neighborhood was a diverse neighborhood consisting of Italians and Jews, along with most of Buffalo’s African American residents.  My Italian grandfather was born (on the kitchen table) in this neighborhood in 1928 at the corner of Hickory and Division Streets.  The following map shows the area as it looked in 1950. 

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1950 Map of Ellicott Neighborhood

 

In 1958, much of the Ellicott Neighborhood was completely cleared and demolished in the name of “Urban Renewal”.  In this portion of the neighborhood, the Ellicott Mall public housing project was built.  The Ellicott Mall was run by Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority and consisted of eight residential towers that contained 590 apartments.  The JFK Community Center and associated park/playing fields were constructed east of the Ellicott Mall.  Here is an aerial photo of the area in 1966.

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1966 Aerial Photo of Ellicott Neighborhood

By the mid-1960s, the project had begun to deteriorate and the apartments closed in 1981.  There is still an active group of Ellicott Mall residents who lived in the neighborhood and still meet up for Ellicott Mall Reunions to celebrate the bonds of those who lived in the neighborhood.  During the 1990s, the City began planning to redevelop the area.  Norstar, along with First Shiloh Baptist Church, created a mix of housing that is now known as the Ellicott Town Center.  Here is what the area looked like in 1995.

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Aerial Photo of Ellicott Neighborhood from 1995

The project consisted of demolition of four of the towers and replacement with new housing, and renovation of the remaining towers.  The Ellicott Town Center consists of 281 apartments, 48 private townhomes and 24 senior garden apartments.  The project was completed in 1997.  Minnie Gillette Drive is one of the new streets that runs through the Ellicott Town Center. 

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Painting of Minnie Gillette on the Freedom Wall Source: Albright Knox

Minnie Gillette was born in Alabama in 1930, but was raised in Buffalo.  She attended Buffalo State College, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition. She worked at Columbus Hospital on Niagara Street as a dietary supervisor.

Mrs. Gillette was elected to the Erie County Legislature in 1977. She was the first African American woman elected to the Legislature. Her candidacy was backed by the Democratic, Republican and Conservative parties. Her obituary called her “a feisty political figure who strayed from party lines in the interest of her constituents”. She didn’t get involved in partisan politics, instead focused on serving her community.

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Minnie Gillette and Joan Bozer meeting with contractors as they convert the post office building into ECC. Source: Buffalo News

Mrs. Gillette worked with Legislator Joan Bozer to convert the former Post Office Building into the Erie Community College City Campus.  According to the Buffalo News, in 1969, in a letter from Erie County Democratic Chairman Peter Crotty, the building was called “a mongrel structure of no authentic period, dungeon-like in its aspect, repellent to the visitor and lacking in the convenience suitable for habitation”.  The building was considered “a monstrous pile of death-like stone”. 

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“A monstrous pile of death stone”? ECC City Campus

At the time, people did not always appreciate old buildings, and the idea of having an entire city block to redevelop was enticing to those who thought new was better.  Legislators Bozer and Gillette helped change that attitude, save the building, and bring ECC into the City.  At the time, ECC was only located at what is now their North Campus, in Amherst/Williamsville.  

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Buffalo Library’s Ram Van.  Source

Mrs. Gillette helped to establish the “Ram Van”, which was a traveling lending library. She also fought to ensure that minority contractors got a fair share of county contracts.  While in the Legislature, She was named the Buffalo News Outstanding Citizen for 1979. She received the University at Buffalo’s Outstanding Women of Western New York Government Award in 1980.

Mrs. Gillette served two terms as a legislator. After she left, she continued her work advocating for the homeless, the poor and the needy. She was appointed as the first director of the County’s Victim/Witness Assistance Program. She worked at a food pantry in the Towne Gardens Housing Project. She won a Martin Luther King Award in 1990 from the Erie County Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Mrs. Gillete was very involved with many organizations. She served on the board of the William-Emslie YMCA and helped to establish the senior citizens center there. She was a chairwoman of the Seventh (Ellicott) District Planning Board, on the Advisory Board of the Equal Opportunity Center on Washington Street, president of the Association of Retarded Children and president of the New York State Community Action Agency. She was active in the Community Action Organization, the Western New York Health System Agency, the Paramount Chapter 57 of the Order of the Eastern Star, the Jesse E. Nash Health Center and the Buffalo Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mrs. Gillette died on January 7, 1992. She had been ill with cancer for a year before she died, but she continued to work on community projects up until about two weeks before she died. Mrs. Gillete had three children – Hasinah Ramadhan, Loretta Gillette, and Calvin Gillette.  Mrs. Gillette is featured on the Freedom Wall at Michigan and Ferry.  In addition to the street, the auditorium at ECC City Campus is named for her.

Stay tuned for the next streets in this series, which will be posted over the course of the next two weeks.  Part Two, about Delmar Mitchell, can be read at this link.  If you haven’t subscribed to the blog, you can do so on the upper right hand side of the screen when on a desktop computer.  You can also like the page on facebook at facebook.com/buffalostreets to follow along there.  To check out other streets that have been written about, check out the street index here.  If you grew up in or currently live in the Ellicott Neighborhood, please reach out – either by leaving a comment here or emailing me at buffalostreets@gmail.com –  I’d love to hear your stories. 

Sources:  

  • Allen, Carl and Dave Ernst.  “Minnie Gillette Dies at 62:  First Black Woman Legislator”.  Buffalo News.  January 7, 1992.
  • Kirst, Sean.  “In demolition-happy 1970s, the fight to save the old Post Office”.  Buffalo News.  November 30, 2018.
  • Sapong, Emma.  “Resurrected public housing project to be celebrated Sunday”.  Buffalo News.  July 9, 2014.
  • Kraus, Neil.  Race, Neighborhoods and Community Power:  Buffalo Politics 1934-1997.  State University of New York Press, Albany:  1997. 

 

 

 

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