The Circle Association's
African American History of western new york state
1900 to 1935







21st century




Buffalo Population in 1900 [lsw]



African American

Indian, Japanese, Chinese, etc






2,000 African-Americans (0.5 percent of the population) living in Buffalo


1901a. Buffalo hosts the second biennial of the National Association of Colored Women.

1901b. The Pan-American Exposition: When the Pan American Exposition opened there were two Midway exhibits that purported to represent African American and African communal life.  Each of these exhibits, however, offered stereotypic depictions of the lives and accomplishments of African people.  The Old Plantation ­ as the exhibit on American Blacks was entitled ­ depicted Blacks only in terms of life in the old south amid the affects of slavery.  "Darkest Africa" the African Village, was advertised as an "ethnological" exhibit that would provide a portrait of the primitive and exotic lives of the various races of African peoples who occupied the village.

"African Village inhabitants, African Warriors from Darkest Africa -- Assegal Throwers, Zulus, and Cannibals ..." The Pan-American Exposition and parades featured a theme of human progress from "savage" (people of color) to "civilized" (products of european's industries), and a lure was made for the victorians to titillate with nudity of savages legitmized. 62 people supposedly representing 35 tribes were brought to Buffalo to demonstrate weapons, handicrafts, songs, dances, and witchcraft. [Pan-American Exp 95, 102]

Little thought was given to equatorial africans in a Buffalo autumn. They were given small cooking stoves insufficent for heating. They were finaly given gas complicated stoves and told not to light them withuot a white person present. On September 26, their own attempts to light the stove resuulted in an explosion injuring one man. In late October an ill infant was taken, ostensibly, to the hospital and was simply left in the ambulance. When cleaning crews found the body they threw him in the trash. When it was disocvered, the coroner finally arrived and the child's body was properly tended. [Pan-American Exp 104].

The Old Plantation

On the way, "The Old Plantation" Exhibition freely portrayed African American life with bigotry and disrespect. "Laughing Ben from Dublin, Georgia" was the Old Plantation's image of genial and compliant "good Negroes." There was a cabin from Thomas Jefferson's estate passed off as a typical African American home [Pan-American Exp 105, 106].

In contrast to the Old Plantation Exhibition, Buffalo's Black community lead by Mrs. John Dover, James Ross, and Mary Talbert met at the Michigan Street Baptist Church to promote a Negro Education Exhibit such as Booker T. Washington's exhibit in Atlanta's 1895. [Pan-American Exp 105].

The DuBois' Exhibition: At the 1900 Paris World's Fair, W.E.B. DuBois (click for more on duBois) created a full-scale exhibit of African American achievement since the Emancipation Procamation in industrial work, literature, and journalism. It included photodocumentation on educational institutions such as Tuskeegee, Fisk, and Howard. Congress approved of $15,000 for installation, and it was installed - off midway and in the Social Economy section of the Liberal Arts building where it languished compared with the negative Midway exhibits. [Pan-American Exp 106].

For more on the Pan American Exposition, visit the Pan American Exposition website of The Buffalo history Works. An extensive online exhibit can be found at Pan American Exposition on the Uncrowned Queens website.

1901c. McKinley's Assassination:When U.S. President McKinley was assassinated at the Pan American Exposition, as it was first rumored a Negro was involved, Blacks all over the U.S. held their breath until certain it was not a Negro at fault. Indeed a Black man, James "Big Ben" Parker became a hero. See [Parker and the Assassination] and [What happened to Big Ben Parker?].

1901d. Orra LC Hughes dies in Olean. For more on Huhes see 1867.



1902a. In Buffalo, New York convention of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), a group founded in 1896 by such prominent African-American leaders as Harriet Tubman, Rosetta Douglass Sprague (daughter of Frederick Douglass), Frances Harper, Mary Church Terrell and Ida Wells Barnett. Hester Jeffrey of Rochester was among the speakers.

1902b. Two articles on the history of African Americans in Jamestown are published in the Evening Journal.



1903. The Presbyterian Church opened a Black mission in Rochester, Trinity Chapel.



 1905a. W.E.B. Dubois, John Hope, Monroe Trotter and 27 others met secretly in the home of Mary B. Talbert, a prominant member of Buffalo's Michigan Street Baptist Church. For more on the Michigan Street Church also see 1836, 1845, and 1892) to adopt the resolutions which lead to the founding of the Niagara movement [more on the Niagara Movement], a forerunner of the NAACP.

1905b. Jessie Redmon Fauset graduates Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell University. She was the first female Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Cornell, and the Black woman ever named to that honor society. Jessie Redmon Fauset was born in 1882 in Fredericksville, New Jersey into an affluent family. Her father, Redmon Fauset, was a minister whose family hailed from Philadelphia. Her mother, Anna, died when Jessie Fauset was a child. She became a famous writer, and published many writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Fauset died in 1961.

1905c. Even though African-Americans such as the Linzys, the Gateses, and the Hawkinses settled in Geneva, New York during this time, the number of new African-Americans in the town was never great enough to offset the numbers who moved out of town. Thus, in 1905 there were barely one hundred African Americans in Geneva.

1905d. Hester Jeffrey represented the New York Federation of Colored Women (NYFCW) at a New York State Woman Suffrage Association (NYSWSA) convention. There she is elected president a postion she helf later in the year when, as president of the NYFCW, she presented its annual report when the group met in Rochester.



1906a. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the first intercollegiate Greek letter fratenity established for African American students, was organized at Cornell University in Ithaca.

1906b. Cornelius Ford, a successful businessman moves to Buffalo in 1906. Ford was a prominent livestock dealer who was the only black member of the Buffalo Livestock Association. Armour and Company, the world's largest meat packing company at the time, was one of Ford's customers.


Cabell (Cab) Calloway is born, December 25, 1907 in Rochester, N.Y. He was a jazz composer, bandleader, and singer who gained early prominence at Harlem's Cotton Club and Connie's Inn in New York City in the late 1920s and '30s. He was billed as the "King of Hi-De-Ho" after a song that he composed.After graduating from high school, Calloway briefly attended a law school in Chicago but quickly turned to performing in nightclubs as a singer. He began directing his own bands in 1928 and in the following year went to New York City, where he appeared in an all-black musical, Fats Waller's Connie's Hot Chocolates (in which he sang "Ain't Misbehavin' "), and was engaged as a bandleader at the Cotton Club. He first recorded his most famous composition, "Minnie the Moocher," in 1931. He became identified with a scat style of jazz singing, using such nonsense syllables as "skeeten, scaten, hi de ho." Calloway appeared in a few motion pictures, including Stormy Weather (1943) and Sensations of 1945 (1944), toured the United States and Europe in Porgy and Bess in the role of Sportin' Life in 1952-54, and toured in Hello, Dolly! in the 1960s.
Calloway died Nov. 18, 1994 in Hockessin, Delaware.

Buffalo Population in 1910 [lsw]



African American

Indian, Japanese, Chinese, etc






1908. Mount Olivet Baptist Church was founded in Rochester.


1910a. While serving as president of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Association, Mary Talbert was responsible for the restoration of the Frederick Douglass Home in Anacostia, Maryland. She also served as a delegate to the International Council of Women in Norway, and lectured internationally internationally on race relations and women's rights. For more on Talbert see Talbert - for more on Douglass see Douglass.

1910b. Mabel McIntyre graduates from the District of Columbia's Freedman's Hospital School of Nursing and returns to her home town, Lockport, NY to work for a white doctor.

1910c. Booker T. Washington is the first African American to speak at the Rochester City Club. Two other Blacks were also invited to the Mrs. Gannetts balcony tables. From then on they apparently accepted the regular public
invitation to attend later meetings of the club. Their presence at the luncheon tables was, judging from the letter noted above, a subject of concern to at least one member, but no official action was taken in the matter, and soon the issue disappeared from the records. This was to change in 1930.

1910d. Mount Olivet Baltist Church is founded. A new church at 141 Adams street was built in 1926 [the old church served a number of other functions such as the Colored YMCA and Hubert Hall (a social center)]. The Mount Olivet Parsonage at 137 Adams St. is an important building in Rochester's Black West Side Community.


1910e. The Dorsey Home for Dependent Colored Children opened in Rochester New York.

Isabella Dorsey with children at the Dorsey home.

1910f. Niagara movement disbands. [more on the Niagara Movement]



1912a. John Brent moves to Buffalo as Buffalo's First Professional African-American Architect. He worked on the Hutchinson High School plans, .plans for the Wanakah Country Club, designs Buffalo's Michigan Avenue "colored" YMCA. More on Brent

1912b. Mordecai Johnson comes to Rochester. He matriculated at the Rochester Theological Seminary from 1913-1916. Mordecai was pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Mumford, New York. Johnson was appointed the thirteenth and first African-American president of Howard University in 1926. For more on Johnson, also see 1938.



Louis W. Roberts, famous early Black Physicist and Inventor was born in Jamestown, New York. He has numerous patents, has been CEO of several companies, and also served as chief of the Optics and Microwave Laboratory in the Electronics Research Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).


William Ellisworth Artis is born in Washington, N.C. Educated at Syracuse University and a student of Augusta Savage, Artis's sculptures will exhibit a strong originality and a romantic, almost spiritual appeal. His works will be exhibited at Atlanta University, the Whitney Museum, the Two Centuries of Black American Art exhibit and collected by Fisk University, Hampton University, the North Carolina Museum of Art


Mary Talbert becomes president of the National Association of Colored Women. As president and as vice president and director of the NAACP, Talbert joined the struggle for first-class citizenship for her people. As chairman of the Anti-Lynching Committee, she launched a crusade for passage of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. She traveled thousands of miles nationwide speaking to mixed audiences to gain support for the bill and her Crisis article Women & Colored Women demonstrates her inspiration. For more on Talbert click Talbert.



1917a. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Mary Talbert assisted in the war loan drives, personally soliciting the purchase of thousands of dollars in Liberty Bonds. She becomes a Red Cross nurse with the American expeditionary forces in France. Returning home at the close of the war, she found that the idealistic slogan of fighting to make the world safe for democracy was false for the American Negro. For more on Talbert click Talbert.

1917b. The Colored Musician's Club in Buffalo was started in 1917 when African-American musicians were denied membership in the whites-only local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians. It is still open today (in 1999).


1918a. The Colored Musician's Club was organized and provided Buffalo rehearsal space and jam sessions for Black muscians such as Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.

1918b. Henry Harrison Lewis, class of 1918, a member of the university's first class in the College of Arts and Sciences before he transferred to the medical school.



Rochester has its first local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established.

Buffalo Population in 1920 [lsw]



African American

Indian, Japanese, Chinese, etc






1920a. An African American company, Buffalo Negro Realty Company was established in Buffalo.

1920b. An African American company, Douglass Grocery Company was established in Rochester.

1920c. 1,579 out of a Rochester city population of 295,750.

1920d. In 1920, 4,500 blacks move to Buffalo to fill the labor shortage; in 1930, 13,500 will migrate to buffalo. Virtually all move to the lower East Side, where there had been a small but consistent black community since the late 1820s.

In the 1920s, responding to the needs of the growing population, black-owned enterprises suddenly proliferate. Hotels, nightclubs, funeral parlors, cleaners, drug stores, restaurants, candy stores, saloons, and a Negro baseball team are some of them. Examples:

Self-help groups within the black community also flourish during the twenties. One of the earliest is the Colored Musicians' Union of Buffalo, founded in 1917 by black musicians who have been denied
membership in the white musicians' local. In addition, there are



1921a. Rochester's first known licensed African American physician, Dr. Charles T. Lunsford, began his practice. Because a shortage of area physicians and a shortage of funds of the local blacks, Lunsford, a graduate of Howard University, had whites as his first few patients.

1921b. Alex Haley born in Ithaca, NY. He will become an award-winning author, most notably for his authorship with Malcolm X of the latter's autobiography and for Roots, which will win a special Pulitzer Prize. Roots will be his most successful work, selling over 1 million copies and contributing to a new interest in African-American history.

1921c. Frank L. Watkins, who came to the University of Buffalo from Montgomery, Alabama, graduated from the medical school in 1891, and died in Buffalo in 1921.

1921d. The usual patronizing and disrespectful views of Black Buffalo appears in the weekly journal Buffalo Saturday Night :

Local Color: A Vist to Buffalo's Black Belt

Munitions plants, chemical plants and construction work drew them to Buffalo by the hundreds and thousands and one only has to walk through the colored quarter to realize that there are many thousands of colored people here now. ... If you have eyes in your head you cannot but find it interesting. You may find much that is bestial there. ... may hear drunkin rag-time, may hear ... soft chants of Negro hymns. You will always find life there - primitive, uncivilized, passionate ..." [Goldman, 15, 16]



1922a. Durham Memorial AME Zion Church (then St. Luke's) is built. It became the largest church in the city of Buffalo built by a Black congregation.

1922b. Mary Talbert receives the NAACP's Springarn Medal. For more on Talbert click Talbert.

1922c. In February 1922, Florence Randolph Jackson founds the Lit-Mus Club in her home at 69 Brooklyn Avenue (it later moved to her new home on Michigan Ave.) in Buffalo. The club is still in existence and celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2002.




Mary Talbert dies.



1924a. Noted missionary to Liberia, Sarah Williamson, attends the University of Rochester.

1924b. W. Yerby Jones (1904-1979) a graduate of the University of Buffalo medical school class of 1924, became a prominent Buffalo opthalmologist. He served a chief of staff of the former Meyer Memorial Hospital.

1924c. Novelist Mary Elizabeth Vroman was born in Buffalo.

1924d. A list was pubished of the full Ku Klux Klan Membership roster for Buffalo, NY and surrounding towns. This list was posted in Buffalo's City Hall by Mayor F.X. Schwab and generated quite a stir. [KKK in Buffalo]



1925a. In Ithaca, at Cornell University, Elbert Frank Cox became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics.

1925b. The Buffalo Criterion Newspaper is founded in 1925 (in 2005 it is Western New Yoek's oldest African amercan Newspaper). [Criterion online]

1925c. Buffalo Urban League founded.

A founding member is William Evans .

A founding member is J. Edward Nash. Also see 1836, 1868, 1892, 1925.

Clara L. Payne (right) was born into an old established Buffalo family about 1860. In 1925 she was a social worker and is reported to have been the first African American to work in Erie County's social welfare department. She was a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Buffalo Urban League, and remained involved with that organization from 1927 until her death in 1958.



The Lit-Mus Study Club (see 1922) initiated the first observance of Negro history week (now Black History Month) in 1926 as suggested by Carter Woodson.






1928a. John E. Brent becomes the second African-American to design a "colored" YMCA, Buffalo's Michigan Avenue YMCA. It opens in April 1928 and becomes the cultural center of Buffalo's African-American community. It costs $200,000 to build, half of which is donated by Buffalonian George Matthews. It boasts a cafeteria, gymnasium, swimming pool, barber shop, tailor shop, library; and classrooms, locker rooms, dormitory rooms, and billiard tables. It will be demolished in April 1977.


Brent was born (1892) and raised in Washington, D.C. He entered Tuskegee Institute in 1904, graduating with an architecture degree in 1907. After two years as a schoolteacher in Washington, he entered the School of Architecture at Drexel Institute and graduated in 1912 at the ripe age of 20. Brent then moved to Buffalo, NY.
The architectural firms which employed Brent between 1912 and 1926: Max G. Beierl; H. Osgood Holland; Waterbury & Mann; Julius E. Schultz; North Shelgren & Swift; Oakley & Schallmore. While in the employ of Holland, Brent worked on the Hutchinson High School plans. While in the employ of Waterbury & Mann, he worked on plans for the Wanakah Country Club. In the 1950s, he was an architect with the Buffalo Parks Department. He died on October 27, 1962. [History of Buffalo]

1928b. Bessie Stevens, who was once the second Black student to attend Rochester Normal School, began her career which lasted through many years in which she was the sole Black teacher in the Rochester School District.

1928c. The census counts Buffalo's black population as 13,000.



1929a. In Buffalo, Leeland Jones, Sr. funeral parlor opens.

1929b. The Little Harlem opens: Ann Montgomery opened an ice cream parlor at 496 Michigan Avenue, which would later become the location of the Little Harlem. She operated the ice cream parlor from 1910 until the early 1920s when she established the Oriental Billiard Parlor. A few years later she converted this business into the Little Harlem Hotel. Mrs. Montgomery began the cabaret that initiated the Little Harlem nightclub in 1934. In the early days, the Little Harlem became a major showcase for aspiring new stars during an era when it was difficult for them to obtain jobs in their professions elsewhere. The roster of stars included both black and white performers such as Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Bing Crosby, Vincent Lopez, Cab Calloway, and Dinah Washington, among the more popular names who performed at or visited the hotel and club. The nightspot also became a meeting ground for political and elected officials. In the 1990s the club was sold to Judge Wilbur Trammel, and was soon destroyed by a fire in 1999.


1930a. There were only 117 living in 30 families in Geneva, New York, down from 310 in 1850..

1930b. Thomas W. Boyde, Jr. comes to Rochester as the city's first African American architect. He worked on the hospital Monroe Community Hospital (orginally Monroe County Home and Infirmary). Star Markets, the Woodie View Apartments, and the Community Child Center.

1930c.3,262 Blacks out of Rochester total population of 324,975.

1930d. Shortly after the elction of the Rochester City Club president, it appears he received a letter from a former member promising to renew provided he could be assured that Negroes would not again be encountered at the tables as occasionally that spring. From other correspondence it appears that Mrs. Mary T. Gannett had invited two Negro gentlemen to sit with her in the balcony to hear Dr. Mordecai Johnson, the second Negro to address the Club. Also see 1936.



R. Nathaniel Dett (1888-1943) from Niagara Falls, Ontario (Canada) and went to high school in Lockport, NY. He earned his Bachelor degree form Oberlin College (1908). From 1913 to 1931 he was director of Music at Hampton Institute. In 1919, he helped found the National Association of Negro Musicians. In 1932 he became the first Black person to receive a Bachelors of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music and settled in Rochester. He was also a musical director of the United Service Organization (USO). See Dett Memorial Chapel in NF, Canada.


Sarah Loguen, one of the first African American female medical doctors and daughter of the king of the Underground Railroad, Jermain Wesley Loguen, dies in Syracuse. She had returned in 1929..



The Little Harlem Hotel expands to the Little Harlem Hotel and Nightclub. Also see 1929.







21st century




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