The Circle Association's
African American History of western new york state
1935 to 1970







21st century





1935. Hank Williams, a 6'4" black center, plays for the Buffalo Bisons in pro basketball's Midwest Basketball Conference.


1936a. By this year, there was no longer a question of whether Afreican Americans could attend public events at the Rochester City Club. In February, W. E. B. DuBois was the third Black to speak. The title was The Southern Negro Under the New Deal. Also see 1910 and 1930.

1936b. In 1936, when Eva M. Noles applied to the Buffalo City Hospital's three-year diploma nursing school, blacks had not been accepted. On a dare from a friend, Mrs. Noles applied and to her surprise, was accepted. It was a case, she believes, of being in the right place at the right time. But if it was a stroke of luck, which resulted in her timely application, it was hard work and a fight against racial discrimination that enabled her to succeed.

Although she was admitted to the nursing program at the hospital that later became E.J. Meyer, and today the Erie County Medical Center, she was not fully accepted in the school and encountered many subtle forms of racial prejudice. At the senior dinner dance, Mrs. Noles and her date were asked to leave. The only blacks allowed at such events, it seemed, were the serving people. Mrs. Noles and her companion did not fit this category. Prejudice did not end with her diploma from the School of Nursing. It followed her into her first years of working at her profession at RPMI. 



1938a. In 1938, a New York State commission studying discrimination held hearings in Rochester. Dr. Mordecai Johnson, who had been the first Black to graduate from the local divinity school and who went on to be the head of Howard University, returned to Rochester to criticize it for permitting racism to invade its school system and to hold sway in its commercial establishments. Also see 1912.

1938b. At the corner of William and Michigan St., in Buffalo, is the 1938 monument in honor of Jesse Clipper, the first African-American killed in WWI (not II).


18,000 African-Americans in Buffalo, just 3 percent of the population, see 1945.


In 1941 Leeland Jones, Jr. was the first African American on the University of Buffalo football team, integrating as quarterback, to play on a field south of the Mason-Dixon line. "The game against Johns Hopkins was arranged by the coaches," says Jones. They had heard no objections to Jones playing there, he recalls. "I'd never faced discrimination," he says, but "things changed when we arrived in Baltimore. I wasn't allowed in either of the white hotels where the rest of the team was staying." Jones, attended UB as an undergraduate between 1940 and 1944.

Jones remembers being transported alone to a "black" hotel in another part of the city. But he didn't spend the night there. "Black journalists sent someone for me," Jones says, and he was taken to the home of Dr. Carl Murphy, owner of the Afro-American Newspaper, the first Black Newspaper in the US and who lived near the campus of Morgan State University. "It was a beautiful place and he had three lovely daughters," Jones says. After two years 1944-1946 in the army, Jones married Carlita Murphy, one of those daughters.

In 1948, Jones enters UB Law School and in 1949, Leeland Jones, Jr. is elected county supervisor from the Ellicott District. He is the first African American elected to office in the history of the city. In this position he enacts much legislation and organizes protests such as the March of Mothers. [Jones]


Ralph Campbell.



24,000 African Americans in Buffalo. See 1940 and 1990.


1946a. J. Ernest Wilkins comes to Buffalo at the age of 23 to work as a Mathematician for the American Optical Company. At the age of 19, Wilkins earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics and was described in national newspapers as "the Negro genius" also had 5 other degrees including one in Nuclear Engineering. His career remained stellar into the 1980s as stellar as then, for he won the von Neuman prize and was the second African American to be named to the National Academy of Engineering. [MAD]

1946b. It was not until the 1946-47 season until blacks joined the National Basketball League in appreciable numbers. The NBA team, Rochester Royals, behind owner Les Harrison, signed former Long Island University star William "Dolly" King. King, as a member of the Long Island University basketball team, had been the first African-American man to play in the national AAU tournament. He subsequently played basketball professionally for African-American teams including the Scranton Miners, New York Renaissance, and Washington Bears.He played semi-pro football with the Long Island Indians in 1941. In 1944 he played right field for the Homestead Grays. However basketball was his strength. His hall of fame membership is still pending.[Jim Crow Sports]


The State Commission on Discrimination reported Buffalo Negroes enjoy occupational opportunities and more civil rights than in any metropolitan area in the country - a pity. Inspite of a rarity like J. Ernest Wilkins, the Urban League's annual report exhibits the reality of nonindustrial jobs for Blacks: (i) a Negro girl has been placed at Hengerer's, (ii) Nurse training has been secured in Meyer Memmorial Hospital and (iii) all hospitals except Buffalo General accept Negro patients. [Goldman]


1948a. Leeland Jones, Jr. is elected county supervisor from the Ellicott District and in 1949 is Buffalo's first Black elected official. See 1941 for the collected information on Leeland Jones, Jr.

1948b. Anna Porter Burrell came to Buffalo to teach at Buffalo State College in 1948. She was the first African American faculty member to be hired by the College.

1948c. The Buffalo Bills football team signs its first African American, Olympic Sprinter Edward Conwell.

At mid-twentieth century, Buffalo was the 11th largest industrial center in the country, the 3rd largest steel producer, the 2nd largest railroad center, the largest inland water port, and the largest in flour milling. The steel and iron plants alone employed 30,000. 50,000 lived in the city itself and 1,500,000 lived in the metropolitan area [Goldman, 167]. By the end of the century most of the industry would be gone and the University would be the largest employer. The city population would drop below 300,000 and the metropolitan area would drop to 1,000,000.



Thyra Merriweather Charles became the first African American to receive a Nursing degree from the University of Buffalo.



1950a. The March of Mothers: The Buffalo Board of Education plans to draw new district lines so that new Blacks students in a formerly all White neighborhood will be taken out of integrated schools and sent to the Ellicot District Black school. Lead by Leeland N. Jones, Jr. a protest campaign is held. Beginning with letter writing and telephone calls and mutating into the March of Mothers - more than 60 African Americans, 50 of them Marched from the Black neighborhood to City Hall. The Board of Education backs down. See 1941 for the collected information on Leeland Jones, Jr.

1950b. Luke Easter, outfielder of the Homestead Grays, Negro National League's last (1948) pennant winner, plays for the Buffalo Bison baseball team before joining the Cleveland Indians on the power house team which also featured Blacks Lary Doby and Satchel page. The Luke Easter home is located at 183 Northland Avenue.

1950c. In 1950, the Rochester population was at 332,488 of which 7,590 were Blacks.



1951. Martin Luther King graduates from the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity with a Bachelor of Divinity degree. He is class valedictorian and winner of the Pearl Plafker Award for most outstanding student. In September, he will begin doctoral studies in theology at Boston University.



1952a. After his Bachelor's Degree, Walter Cooper came to Rochester in 1952 to study Physical Chemistry. He earned a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry in 1956. He has spent a long career as a research chemist at the Eastman Kodak Research Laboratory. He has served on the Federal Civil Rights Commision and was Chairman of the Small Business Administrations' National Advisory Council for Black Business and Economic Development. He wasa founding member of the Rochester Urban League. [Molaire]

1952b. Lonnie Cross comes to Buffalo as Assistant Mathematician with Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory (Buffalo). He was a Research Mathematician with the Metals Research Laboratory of the Electro Mettalurgical Co. (Niagara Falls) in 1955. In 1960, he earns a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Cornell University (Ithaca). In 1961 he shocks the world as the first mathematician to join the Nation of Islam. [Newell]

1952c. Lucille Clifton (née Sayles) was born and raised in Depew New York (a suburb of Buffalo). She has been Poet Laureate of the State of Maryland. More about Ms. Clifton here. Also see 1999.


Buffalo public schools resegregated: For years, the flagship of Buffalo public schools was Buffalo Technical, which was now found in an all Black neighborhood. A degree from "Tech" was considered a ticket to science and engineering colleges, but very few Blacks were admitted to Tech, but many were attending Hutchison Central on the "lower west side." In 1954, the Board of Education moved "Tech"'s programs to Hutchison, declared that all students on the east side of Main (in other words the Black neighborhood) would go to East High School. This ruling actually applied to some white students. But in 1955 an additional ruling allowed these students to go to the all-white Kensington Highschool. Later in the 1950s, board did something similar on the westside - allowing whites to go to an all white school when too many Blacks began to attend their neighborhood school.


On Memorial Day 1956 fights broke out at Crystal Beach Amusement Park in Canada. Four whites and five black teenagers were arrested by the Ontario Province police When the Canadiana , the last boat back to Buffalo left the dock it was dark and rainy and there were 1,000 people, mostly teenagers, many black on board. Fights broke out. What happened was not completely clear. However, the morning paper wrote in large headlines, "Nightmare Boat from Crystal Beach." Southern papers as the Washington Daily News, Jackson Mississippi Daily News reported "race riots" ignored by Northern Press (New York Times and Herald Tribune).

The witnesses in the news all seemed to be whites reporting that Black teenagers were beating up small White boys, attacking and pulling White girls' hair, and brandishing switch blades. Roving groups of Blacks attacked outnumbered Whites. The FBI was called in to investigate. All officials, Black and White, agreed there was no race riot juvenile hooliganism. But white Buffalonians were unconvinced. [Goldman, 9-12]



Cora P. Maloney was sworn in as a committeewoman in the Sixth District of the 13th ward. She was Buffalo's first councilwoman, the first Democrat ever to be elected in the Masten District, and the first African American to be elected in the district in twenty years.  Mrs. Maloney was president of Buffalo Intro-Club Council for two years as well as founding member and president of the Democratic Business and Professional Women's Club. In addition, she was past chairwoman of the Buffalo Urban League Guild.  The Cora P. Maloney College at the University at Buffalo is named in her honor.



1958a. In 1958 Ora Louise Anderson Curry was the first African American teacher (history) at Bennett High School.

1958b. Madeline Scott moves to Buffalo from Olean. For 32 years she worked at Roswell Cancer Institute. She has served as the President; Co-Editor of the newsletter the Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier.



1960a. Floyd Edwards is the first African American Lieutenant in the Buffalo Police Department.

1960b. Growth of the Suburbs: Whites in Buffalo & Rochester, like those in cities all over the country,are taking advantage of generous federal subsidies and moving into the suburbs. Between 1950 and 1960 over eighty thousand white Buffalonians - close to twenty percent of the 1950 population - move out of the city. At the same time the Buffalo's black population is mushrooming; from 36,645 in 1950 to over 70,000 in 1960. In 1960, the Rochester population was at 318,611 with Blacks numbering 23,586.


1961a. Ambrose Lane, a lawyer and social worker, was Buffalo's first Black to run for Mayor.

1961b. The Downtown Athletic Club awards the Heisman Trophy to Ernie Davis (1940-63) of Elmira, a halfback from Syracuse University, who is the first African-American to win the award. Before playing professional football he died of Lukemia. [Molaire]


1962a. Arthur (Art) Hardwick becomes the first African American to represent Western New York in the State Assembly. He marries Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the US Congress.

1962b. Ishmael Reed began writing his own jazz column for Empire State, a weekly African American newspaper in Buffalo. Born 1938 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Ishmael Reed grew up in working class neighborhoods in Buffalo. He co-founded New York's East Village Other. In 1972 he publishes Mumbo Jumbo. Its irreverent tone successfully revives the tradition of the black satiric novel. Reed is one of today's (1999) pre-immenent and most controversial African American literary figures.


1963a. Dr. Lydia Wright is the first African American is appointed by the mayor to the School Board.

1963b. The Buffalo Challenger is founded. It is a weekly African American journal which is sold in Buffalo, Rochester, Niagara Falls, and Lackawanna.

1963c. The Parkside Community Association is formed to convince whites not to run from Blockbusting in the North Buffalo neighborhood, and it has kept the area well-integrated since that time.


1964a. Rochester 1964 riot. On July 24, 1964, the underlying discontent in the city exploded into a three day long riot. It had an innocent enough beginning. The Northeast Mothers Improvement Association sponsored a Friday evening street dance, and one of the chaperones had complained about an intoxicated youth to a police officer who arrested him. When the crowd interfered, The officers called for back-up help, and a K-9 unit was brought in enraging the crowd. When Police Chief Lombard tried to calm the crowd, his car was overturned and burned. This was the beginning of a very expensive three days of looting and burning for Rochester. Property damage was estimated at well over $1,000,000.

The city responded by calling in all off-duty state troopers, sheriffs, and policemen. The next evening, the crowds resumed, and the rioting spread. On Sunday, the governor was asked for help, and Rockefeller sent more than 1,500 members of the National Guard. Gradually, as the soldiers patrolled the streets the rioting subsided.

Rochester officials were shocked and hurt that such an event had occurred in their city. While they still refused to look at underlying problems, others wanted to address such issues as employment and housing. Believing that help was needed to organize the city Black citizens, a meeting at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church issued an invitation to Saul Alinsky and his Industrial Areas Foundation to come to Rochester. FIGHT became the organization Alinsky helped develop to represent the Rochester Black community, and its president was the Rev. Franklin Florence. FIGHT immediately set forth a series of demands including more Black representation on neighborhood and city organizations, better schools and more and better employment opportunities. Kodak, as the city's largest employer, became an early target. FIGHT bought Kodak stock and brought its demands to a stock holders meeting. After a period of posturing and confrontation, Kodak did increase its minority hiring. In 1966, two more organizations took up the struggle for Rochester Blacks: the Urban League and Action for a Better Community. FIGHT complained that both worked too closely with the establishment and were intended to undermine FIGHT's effectiveness.

1964b. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reports Buffalo has the largest segregated school problem in New York State. Italian and Polish appointed Scool Board members Carmelo Palato and Alfreda Slominski were virulent leaders of the anti-integration movement. Note until 1974, School Board members were appointed by the mayor who chose representatives from each of the ethnic groups. See 1963 and 1974.

1964c. Toni Morrison, the famous author, moves to Syracuse as an associate editor of Random House, the textbook company. She moves away in 1967. Her first book, The Bluest Eye was been started, but not yet complete.



1965a. Schools Court case: A class action suit is begun by a group of parents seeking to correct racial imbalance in the Buffalo Public Schools. Buffalo is adjudged as having the 4tb most segregated school system in the North. Federal Judge John Curtin says that his decision to integrate is influenced by arguments made in 1842 by the National Conference of Colored Men organized by Henry Moxley.

1965b. Delmore Mitchell becomes the first elected African American Councilman-at-large to the Buffalo Common Council. Also see 1974.

1965c. Dorothy Elizabeth Hill fights with the Community Action Organization (CAO) in the war on poverty. She helped establish Buffalo's first Youth Opportunity Homes for troubled girls.

1965d. Lillian Meadows was the second African American woman to serve on the Old Erie County Board of Supervisors from 1965-68. She was also was the first African American to win a city-wide primary election here in 1961 when she ran for councilwoman-at-large. She was defeated by a close margin in the general election. In addition, she was the first black woman to serve as state committee-woman in this area that same year


1966a. A Black doctor buys and moves into a house in Buffalo suburb Clarence NY, buys one of those pretentious, chateau-style new development cul-de-sac homes. Within a few days his new neighbors presented him with a petition urging him to leave.

1966b. Arthur O. Eve (Democrat-Buffalo) defeats Hardwick and was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1966. In 1968 Assemblyman Eve held up construction on the University of Buffalo Amherst Campus until the State and unions agreed to develop a program that would provide access for minorities into the construction industry. As a result, the Buffalo Hometown Plan and the Build Skills Assessment Center trained hundreds of minorities in the construction crafts. In 1978, Arthur O. Eve becomes the first African American to win the Democratic Primary, beating James Griffn in the Buffalo mayoralty campaign. He later became the first Democrat candidate to lose the general election in 40 years. He lost to James Griffin who ran on the Republican ticket promoting racial fears.
In 1979, Eve was appointed Deputy Speaker of the Assembly. During the 1980's, Deputy Speaker Eve passed legislation to require affirmative action on state-funded projects; funding of the African-American Institute of the State University of New York (SUNY); and passage of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Bill. With regard to education, Deputy Speaker Eve initiated legislative projects which are designed to assist economically disadvantaged minority students reach their educational objectives. Included in these programs are the Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), the Regents Professional Opportunity Scholarships and Healthcare Professional Opportunity Scholarships. During his career of public service, many believe that Deputy Speaker Eve has done more to initiate opportunities for minorities and the economically disadvantaged in the field of educational opportunity, undergraduate and graduate education, medical degrees, pre-natal, day care and infant care than any other state legislator in the nation.

1966c. The first Black elected to the Rochester City Council was Ronald Good.

1966d. Jessica Johnson is a pioneer in the political arenas of Buffalo City Hall and New York State Democratic politics. In 1966, Johnson served as Director of the License Bureau, the first female to hold that position. Soon after she accepted a position as the confidential aide to then Mayor Frank A. Sedita. She was the first female and the first African American to serve in a Buffalo Mayor's inner Cabinet. In 1968 she became Chairperson of the 13th Zone Democratic Committee. Also see 1973 and 1976.



1967a. The Buffalo 1967 Riot: June 26th through July 1st of that year, virtually shutting down the city. In one night (June 28th) of Violence over 40 people were hurt, 14 with gunshot wounds.

In the afternoon of June 27, 1967 small groups of black teenaged booys cruised the neighborhood of William and Jefferson Streets breaking car and store windows. By night nearly 200 riot-protected police were summoned and a battle ensued. Many blacks, three policemen and one fire fighter were injured. Although it was dispersed that night, it began again the next afternoon with fires set, cars over-turned, and stores looted whether or not they had "soul brother" written on them. This time 400 police were summoned, forty blacks were injured nearly half for bullet wounds. More on 1967 riots.

CLICK for larger image

1967b. BUILD, a new civl rights organization is formed.

1967c. Bethlehem Steel Suit: U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin files the largest suit under the Civil Rights act of 1964, a suit against Bethlehem Steel saying in general it was guilty of racial discrimination in hiring and promotion of African Americans. Specifically Bethlehem was charges with preferentiail hiring of Whites, particularly for skilled jobs in the mechanical and electrical departments; assignment of blacks to "hot and dirty jobs" in the coke and blast furnaces and outside menial work; . For more on Curtin's rulings, see 1976.

1967d. first Black woman elected to the Rochester City Council was Ruth Scott.



1968a. The Buffalo 1968 riot. After Martin Luther King's Assassination there was a riot in Buffalo's Eastside.




1969a. A Black Church Studies program was begun at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. 

1969b. Ophelia A. Nicholas was the first African American female to become a principal in the Buffalo Public School system in 1969, a position she held 23 years.

1969c. Founded by Jim Pappas and others, SUNY Buffalo Black Studies Program was established in 1969. It evolved into the Department of African American Studies in 1973.

left: Jim Pappas, 1969 founder, and Peter Ekeh, chair, of
African American Studies at UB in 2000









21st century




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