The Circle Association's
African American History of western new york state
1970 to 2000







21st century





1970a. Garth Fagan moves to Rochester. Dance Professor at SUNY Brockport. For his work he has been received a Guggenheim Fellowship and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. His Garth Fagan Dancers are international known and have appeared on television shows such as Jay Leno. In 1998 Fagan was awarded a Tony Award for choregraphing the Broadway version of The Lion King.

1970b. Rochester's population diminished to 295,022 while the Blacks jumped to 49,647. White population had begun to move to its neighboring suburbs.

1970c. On the strength of Bob Lanier (Bennett High School alumnus), St. Bonaventure's Basketball Team makes it to the NCAA's Final Four. But Lanier is ijured.

1970d. Why the black population is now above 100,000, Buffalo's total population has sunk to 462,000 from its 1950 high of 532,000.



1971a. Attica Riot. More than 1,200 Black, Hispanic, and Native American inmates of Attica State Prison, near Buffalo, seized 43 White guards as hostages and took control of the maximum security prison. There weapons were knives. They were requesting humane treatment. After 4 days, Governor Rockefeller sent in 400 State Police. 39 of the hostages were killed and 80 inmates were wounded by gunfire.

1971b. Carlene Polite, novelist, dancer, and activist, called "among the most talented and versatile Black artists of the second Black renaissance", joins the faculty of the State University of New York at Buffalo.

1971c. University at Buffalo hires it first African American scientist, Scott Williams, a mathematician and Baltimore native who previously was a faculty member of Pennsylavania State University. For more on Williams, see 2004



Daniel Acker becomes president of the Buffalo chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He was also to lead the Urban League for the next 25 years. For more on Acker see 1997.



1973a. Jessica Johnson, of Buffalo, achieved statewide prominence in the Democratic Party hierarchy, in 1973 when she became the Assistant Treasurer of the State Democratic Committee. Three years later, she was elected the First Vice Chairman of that body. She became the first black and first woman to hold the post of state party chairwoman. Also see 1966 and 1976.

1973b. Joseph H. Jackson receives a Master of Divinity from Colgate Rochester Divinity School this year. Jackson was a very rightwing Black conservative. He bitterly opposed Martin Luther King's civil disobedience campaign, and the Ultra-Conservative Whites awarded him "1968 Patriot of the year" He was the sole major black leader [He was Baptist minister of Chicago's largest black church] to endorse Richard Nixon in 1972



1974a. Delmore Mitchell becomes the first African American president of the Buffalo Common Council. Also see 1865.

1974b. Buffalo Board of Education is reconstituted from Mayor appointed to seven elected district representatives and two elected at-Large representatives. Three of these are the African American.



1976a. Warren Barbour, first African American with a Ph.D. (from the University of Rochester 1976) in Archeology arrives at the State Unversity of New York at Buffalo. On of his famous papers concerned the slave burial ground discovered in New York City: Interpreting the African Burial Ground: What We Want to See, Transforming Anthropology (fall 1993). There is also Robbing Native American Cultures: Van Sertima's Afrocentricity and the Olmecs (with Bernard de Montellano, and Gabriel Haslip-Viera), Current Anthropology Vol. 38, 1997.
His web page

1976b. In the Spring of 1976, U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin, a native Buffalonian, announced his decision in the Arthur vs. Nyquist law suit. The suit brought by Civil Rights organizations and filed in 1972 was in trial since 1974, and Judge Curtin found the mayor, the Common Council, the Board of Education, the New York State Board of Regents guilty of implimenting and fostering a jim crow public school system, guilty of "creating, maintaining, permitting, condoning, and perpetuating racialy segregated schools in the City of Buffalo." For more on Curtin's rulings, see 1967.

Note. During the court procedings is revealed that the Buffalo Municiple Housing Authority has fostered and maintained isolation of Blacks in segregated housing; Federal Housing policies since the 1930s expressly directed housing developers to discriminate against Blacks; countless instances of discrimination in rental housing and racial steering by the Greater Buffalo Board of Realtors contributed to the containment of Blacks in the inner city neighborhoods.

1976c Mayor Stanley M. Makowski Jessica Johnson as Buffalo City Treasurer in 1976. She was the first black female to fill this post. Also see 1973 and 1966.



Minnie Gillette was the first African American woman elected to the Erie County Legislature and had the backing of the Democratic, Republican, and Conservative parties. Shortly after her election into the Legislature, she allied herself with Republican legislators. She was considered a feisty political figure who strayed from party lines in the interest of her constituents. As a legislator, Ms. Gillette, a former director of the Model Cities Program and past vice president of the Ellicott Community Action Organization, led the movement to convert the former main post office building on Ellicott Street in Buffalo into the Erie Community College City Campus. She also helped establish the Ram Van, a traveling lending library, and fought to help minority contractors receive a fair share of county contracts. She served two terms in the County Legislature, losing re-election in 1981. Ms. Gillette died on January 7, 1992 at the age of 62.



1978a. New York State Congessman, Arthur O. Eve, New York State House Majority Leader becomes the first African American to overcome James Griffin and win the Democratic Primary 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. For more on Arthur O. Eve see 1966.

1978b. Lorna C. Hill was the first African American woman accepted at Dartmouth College where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Intellectual History in 1973. In 1978, she became the Founder and Executive Director of the Ujima Theater Company, Inc., in 2005, the oldest professional repertory theater company in Western New York. Ujima, a multicultural membership organization, is dedicated to providing a vehicle for African American performers, theater crafts people, and administrators. Hill is a playwright and poet who is best known for the play Yalla Bitch that was performed as part of the first International Women Playwrights Conference.



1979a. 1979, Arthur Eve is the first Black to become Deputy Speaker of the New York State Assembly. For more on Arthur O. Eve see 1966.

1979b. W. Yerby Jones (1904-1979), Black chief of staff of the former Meyer Memorial Hospital dies. For more on Yerby Jones see 1921.

1979c. Marian Bass captain of the Buffalo Police Department became the first woman in Western New York to commanded a police precinct. She was featured in Ebony Magazine as the Commander of the Crime Prevention Bureau.

1979d. Eva M. Doyle begins her column "Eye on History" about the African American History of Western New York with the Buffalo Challenger Newspaper. It is currently in the Buffalo Criterion Newspaper. Doyle, a teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools, founded the African American Curriculum Resource Center at the Campus West School in 1994.

Marian Bass



1980a. The 1980 census lists Rochester with a population of 241,741 with Blacks numbering 62,332, 25% of the city. The total population has continued to diminish as people move to the suburbs and to the states in the South and the West. Rochester, like the rest of the country, has seen a continuing growth of Blacks in the professions. Major corporations, urged on by Federal legislation, began hiring Blacks into middle management. Small Black businesses grew and WDKX, Rochester's first radio station aimed at the African American community came on the air. Nevertheless, Black employment is still concentrated in the unskilled and semi- skilled fields. 36% of all Black workers in the five county Rochester area are in the service industry. The highest percentage of unemployed Black workers is among the youth. The unemployment rate for all Blacks in 1980 stands at 14.3%, compared with white unemployment of 4.8%.

1980b. Laval Wilson becomes first black superintendent of Rochester schools.

1980c. Ernestine R. Green  is the First Woman to be appointed, by New York Governor Hugh Carey, to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. She was reappointed by New York Governor Mario Cuomo  in 1987. While at the NFTA, Ms. Green initiated and chaired the Minority Task Force which helps local minority businesses to work with the NFTA to secure contracts. In addition, she initiated and chaired the Art Selection Committee of the NFTA. A million and one-half dollars of public art represented by all members of the community was placed in the seven Metro stations.

1980d. The Buffalonians are founded. The Buffalonians are a group of African Americans who grew up during the first half of the 20th century on the east side and Coldspring sections of Buffalo.

1980e. Buffalo's black community is terrorized in September by a gunman who came to be known as the ".22-Caliber Killer" kills 6 blacks between September and January In April of 1981, Joseph Christopher, a 26-year old white army private, is charged. About a year later, he is found guilty.



1981a. Pam McAllister Johnson (right) is named as publisher of Gannet's Ithaca (NY) Journal. She is the first African-American woman to head a general circulation newspaper in the US. In 1987 she won the Nafziger Award. Before Ithaca, wrote for the Chicago Tribune, the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times. She worked as a reporter and announcer for then-WISM radio in Madison and for WISC-TV, WTMJ in Milwaukee and CBS News in Chicago. She was Director of the Ethnic Production Unit at WHA Radio, The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass. and the Courier-News in Bridgewater, N.J.

1981b. Buffalonian Charlie "The Tuna" Chapman becomes the first black Americana to swim the English Channel. [swim]



Shirley Chisholm (more on Chisholm), the first Black woman elected to the US Congress, moves to Buffalo in 1982 to live with her husband former New York Assemblyman, Arthur Hardwick, Jr. She is burried next to her husband in Buffalo.


Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations (ASCAC) is founded. Joye Hardiman is a founding member, board member, and representatice of this region.



1987a. Shirley M. Suber (born June 28, 1950 in South Carolina and raised in Buffalo) is the first African American woman to be hired as a pilot at United Airlines. Tyus' aviation career began as a United Airlines Flight Attendant in 1972. She soon realized that her real desire was to become an airline pilot. In 1977, she embarked on her mission by enrolling in flight training at the Professional Flight School in Friendly, Md. In August, 1979, she acquired her commercial pilot's license.

In 1987, her dream was further fulfilled when United Airlines hired her as a pilot. She continued training at United Airlines' state of the art Flight Training Center. It was after completing this advanced training that Tyus began flying for United Airlines. Officer Tyus is vice president of the Bessie Coleman Foundation, Inc. BCF was founded in 1995 by a group of African American women involved in the aviation industry. One of the goals of BCF is to encourage young men and women to pursue aviation related careers.

1987b. Juanita K. Hunter is elected first African American President of the New York State Nurses Association.

Hunter worked as a public health nurse coordinator at Buffalo Veterans Medical Center before joining the faculty of the University of Buffalo School of Nursing in 1978 as an Assistant Professor of Community Health. Hunter was given the Ruth T. McGrorey Award by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) in 1980. She chaired both the first New York State Nursing Association Committee on Human Rights and the American Nursing Association's Commission on Human Rights. She was also Coordinator for the University of Buffalo School of Nursing Center for the Homeless (founded 1988) which provides health care services to the Buffalo area homeless. In 1988, she was given the Honorary Human Rights Award from the American Nurses Association. Two years later, she was made fellow of the American Academy of Nursing. Hunter was also elected the first African-American president of NYSNA in 1987. In 2003 she was given the Honorary Recognition Award at NYSNA's annual convention, the highest honor bestowed by the organization.



1988a. Dr. Ellen E. Grant Bishop is the first African American to be appointed Erie County Mental Health Commissioner. Also see 2001.

1988b. Tearah Grace Mullins was appointed to the position of Court Attorney to the Buffalo City Court Judges. She was the first African American to receive this position. In 1999, Attorney Mullins was appointed by the Honorable Thomas P. Amodeo, Chief Judge of Buffalo City Court, to the position of Supervising Court Attorney of the Buffalo City Court Legal Staff. Attorney Mullins also has served as Confidential Law Clerk to the Honorable Rose H. Sconiers. Supreme Court Justice, 8th Judicial District, and was the first African American woman in Erie County to serve as Law Clerk in State Supreme Court. 



As a result of Buffalo turning into a White-population doughnut, 31 percent of the population (100,000) is African- American. See 1945.


1991a. University of Buffalo Professor Alexis DeVeaux was awarded the 1991 Lorraine Hansberry Award for Excellence in Children's Literature. She is a poet, short fiction writer, essayist, biographert. Among her works are a fictionalized memoir, Spirits: In The Street (Doubleday, 1973); an award-winning children's book, Na-Ni (Harper and Row, 1973); Don't Explain, a Biography of Jazz Great, Billie Holiday (Harper and Row, 1980); two independently published poetry works, Blue Beat: A Portfolio of Poems and Drawings (1985) and Spirit Talk (1997); and a second children's book, An Enchanted Hair Tale (Harper and Row, 1987), which was a recipient of the 1988 Coretta Scott King Award presented by the American Library Association. She recently completed a much heralded biography of the late poet Audre Lorde.

 In 1997, one of DeVeaux' poems was selected for the prestigious Christmas Broadside Series published under the auspices of the Friends of the University Libraries, the State University of New York at Buffalo. Her plays have been produced on television, off-Broadway, and in regional theaters and include Circles (1972); The Tapestry (1976); A Season to Unravel (1979); NO (1981); and Elbow Rooms (1987).

1991b. Renae Kimble was the first woman to run for Mayor of the City of Niagara Falls. Two years later she was elected to represent the Second Legislative District in the city of Niagara Falls, a position she held for four terms during which she became Majority Leader of the Niagara County Legislature, the only African American to hold this position.



The Buffalo News conducts a poll on 1992 racial attitudes in Erie County. They find 1992 Whites view Blacks as less intelligent, less hard-working, and less trustworthy than Whites. Similar results were found in a poll conducted by WKBW-TV. [Taylor]


Rochester's first Black Mayor:

In 1973 William A. Johnson, Jr., came to Rochester, New York to be be President of CEO of the Urban League of Rochester. During his 21 years in this position the Urban League of Rochester went from a fledgling Urban League affiliate on the verge of bankruptcy, to one of the most widely respected and successful of the 112 National Urban League affiliates. Perhaps Johnson's proudest Urban League accomplishment was the establishment of the Urban League of Rochester's Salute to Black Scholars, founded in 1980 and the companion Black Scholars Endowment Fund, launched in 1987.

On November 2, 1993, Bill Johnson was elected the 64th Mayor of the City of Rochester, and its first African-American mayor, succeeding a popular 20 year incumbent.



1995a. Beverly A. Gray was elected Councilmember-At-Large for the City of Buffalo in November 1995. She is the first African American woman in the history of Buffalo politics to hold a citywide office. She won re-election in 1999. In 2000, Ms. Gray was elected to the State Democratic Judicial Committee. She was the first woman to run for Mayor in Buffalo's history, and the first in opposition to an incumbent Mayor in 2001.

1995b. Estella Norwood Evans was the 1995 recipient of the Rochester Community Service Award presented by the Tribute to Great Women Committee of the Rochester Community and she was a Ford Foundation National Fellow. She is Founding Director of the Greater Rochester Collaborative MSW Program and is Professor of Social Work at Nazareth College of Rochester.

1995c. Buffalo Quarters Historical Society was founded in 1995 by Lillion Batchelor. The purpose of BQHS is to increase National and International awareness of the significant role of Buffalo in the Underground Railroad movement. The Society presents annual recreations of historical events through drama and music culminating in the Niagara River Crossing into Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada.

1995d. Barbara Miller-Williams, a Buffalo Police Officer for twenty four years, was the First African American Woman to serve as Buffalo's Ellicott District Councilmember (1995-2002). In 2001 she was also the First African American Woman in the history of the Department to run for Erie County Sheriff.



Muriel Moore Howard becomes president of Buffalo State College, and the first African American woman president of one of the 15 State of New York colleges and universities. Prior to this position, she was the first female vice president at the University at Buffalo. In 1999, she was the first African American female chair of the United Way campaign for Buffalo and Erie County.


1997a. Daniel Acker Sr., 87, dies. He was known across the nation for his tireless efforts for the past 25 years as head of the Urban League in Buffalo. Daniel Acker was a tireless educator, scientist, and civil rights activist who led the Buffalo Chapter of the NAACP for over 25 years, since 1972. During that time, Mr. Acker was instrumental in the integration of Buffalo's public schools, the fight against discriminatory housing practices, and the implementation of successful minority-focused academic programs at the University at Buffalo, where he was a part-time faculty member. Mr. Acker also made his mark as a scientist and researcher. Among other projects, he was involved in the Manhattan Project, helped invent Prestone Antifreeze, and worked on important medical advancements still practiced today. While at UB, Mr. Acker was a Cora P. Maloney College faculty member and served as President of the Minority Faculty and Staff Association.

1997b. New York has become the first state in the nation to pass its own UGRR Freedom Trail Act, designed to support the proposed National Park Service Underground Railroad Project. The bill was ceremonially signed into law by Governor George Pataki on October 30, 1997 at the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church, the most significant UGRR site in Buffalo. The bill was sponsored by Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve of Buffalo, and Senator Dale Volker of Depew.

1997c. Buffalo native Virginia DeBerry's book Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made became a national bestseller. DeBarry is also the auther of Far From the Tree (2000, a New York Times best seller) and Better Than I Know Myself (2004). She has been a model and is the founding editor-in-chief of Maxima, a fashion and lifestyle magazine for the plus-size woman. Before the model career she was an English teacher, where she taught at Genesee Humboldt, East, Lafayette and Seneca High Schools.


1999a. At the State University of New York at Buffalo, Lucille Clifton receives a SUNY honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters for her outstanding accomplishments as a versatile and prolific writer and a voice for social change. More on Clifton.

1999b. In 1999, Natosha Cummings becam3 Assistant Women's Basketball Coach at Medaille College. She is the first African-American to ever coach at Medaille. In 1996, she was the first African-American athletic director and basketball coach for the Girls Athletic League (GAL). In 1995 she was the first African-American female to graduate from UB's NCAA Division I Program.

1999c. Karen Ellington is the First African American and the first woman elected to the Fillmore District of the City of Buffalo Common Council 








21st century




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