History of the Corridor
The Abolitionist Period
The world-renowned abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a native of Rochester, was a featured speaker at the 1843 Freedmen’s Convention in Buffalo’s Front Park. Thousands of African Americans from across the country attended to hear speeches and to mobilize the abolition movement. Known as the Conductor of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman led fugitives from slavery to cross the Niagara River at Buffalo’s Broderick Street landing to get to the Canadian side where they could find freedom. The Harriet Tubman Home The Harriet Tubman Home is a landmark in Auburn, NY just a short drive from Buffalo. The Lower East Side, Old Ward #2, was home to one of the most influential and concentrated groups of 19th century African American activists, who were dedicated to assisting enslaved people to reach freedom in Canada, and who were leaders in organizing abolition activities.
The list of residents included:
Henry Moxley, who escaped from slavery in Virginia to settle in Buffalo. He was a principal organizer of the 1843 National Convention of Colored Men held in Buffalo.
Rev. George Weir, Sr., the first permanent pastor of the Vine Street African Methodist Episcopal Church.
James Whitfield, a poet who was active in national abolitionist activities and wrote the dedication hymns for the Vine Street Baptist Church and the Michigan Street (Macedonia) Church.
William Wells Brown, an abolitionist who was active in the Underground Railroad Movement.
The Great Migration: Field to Factory
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the neighborhoods around Michigan Street experienced an influx of African Americans, as well as immigrants from all over Europe. For many people this was the beginning of the American dream. The size of the city grew with industrialization, and the growth of the railroad brought employment opportunities for African American men. The railroads “Pullman Porters” were immortalized in the song “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.”
The Civil Rights Movement
Buffalonians were activists in the Civil Rights Movement, hosting the earliest meetings for The Niagara Movement, which was the precursor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP). Mrs. Mary Talbert was a key strategist in designing the NAACP along with Dr. W.E.B. Dubois. Mrs. Talbert was also a national officer in the movement of Negro Women's Clubs. The first African American architect in Buffalo, John Edmonston Brent, was employed by the City of Buffalo Parks Department where his work included designing the Entrance Court at the Buffalo Zoo on the corner of Amherst Street and Parkside Avenue. Mr. Brent was also the first president of the NAACP Buffalo Branch and he designed the Michigan Street YMCA, which became a center of culture and recreation for the African-American community.
Arts & Culture in Buffalo
The Colored Musicians Club was not only the union hall for colored musicians at a time when unions were segregated, but it featured great jazz jam sessions by greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald.
The music continues to this day with Sunday night jam sessions, and the annual QUEEN CITY JAZZ FESTIVAL. Not only a jumping joint for jazz, but it also is an exciting hands on, multimedia learning opportunity where jazz comes alive at the Colored Musicians Club museum!
For more information, see Colored Musicians Club
Juneteenth: A Celebration of Our Heritage
Juneteenth was the oldest known observance of the ending of slavery in the United States. According to historical records, the celebration began on June 19, 1865, the day Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army rode into Galveston, Texas in final execution of the Emancipation Proclamation." In Texas, Granger's announcement was met with great celebration among the population of enslaved Africans. According to one account, "On the evening of June 19, 1865, thousands flooded the streets of Galveston, rejoicing in their newly announced freedom. The sweet smell of barbecue smoke filled the air. Dancing feet pounded the dirt roads and harmonic voices sung spirituals. This was the day, Juneteenth, that would forever commemorate African American freedom."
Juneteenth celebrations today commemorate that memorable day in 1865 Texas, and emphasize the achievement of African Americans. Marked by community celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings, it is a time for reflection and rejoicing, for self-assessment and planning and future.
From the Juneteenth Buffalo website.
Buffalo's Economic Renaissance
Revitalization and Economic Development Now and in the Future “A Strategy for Prosperity” aims to make fundamental improvement in the WNY economy, to ensure sustainable and long-term growth in jobs and income in our five-county region, and to contribute to the resurgence of the broader economy of New York State. (From the 2011 WNY Regional Economic Development Plan, otherwise known as “A Billion Dollars for Buffalo”). One important industry sector targeted for revitalization is tourism, including cultural heritage tourism such as that envisioned for the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor.
To learn more about the revitalization of the East Side, follow the East Side Avenues projects and read about their latest updates.