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Vibrant Lives. Vibrant Stories.
King W. Peterson, 1915 - 2012

This biography was originally released on May 26, 2021 as a part of our on going series titled: Vibrant Lives. Vibrant Stories.
Written by the Staff of The Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission

Mr. King W. Peterson was born in Pelham, Georgia in 1915. He relocated to Buffalo with his parents as a child and spent the remainder of his childhood in the city. He graduated from Hutchinson-Technical High School before going on to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta Georgia. In 1940 he married his wife Jannie.

Like many Buffalo men, he found occupation at the Ford Motor Assembly Plant. It was here that he began a career in leadership and eventually public service. His fellow coworkers appointed him to the union bargaining committee and eventually to an International Representative of the United Auto Workers.

After representing the union workers, he was elected to the Erie County Board of Supervisors, the precursor to the Erie County Legislature. During his time on the Erie Count Board of Supervisors, he represented the old Fifth Ward in the City of Buffalo.


From there he went on to serve on the Common Council as the Ellicott District representative from 1955 to 1959. He was the Chairman of the Legislation Committee and President of the Pro-Tem. 

Julia Bottoms’s portrait of King Peterson for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan. Courtesy of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. 

In this role, he served as the acting mayor of the City of Buffalo for 10 days in 1956 while the current Mayor and Common Council Presidents were away at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. This made Mr. Peterson the first African American man to be an acting Mayor in the City of Buffalo.

Mr. Peterson was later elected as a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention in 1967 and worked as the Assistant Project Manager for the City of Buffalo. In this role he drove the Hamlin Park Neighborhood Improvement Project.

After a career spanning several decades, Mr. Peterson retired in 1979. Despite his retirement, he did not slow down. He was the director of the Food bank of Western New York and Towne Garden Housing Development for 10 years. He also served as the director for the Shiloh Housing Development Corporation. Other organizations he was a member of active participant of include the Buffalo Urban League, the NAACP, and the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.

After 72 years together with Jannie, Mr. Peterson lost his wife in January of 2012. He followed her later that year in September. He was 97 years old.

Thank you to our sources!

Uncrowned Community Builders, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and the Buffalo News. 

Painting Credit:  Julia Bottoms’s portrait of King Peterson for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan. Courtesy of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. 

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