The Freedom Wall: Buffalo’s Tribute To Black History 365 Days A Year

 

We kick off Black History Month with The Freedom Wall, Buffalo’s own iconic wall of pride.The Albright-Knox Art Gallery Public Art Initiative, in collaboration with the Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor and neighborhood stakeholders, envisioned this mural as a way to celebrate our nation’s historic and ongoing struggles for political and social equality, including the formative and lasting contributions of local leaders to this cause.

The portraits were painted by four exceptionally local artists ,John Baker, Julia Bottoms ,Chuck Tingley and Edreys Wajed . Their amazing works grace the corner of Michigan and Ferry at the threshold of the African American Heritage Corridor. The abbreviated bios found here are just a small introduction to the greatness that graces the wall. We encourage you to visit this monumental site during and long after, Black History Month!  Mural Portraits above Photographed by Tom Loonan.

The Freedom Wall Located Corner of Michigan and E. Ferry . Photo Tom Loonan

For The Freedom Wall project each mural is accompanied by a brief history on each Leader featured. Below  are the abbreviated versions of those bios that you can find in total on the Albright Knox Gallery website.

Rosa Parks
1913–2005
Painted by Julia Bottoms-Douglas

Rosa Parks’s famous refusal to move to the back of a segregated bus in December 1955 instigated a 381-day boycott of Montgomery’s bus system, led by a then relatively unknown Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. By the time of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, however, Parks had been involved with the Civil Rights movement for nearly twenty years. As a member and secretary of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP, Parks was particularly dedicated to bringing awareness to the era’s widespread sexual violence against African American women by white men and to mobilizing young people in the struggle against oppression. Throughout the 1960s, Parks remained an active voice in the movement, participating in Southern Christian Leadership Conference conventions, the 1963 March on Washington, and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March.

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Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure)
1941–1998
Painted by Chuck Tingley

At once influential and divisive, Stokely Carmichael is best known for popularizing “Black Power” as both a powerful slogan and a philosophy of self-determination. Carmichael helped educate and register disenfranchised African Americans as part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Freedom Summer in 1964, and in 1966, he was chosen as chairman of the organization. However, after being jailed for the twenty-seventh time at a rally in support of James Meredith (who had been wounded by a sniper on his “Walk Against Fear” from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi), Carmichael pivoted away from the nonviolent strategies long advocated by the mainstream Civil Rights movement, declaiming after his release, “We been saying ‘Freedom’ for six years . . . . What we are going to start saying now is ‘Black Power!’”

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Mama Charlene Caver Miller
Born 1944
Painted by John Baker

Growing up, civil rights activism was a family affair for “Mama” Charlene Caver Miller. Alongside her parents and siblings, Miller participated in sit-ins to protest the segregation of beaches, libraries, restaurants, and banks in her hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. She marched with her mother, one of the first African American graduates of the local police academy, for inclusive and representative hiring in the city’s fire, health, and police departments. Today, Miller is a powerhouse of community service in Buffalo, volunteering for local block clubs, food pantries, and The Challenger as well as the American Red Cross, NAACP, YMCA, and other religious and public organizations dedicated to helping those in need.

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William Wells Brown
ca. 1814–1884
Painted by Edreys Wajed

William Wells Brown escaped to freedom shortly before his twentieth birthday in 1834. Brown educated himself while working for various Lake Erie–based steamship companies, and he eventually moved to Buffalo in 1836. There, he began publicly speaking out against slavery and privately using his work connections to secure passage across Lake Erie to Canada for escaped slaves. In part inspired by the success of Frederick Douglass’s best-selling autobiography, Brown published Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave in 1847, which became widely read in its own right. He went on to become the first African American to publish a travelogue and a novel, and became a physician in the 1860s.

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King Peterson
1915–2012
Painted by Julia Bottoms-Douglas

A champion of both public service and the labor movement, King Peterson began his career in politics by serving two terms on the Erie County Board of Supervisors. He was elected to the Buffalo Common Council as the Ellicott District representative in 1955, becoming only the second African American to serve on the Common Council in the city’s history. As President Pro Tempore of the Common Council, he became the first African American to hold the position of acting mayor of Buffalo in 1956. Peterson later served as the Assistant Project Manager for the City of Buffalo, as a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention in 1967, and as First Shiloh Baptist Church’s Food Pantry Coordinator and Assistant.

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Angela Davis
Born 1944
Painted by Chuck Tingley

Angela Davis rose to international prominence during the 1970s for her unwavering pursuit of racial and economic justice through radical political action. Davis was at one point infamously named as one of the FBI’s most wanted individuals when she was implicated in a deadly attack that resulted in the death of a judge in 1970. She maintained her innocence, opened the defense to her case herself, and was ultimately acquitted of all charges. Today, due in part to her own experiences during incarceration, Davis remains committed to challenging what she views as an inherently racist penal system designed to exploit poor, immigrant, and racially marginalized communities.

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Bill Gaiter
1927–1997
Painted by John Baker

As the president and later executive director of B.U.I.L.D. (Build Unity, Independence, Liberty, and Dignity)—a collective of local religious and community groups that coordinated on issues impacting Buffalo’s African American community—Bill Gaiter organized various demonstrations, boycotts, and lawsuits challenging instances of inequality, and was responsible for securing employment for hundreds of minority construction workers during the 1970s. Gaiter also established the Western New York Council for African Relief to raise money for and develop cultural ties with Malika, Senegal, and other African communities, and coordinated voter registration campaigns for various local African American candidates.

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Malcolm X
1925–1965
Painted by Edreys Wajed

Malcolm X’s articulation of racial pride, Black nationalism, and, later in his career, human rights was unique among his contemporaries. While in his twenties, Malcolm joined the Nation of Islam and later became a minister and national spokesman for the organization, passionately arguing for Black empowerment and the abolishment of what he perceived to be nationally pervasive racial inequities. After a transformational pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, however, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam. Tragically, just as Malcolm began to reorient his ideology toward inclusion and the promotion of human rights for all races—a shift that had the potential to alter dramatically the course of the Civil Rights movement—he was assassinated in February 1965.

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Alicia Garza
Born 1981
Painted by Julia Bottoms-Douglas

Along with Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza cofounded Black Lives Matter, a globally recognized organizing project that focuses on combating anti-Black state-sanctioned violence and the oppression of all Black people. Garza proclaims provocatively and proudly, “When Black people are free, everyone is free.” Critically, Garza’s leadership as a queer Black woman challenges the misconception that only cisgender men of color encounter police and state violence. For Garza, in order to truly understand how devastating and widespread this type of racial violence is in the United States, we must come to terms with and work to solve this epidemic through of a lens of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

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George K. Arthur
Born 1934
Painted by Chuck Tingley

Buffalo native George K. Arthur’s public service began in 1964, when, at the urging of a friend, he ran for and subsequently won a seat on the Erie County Board of Supervisors. He later served as the Ellicott District Common Council Member from 1970 to 1977, Common Council President from 1984 to 1996, and was appointed as a director of the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority in 2007. In his various roles, Arthur was and continues to be a passionate advocate for economic development and equality in housing and education, serving as the lead plaintiff in a long-running federal suit that challenged segregation and unequal resources in Buffalo schools.

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Al-Nisa Banks
Born 1947
Painted by John Baker

Al-Nisa Banks is the owner, editor, and publisher of The Challenger, one of the largest African American newspapers in the state of New York. Since starting as a volunteer at the Buffalo-based paper in 1979, Banks has worked tirelessly to give the local African American community a platform to address and discuss the issues that impact them and the city of Buffalo. Her unwavering pursuit of self-empowerment and equality has consistently earned her credibility with her supporters and critics alike, and to this day, she remains committed to giving a voice to those who deserve to be heard.

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W. E. B. Du Bois
1868–1963
Painted by Edreys Wajed

W. E. B. Du Bois was a prolific scholar whose influential writings revolutionized our understanding of the myriad forces responsible for racial inequity in the United States and what form possible solutions might take. The Souls of Black Folk, considered his seminal work, found a sympathetic readership among a burgeoning community of intellectuals of color, and in 1905 Du Bois invited fifty-nine of his peers to Niagara Falls, New York, to form the Niagara Movement. The Niagara Movement later formed the nucleus of the NAACP, which Du Bois helped to establish in 1909 and in which he served in various roles, including as the founding editor of Crisis, its monthly magazine.

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Eva Doyle
Born 1946
Painted by Julia Bottoms-Douglas

Eva Doyle is a prominent historian, author, and lecturer whose focus is African American history. Doyle is a gifted storyteller and has shared some of her research in her ongoing newspaper column “Eye on History,” which she first began in 1979 for The Challenger and now runs in the Buffalo Criterion. Doyle is deeply committed to education and equality, and has developed more than one hundred essay contests designed to encourage young students to enhance their writing skills. In 2009, she inaugurated the Romeo Doyle Muhammad Scholarship, named after her late husband and awarded yearly to exceptional college-bound students of color.

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Huey P. Newton
1942–1989
Painted by Chuck Tingley

As a cofounder and leader of the Black Panthers, Huey P. Newton was a powerful voice for militant revolution in the name of freedom and justice during the 1960s. For Newton and many younger African Americans, the major strides toward ending legal discrimination made by the mid-1960s seemed to have little effect on the racism, economic injustice, and police brutality they and their neighbors regularly experienced. In 1966, Newton and Bobby Seale translated this frustration in the platform of the Black Panther Party, which advocated for armed self-defense and, in a major break with the mainstream Civil Rights movement, allowed for reciprocal violence for revolutionary ends. Under Newton’s leadership, the party also developed breakfast programs for children and free medical clinics in addition to the Panthers’ political efforts.

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Shirley Chisholm
1924–2005
Painted by John Baker

Shirley Chisholm’s life was one of historic triumphs: In 1964, she became only the second African American woman to serve in the New York State Legislature, and she was the first African American woman elected to Congress (in 1968) and both the first African American and the first woman to compete in the presidential primaries for a major political party. While her 1972 bid for president ended in defeat, her high-energy campaign opened up important discussions about who and what the Democratic Party stood for and paved the way for later female and African American presidential candidates.

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Frank Merriweather
1888–1959
Painted by Edreys Wajed

After moving to Buffalo in 1922, Frank Merriweather founded the Buffalo Criterion as a platform to interweave local and national issues impacting the lives of African Americans, featuring stories on housing, employment, education, and civil rights, as well as the push for greater representation on the Buffalo Board of Education. Today, the Buffalo Criterion is still published by the Merriweather family and is the longest-running continuously published African American newspaper in Western New York. Alongside his publishing work, Merriweather was active in the local political scene. In 1928, he helped form the first African American political clubs in Buffalo and subsequently organized voter registration drives.

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Martin Luther King, Jr.
1929–1968
Painted by Julia Bottoms-Douglas

One of the most profoundly influential participants in Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, led the Southern Christian Leadership Council, orchestrated nonviolent protests and marches throughout the United States during the 1950s and 1960s, and delivered a number of speeches that ultimately led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. In his last speech prior to his assassination on April 4, 1968, King delivered the spiritual message, “I’ve looked over and seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”

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Mary B. Talbert
1866–1923
Painted by Chuck Tingley

After moving to Buffalo in 1891, Mary B. Talbert quickly became involved in the local community, training Sunday school teachers at the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church, cofounding the city’s Phyllis Wheatley Club, which brought African American women together in service of their community. In 1905, Talbert hosted W. E. B. Du Bois and the other founders of what would be the Niagara Movement, which subsequently formed the nucleus of the NAACP. Talbert later served as a vice president and board member of the NAACP, leading the organization’s nationwide anti-lynching campaign, and was also a long-serving leader in the National Association of Colored Women.

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Reverend J. Edward Nash, Sr.
1868–1957
Painted by John Baker

At the age of twenty-four, Rev. J. Edward Nash, Sr. moved to Buffalo to become the pastor of Buffalo’s Michigan Street Baptist Church, in part because of its legendary association with the Underground Railroad. During his notable sixty-one-year ministry, Nash developed a statewide and national reputation not only for his powerful sermons but also for his tireless advocacy on behalf of the less fortunate. His work extended beyond the church into the public sphere and included his tenure as director and founder of the Buffalo Urban League and the local branch of the NAACP.

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Dr. Lydia T. Wright
1921–2006
Painted by Edreys Wajed

Dr. Lydia T. Wright became the city’s first African American pediatrician in 1952, when she and her husband moved to Buffalo and opened their own practice on Jefferson Avenue. In 1962, Wright was elected to the Board of Education, vowing to be “the community’s voice during Board debates on school racial integration.” During her five years on the Board, Wright fought to develop busing and redistricting plans that would more evenly distribute African American and white students across schools in the district. In 2000, the Buffalo Common Council agreed to name a new school the Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence in her honor.

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Frederick Douglass
1818–1895
Painted by Julia Bottoms-Douglas

Frederick Douglass was one of the most influential voices in the abolitionist movement prior to the Civil War and in the work to ensure the full recognition of the civil rights of African Americans after the war’s end. After escaping slavery in 1838, Douglass quickly became a popular and powerful public speaker on the evils of slavery, and published a bestselling autobiography in 1845. In the years following the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass was a committed advocate for the right of African Americans to vote—which was finally codified in the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870—and against the emergence of segregation laws that threatened this and other rights in the American South in the wake of Reconstruction’s failures.

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Dr. Monroe Fordham
1939–2012
Painted by Chuck Tingley

A longtime professor at Buffalo State College, Dr. Monroe Fordham worked tirelessly to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans—especially members of Buffalo’s African American community—to this country’s history and culture. In 1974, Fordham was a driving force in founding The Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier: an organization dedicated to collecting and preserving records documenting the legacies of African Americans in Western New York. The Association shared its work in part through an interdisciplinary journal, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, which Fordham edited between 1977 and 2008.

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Thurgood Marshall
1908–1993
Painted by John Baker

In 1954, Thurgood Marshall, the long-serving chief counsel of the NAACP during the height of the Civil Rights movement, rose to national prominence after successfully arguing before the Supreme Court the case of Brown v. Board of Education, which ended racial segregation in public schools. His success in fighting discrimination through the legal system—including twenty-nine Supreme Court victories—led to his appointment to the United States Court of Appeals in 1961, as Solicitor General of the United States in 1965, and to the Supreme Court in 1967, where he would become the first African American justice.

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Fannie Lou Hamer
1917–1977
Painted by Edreys Wajed

The daughter of sharecroppers and a sharecropper herself for the majority of her life, Fannie Lou Hamer became active in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s voter registration campaign in her native Mississippi in 1962 and was jailed and viciously beaten for her work. In 1964, she delivered one of the era’s most powerful testimonies, declaring to the Credentials Committee at the Democratic National Convention, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and ending her testimony with a challenge to the United States as a whole: “Is this America, the land of the free and home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hook because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings in America?”

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Arthur O. Eve
Born 1933
Painted by Julia Bottoms-Douglas

In 1966, Arthur O. Eve won his first election to begin what would be an historic thirty-six year tenure in the New York State Assembly, where he would serve as Deputy Speaker from 1979 to 2002. Eve also became the first African American to win a Democratic mayoral primary in Buffalo, but he ultimately lost the general election to Jimmy Griffin. He focused his time in the Assembly principally on issues of criminal justice reform, economic development, and education. Among the many projects he helped organize and pass through the legislature is the state’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), which provides financial and academic support for academically and economically disadvantaged students, and was later named in Eve’s honor.

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Minnie Gillette
1930–1992
Painted by Chuck Tingley

Minnie Gillette did not become involved in formal politics until relatively late in life. During the 1960s, she was instrumental in the local implementation and success of federal antipoverty programs and served as both the director of Buffalo’s Model Cities Program and vice president of the Ellicott Community Action Organization, and in 1977, Gillette secured the backing of Democratic, Republican, and Conservative parties in her election to become the first African American woman on the Erie County Legislature. During her time in office, she eschewed party politics in favor of getting things done, including working with Republican legislator Joan K. Bozer to convert the city’s former main post office building into Erie Community College’s City Campus.

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Marcus Garvey
1887–1940
Painted by John Baker

Marcus Garvey was a pioneer of pan-Africanism, persuasively arguing for a vision of social and political equality through the global unification of all peoples of African descent. Born and raised in Jamaica, Garvey moved to Harlem in 1916, where he found a receptive following for his Universal Negro Improvement Association. In 1919, he successfully crowd-funded the beginnings of an international fleet of steamships intended to connect black-owned enterprises in Africa and the Americas, as well as the Negro Factories Corporation, which provided start-up funding for a number of small businesses. The popularity and success of the Garvey’s message and projects alarmed British and French colonial authorities as well as the United States government, and in 1922, Garvey was convicted on charges related to fraud and deported.

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Harriet Tubman
ca. 1820–1913
Painted by Edreys Wajed

After escaping from slavery in 1849, Harriet Tubman went on to become one of the Underground Railroad’s most daring and successful operatives and then a scout, spy, and nurse for the Union army during the Civil War. Between 1850 and 1858, it is estimated that she made as many as nineteen trips back into slave-holding states in order to lead as many as three hundred people, including her own parents, north to Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada. After the war, Tubman dedicated herself to caring for poor and elderly African Americans, and also became involved in the women’s right movement, cofounding the National Associated of Colored Women in 1896.

 

 

 

 

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