The Community Remembers George K. Arthur: Mentor, Activist, Artist, Politician, Statesman and Friend
above: George Arthur’s image on The Freedom Wall by artist Chuck Tingley
For former Council President James Pitts, the loss of George K. Arthur was especially painful. They had known each other for some 47 years – before Pitts was even thinking about getting into politics. “I knew him from our activism in the Fruit Belt,” he recalled. “Out of everybody, George was our favorite because he was always there.”
Mr. Arthur made his transition peacefully on Christmas day at age 87. ”I’m going to miss him,” said Pitts.
Their professional relationship began after Jim was hired as a Community Coordinator for the city. Little did he know that would also be his personal entry into politics.
When he decided to run, “the person who supported me outwardly and regardless from that point on was George,” he recalled. “When I first walked thru those doors at City Hall I had a clear understanding of what was happening in the community; but the person who know this stuff (the workings of City government) backwards and forwards was George K. Arthur. George was a master and he became my mentor.”
The Hallmark of successful mentoring he reflected, is when the student reaches a point where they understand all the knowledge and insight they can get from their mentor, and that mentor then starts listening to them.
As time went on, he said, they could communicate just by looking at one another. “We knew each other inside out…and that’s the thing that continued thru the course of our careers and even after we left city government.”
“I don’t’ think there was anybody….who could have known as much about this city and its neighborhoods (and the workings of government) like George,” he said.
He had intimate knowledge about every part of the city, Jim continued. No matter where they ventured he knew names and faces and histories. “George knew them all.”
He was especially and always concerned with lifting up the community Pitts said. “He really wanted to build a foundation for recognizing the African American community…for George, the Michigan and Broadway area was Ground zero .”
For example, Arthur worked hard on developing and saving the Nash House…even up to a couple of months ago and they had been in talks about its expansion.
“There was nobody who knew the history of this community like George…he studied it…he lived it…”
What can Black elected official today learn from his example?
“It’s very important for the leadership on the local level to be completely engaged with the community,” said Jim. “George personified that. Even when he retired he stayed involved.”
“George used to hold court at GG’S and Matties and he would always say, ‘the community needs to see us working together…unified even if we have differences…the key is to be visible and let the community know you care. We always need to show the community that we’re working for them.”
George K. Arthur was a Common Council member and its President (1984 -1996), advocate for equality in education, and leader on highlighting local African-American history. Over the course of a political career that lasted almost half a century, a Buffalo native George K. Arthur dedicated himself to ensuring equality and promoting unity in a constantly changing city.
Arthur’s public service began in 1964, when 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. George K. Arthur served as Buffalo Common Council President from 1984 to 1996, and was appointed as a director of the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority in 2007, where he was still serving until illness
George served as the lead plaintiff in Arthur v. Nyquist, a federal suit that brought to an end segregation and unequal resources in Buffalo schools that spanned from 1981 to 1996.
George has worked with many groups like the NAACP, The Colored Musicians Club, and the Michigan Street Preservation Corp, where he was instrumental in preserving the home and archives of Rev. J. Edward Nash, Sr., as the Nash House Museum. He is featured on the Freedom Wall commissioned by Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
He was an active member of The American Legion No. 430 and Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masons, St. John Lodge No. 16 and was Grand Inspectors General of Bison Consistory No. 29, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite Mason, Prince Hall Affiliate.
George was often found in the community with a camera around his neck as he was a passionate photographer. He spearheaded an annual reunion of the Pine Grill Nightclub from the 1950s and 1960s, along with the late Agnes Bain, both always enjoying the music and the crowds. He was Honorably discharged from the United States Army as a Corporal.
George is survived by his wife, Frances (Bivens), three children Hugh (Linda) Arthur, Janice (William) Towns, and George Jr; Grandchildren: Stacey, Dominique, George III, Ashtyn and Jasmine.
Funeral services were held privately at the convenience of the family. Interment Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Google: Uncrowned Commuity Builders for an extensive life story on Mr. Arthur.