Category Archives: Uncategorized

Documentary Film Update

As I continue to work on my film, the last few weeks have been very productive. The question of Puerto Rico’s status with The United States of America has been a hot button issue since the US came into possession of the island after the end of the Spanish American War in 1898.

My intentions with this film are to cover different bullet points that cover Puerto Rico’s past, from its beginnings as a US territory, the island’s culture to the identity of those of us living here on the mainland. My film wouldn’t be complete if I chose to ignore the “status” question so in part, I chose to focus a good amount of time on my project speaking with folks who had very interesting ideas regarding the island’s current state and the possibilities for the island’s future.

This month, I had a chance to sit down with Congressman Darren Soto (FL-09) and speak on his thoughts regarding Puerto Rico’s status, its future and how he envisions a future for our people on the island. In March of this year, Congressman Soto, along with a bipartisan delegation, introduced a resolution to recognize last November’s Plebiscite results. In November 2020, while most of the US was embroiled in the presidential election, Puerto Rican’s living on the island were given the opportunity for a simple Yes/No vote in favor of Puerto Rican statehood. By introducing this bill, Congressman Soto, who represents the largely Puerto Rican Kissimmee, Florida area, wanted to uphold the Puerto Rican people’s vote.

The Statehood option was favored by 52.5% of the vote. Mind you, this was a simple Yes/No vote and not a true referendum offering the options of Statehood, Independence, or continued Commonwealth. The last referendum to do so was the “2017 Puerto Rican Status Referendum” which saw Statehood win by an overwhelming margin of 97.13% of the vote. Of course, the next steps are up to those on Capitol Hill.

I’m not going to get into which of these options I support, because as a Puerto Rican born and living on the mainland, it really isn’t my place to tell our cousins on the island how they should vote. Those living on the island should be able to determine their future.

This does bring me to an interesting conversation that I’ve noticed while working on this project for the last ten months; support for the pro-Independence movement is greater by mainland Puerto Ricans living outside the island than it is by our family members who still call the island home. I see this ideology plastered all over social media pages and groups, people calling for an end to colonialism through independence.

I admit, the idea of it is very romantic, especially with “Hamilton” still fresh in our memories, fueling thoughts of independent thinking and living, however the numbers were just not there in the 2017 referendum. You could say that the vote was boycotted by various anti-statehood parties for various reasons, however, looking at this with objective eyes, the votes just were not there.

Don’t get me wrong, I see nothing wrong with wanting independence for the island, however, calling for independence while benefiting from mainland living is a little bothersome to me.  The island itself has to make the moves for independence, and yet, as of this writing, the movement is far greater here than it is on the island.

When discussing Puerto Rico’s status with Congressman Soto, the subject of disasters such as Hurricane Maria, the 2020 Puerto Rican earthquakes and COVID-19 Pandemic came up and Rep. Soto, did mention he believed the island would have been much better off had there been two US senators and actual Congressmen/Congresswomen with actual voices on capitol hill speaking on behalf of the island. Of course we agreed that leadership sitting in the White House at the time was the biggest reason for the failures of disaster relief in Puerto Rico.

My interview with Soto touched on a few more items surrounding Puerto Rican status that will be presented in the finished film. The subject of Puerto Rican status is one that definitely can cause heated debate and although there really is no easy answer, I’m happy to have included it in my film.

I’m looking forward to focusing on the next few segments of my film, which will include art and culture, and that is something all Puerto Ricans can agree with and come together on.

Until next time.


Two Generational Musical Icons Lost

I originally wasn’t looking to write an obituary column this month, however Latino’s of two separate generations lost two music icons, I’d be remiss to not acknowledge their passing and what it meant to me, as a music enthusiast and lover, to have enjoyed their work during various tenures in my life.

Johnny Pacheco, who co-founded Fania Records, which introduced that specific New York Salsa and Guajuanco sound passed away on February 15th. Born Juan Azarias Pacheco Knipping, in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic in 1935, it wasn’t until Pacheco’s family moved to New York City in the 1940s where his love of music began to be groomed.

Pacheco had decent success as a musician throughout the 1950s aand early 60’s, however it wasn’t until he founded Fania Records along with Jerry Masucci in 1963 where Pacheco’s “Nuevo Tumbao” was created.

Working with a stable of artists such as Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, Ray Barretto, Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades, Cheo Feliciano, Ismael Miranda, Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe and a host of other talented musicians, The Fania All Stars, as they were known, toured worldwide, selling out concerts from Yankee Stadium to Zaire Africa, in front of 80,000 attendees. This event seemingly brought Salsa music, back to its African roots with Pacheco leading the way as Composer and musical Arranger, improvising his dances on stage for all to enjoy.

Then on February 18th, the Hip Hop world mourned the loss of Prince Markie Dee, of the early Hip Hop trio known as the Fat Boys. Markie Dee, born Mark Anthony Morales on February 19, 1968, was a pioneer in the young genre of Hip Hop music, bringing in a new sound to Hip Hop but also being one of the first Puerto Rican Hip Hop artists to be accepted into the mainstream. Being a young Puerto Rican Hip Hop fan in the 1980s, seeing the Fat Boys in music videos or in movies, it was amazing to see someone who looked like me (and some of my cousins) rocking stages worldwide.

The Fat Boys – Kool Rock-Ski (left) Buff Love (center) Prince Markie Dee (right)

The Fat Boys, and Markie Dee, had their heyday during the 1980s, releasing seven albums, three of which reached Gold status while another reached Platinum, which was and still is a pretty huge achievement. The Fat Boys were regularly seen as a comedy Hip Hop act, almost like the Three Stooges, but they were a talented group whose acceptance in the Hip Hop world was visible in films like “Krush Groove” and in the comedy film “Disorderlies.”

After the group broke up in the early 1990s, Morales made a life as a producer for artists such as a young Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige, even writing Blige’s debut single “Real Love” which was also produced by a young Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs.

Although Pacheco and Prince Markie Dee were worlds apart as far as musical genres, the loss of these two artists is felt by many, especially by those of us in our early to late 40s, as Salsa and Hip Hop music both collided for our attentions as youths growing up in the 80s. I feel fortunate to have loved. I still remember going to parties a as youth hearing Salsa music played at house parties, and at the same time, I also remember seeing cousins and friends carrying folded cardboard boxes ready to break (dance) at Beechers Boys Club on Tenth.

Although our heroes pass on, hopefully the memories we made with their music as the soundtrack never fades.

Until Next time.


Good Days are Coming

February is just around the corner and since we last touched base, we have been witnesses to a failed insurrection, a presidential impeachment and a presidential inauguration.

And that was just the first three Wednesdays in January!

The year 2021 is only a month old and already things seem to be leaning towards the better. As I write this, our hometown Buffalo BILLS were eliminated from Super Bowl contention, falling to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game.

Although as a BILLS fan it was very disappointing to see our team lose, it was still a hell of a season that many Buffalonians and Westsiders will remember. Honestly, I can’t complain, not many of us expected the team to go as far as it did and all the pieces are there for a good run in the coming years. The BILLS will definitely be back and good days are in the future.

With the turn of the monthly calendar, we are also seeing some positives with the COVID-19 pandemic. This of course is due to the vaccines that have been rolled out but also, with the new Biden administration creating an actual plan for mandating facial coverings in public places. We certainly are still in the thick of this pandemic, however, knowing that we have an administration in the White House that actually cares about getting a handle on the pandemic, unlike the demagogue rabble rouser that lied to his cultish followers who believed every lie his administration told over the last four years.

Joe Biden was not my first choice but he is our President and he is a man who will go above and beyond trying to heal this country from the last four years of the Trump Virus, the one that took hold of this country way before COVID-19.

As we all know February is the shortest month of the year and before we know it, Pitchers and Catchers will be reporting. March will be here very soon, and just like that, Spring is around the corner.

Flowers will bloom, birds will chirp, the sun will shine again, and before you know it, the summer sounds and smells of the West Side will be in full force.

You may ask, why am I so positive, since we still are in a pandemic, one that has taken the life of 400,000 Americans at the time of this writing. You see, we’ve made it out of 2020. More importantly, we have survived the Trump Years.

The Biden administration already has begun to undo many of the harmful executive orders Trump signed early on in his administration. There is talk of additional stimulus packages to help out those effected by the economic slowdowns. I for one am hoping there is student loan relief in the works as well.

Our country is healing, however it will take time, especially when you consider 74 million Americans voted for an open white supremacist.

Good days are ahead because, my friends, we reached the bottom on January 6th, during Insurrection Day. The day will live in infamy, however we Americans will rise above it as Americans always have.

A Quick Thoughts:

Puerto Rican Boxing Fans, get to know Edgar Berlanga. He’s 16-0 with all wins coming in the form of 1st round knockouts.

For those clamoring for DC and Puerto Rican Statehood now that Democrats have control of the House and Senate, Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said “the votes are still not there,” so don’t get your hopes up just yet.

Until next time.

Rocco


Hindsight is 2020

Hindsight is 2020

Each January, with the arrival of a New Year is the coming hope of a better year than the one that ended. In my forty-two years on earth, I cannot think of a more difficult year than the one that just ended. The year 2020 was one we may all need to put an asterisk next to. I like to call it the “Forgotten Year” of our lives.

Living through a Pandemic that lead to the recession that unfortunately effected many American lives due to failed leadership in Washington, it’s very easy to see why many are excited to turn the page on 2020, especially with new leadership moving into our nation’s capital. I speak from experience as I was one of the millions of American’s who lost their job due to the pandemic.

That said, we still have to be vigilant here at home.

At the time of this writing, our hometown Buffalo BILLS have clinched the AFC East Championship for the first time since I was in my junior year at McKinley High School, back in 1995.

Living here in Florida, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited and wished I could go out and celebrate with fellow BILLS fans as they arrived back home in the winter night, to a crowd of thousands. Sitting here in my living room though, I saw footage of the “BILLS Mafia” celebrating their team at the airport, people crowded, circling cars as they drove by trying to get a glimpse of their football heroes.

Two things I didn’t see much of was social distancing nor masks.

We are still in a pandemic people! Regardless of what some business owners think, we need to be mindful of ourselves and the safety of those most vulnerable.

Although we are all aware there are two vaccines that are being given, there is no telling how this virus will mutate, as it already has in the UK. Celebrate your BILLS but do it at a distance, from home and away from others.

I would love to see the BILLS in the Super Bowl, but sadly, seeing the crowds of people cheering their playoff berth and AFC Championship, I can’t help but think there are folks in that crowd that may not survive to see it happen if the BILLS do reach the big game come early February.

Wear your masks. Keep your distance and celebrate the New Year with a better focus on ridding this virus. Let us not bring in those 2020 habits with us into the New Year, but leave them back in the year 2020 where they belong.

Let’s make the phrase “hindsight is 2020” come true, and look toward the future with a safer, healthier mindset.

I truly believe the year 2021 will bring on many great things, but it all of course starts with us here at home.

Keep social distancing, keep safe and wear your masks and GO BILLS!!!

Until next time.


Siembra Como el Jíbaro Siembro

December is upon us and while colder weather and the holiday season is in full swing, it isn’t too late to start planting or watering seeds.

It’s very common practice while scrolling through social media to see folks engage in online “challenges” for attention. Some of these challenges start off with good intentions however many are just idiotic and I usually scroll right past them. This however did get me to thinking of a new challenge; support a local business or entrepreneurs.

Our people come from very diverse backgrounds and experiences, and through these experiences our entrepreneurial spirit has always been strong. Unfortunately, many small businesses suffer early on before they can successfully turn profit due to the lack of support they receive from the people closest to them.

On my visit to Buffalo a few months back, I was happy see many of “our businesses” on Niagara Street and elsewhere throughout the Puerto Rican West Side. Whether they were restaurants, small grocery stores, hair and nail salons or even clothing shops, I’m glad to see that entrepreneurial spirit live on within our people.

These seeds aren’t only relegated to businesses either, they are ideas that can be in the form of art or cultural programs that may need an extra boost. The term “starving artist” is well known in the English lexicon, however it doesn’t have to be. If you know an artist, share their work, buy their work and wares and make sure you spread their art through word of mouth or social media. That exposure goes a long way, especially now with the holiday season, buying locally produced goods from your neighbors would mean the world to an artist struggling to get by. It will help stimulate the local economy but more importantly, help stimulate the growth of a local business owner or dreamer.

The phrase “support your own” is one I have heard for years and I cannot repeat it enough. Support our people, be the cultivators of their dreams and wishes and spread their works so that others may enjoy it.

Do you know of a great hidden gem that sells amazing pinchos? Tell a friend!

Do you know a lady who crochets awesome newborn baby outfits? Share their work!

The Latino Community on the West Side is so full of talented people who have either planted seeds or have some in need of being planted and supported with sunshine, fertile earth and water.

With the holidays coming, the best gift you can give someone could very well be the support they need to continue growing their businesses or ideas.

Be the water or sunshine that helps that seedling spout. Cultivate their ideas like our ancestors worked the cane fields, machete in hand, sowing the fruits of their labor that fed their communities.

This community here on the west side will only go as far as those who support one another.

Until next time. See you all in 2021


About People of (some) Color

As many of you know, I’ve been working on my second documentary film, one that seeks to look into US/Puerto Rico relations and the identity of what it means to be “Boricua.”

Last week, I interviewed a man who gave me amazing quotes to work with, regarding how he refused to ever acknowledge himself or others as “Hispanics” because it gives full recognition to the country that invaded, raped and killed Natives and enslaved Africans throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America. He said calling one Hispanic gives honor to the oppressor and ignores the Taíno and African cultures that died under their rule and influenced many cultural practices we see today throughout the islands.

I’ve always used Latino instead, having never liked the term Hispanic either and I guess he basically gave me a valid reason why.

Which brings me to the term “People of Color.”

Similar to how Hispanic is thrown around without much thought of the meaning behind it, lately I feel like “People of Color” is a term we use without much afterthought of the meaning behind it as well.

I’m guilty of this myself, having used the term for years, and although the term “Persons of Color” tries to be inclusive of all non-whites, I feel it sometimes does a disservice because it doesn’t always take into account those persons of color like some Latinos, who are white folks and may side with white supremacist ideology.

Although Latinos are People of Color, we are quick to forget those Latinos who are white and use that privilege as an advantage, knowing and unknowingly, while Black and Brown Latinos never could.

We are in election season, and whenever I see polls showing how one candidate leads the POC demographic versus the other, as a man living in Florida, I cannot help but question the accuracy of these numbers when I look at the support many Latinos in Florida have for the current Commander in Chief, which are large enough to be ashamed of to be honest.

Much of that support could be tied to the large (white) Cuban population in South Florida. However there is also a large Puerto Rican population in Central Florida and thrown paper towels be damned, 45 still has his supporters in this community as well.

“Kobe!”

These facts leave me ashamed of my fellow “Persons of Color.”

It’s beyond time Non-Black people of color come to grips with their privilege and give credit, appreciate and acknowledge the struggles Black Americans went through in order to have the rights we all enjoy today.

Non-Black People of Color (Latinos really) need to start recognizing they have privilege and need to stand with our Black brothers and sisters, not only in demonstrations in support of social justice, but at the polls, promoting and supporting Black businesses, helping Black artists, etc…

Mural by Edreys Wajed and James “Yames” Moffitt. Buffalo, N.Y.

Just as the saying goes, not all skinfolk are kinfolk, well, not all People of Color are our people.

I’m just tired of seeing my people take without giving anything back.

One love.

Until next time.


My Lower West Side Story

In early October, I returned to my hometown of Buffalo to film interviews for my next documentary project and to spend a little time with my mother at the home I grew up and was raised in on West Avenue.

Niagara Street view of City Hall and downtown Buffalo

Being back home after so many years away was a real eye opener to how much of Buffalo has changed. As I drove through downtown Buffalo, I was in awe with how much this city had evolved in the ten years since I relocated to the state of Florida. I told my mother that if I were to be dropped off, blindfolded on Chippewa between Delaware and Elmwood, I would be completely lost once my eyes were free to see the views of new structures replacing old gas stations and open lots.

Continuing my drive up Niagara Street, through Buffalo’s Latino corridor on the Lower West Side, there was continued change. My eyes were amazed at the sight that the old Pine Harbor apartment buildings were now gone, being replaced by low income housing that will more than likely cost a pretty penny once all is said and done.

“Avenida San Juan a.k.a. Niagara Street”

The more things changed, the more they stayed the same however, and this was evident as I left the main arteries and started driving through neighborhood side streets which told a different yet familiar story. Driving up from the lower West Side on Plymouth or Prospect, I viewed the same sights I saw when I left the city ten years ago. Abandoned, broken down homes. Corner stores with graffiti and folks loitering about. Different faces, but definitely the same people.

Although some homes have been fixed up, for the most part, many of the same street corners have not seen the “revitalization” other parts of the City of Buffalo saw.

Visiting Grant Street was quite the site, with the influx of newer Asian and African immigrant communities that have added additional spices to the upper West Side, the lower West Side for the most part still felt very familiar. For all the gentrification the lower West Side has seen, some places remain stagnant and have not changed whatsoever.

This thought brings to mind the issue I have with those who remained on the West Side and how the politicos and outsiders determine where this part of town is headed.

You may ask yourselves, “who is this guy to talk about the West Side” since I no longer live there. My friends, I was born on the West Side. My father had his barber shop on West and Maryland.

“My dad, Joe “The Barber” Anastasio and me, 1984″

My mother still lives in the house we owned on West between Virginia and Maryland. Although I left the West Side my blood has never left.

My father’s old barber shop. Unchanged for 35 years. On the corner of Maryland and West Avenue

Which is why I was so surprised to see the sight of white joggers running up and down West Avenue as I sat on my mother’s porch, across from this new building that now sat in the place of the old advertising agency grounds and open lot I played football and boxed as a child.

I’m not against improvements and progress. I have no issues with homes being revitalized or new buildings being built for growing populations.

I am however disappointed that many of the West Side residents who have contributed to the flavor, added the Adobo, Sazon and “Soulfrito” to the makeup and identity of the lower West Side will continue to be forgotten.

We as a people on the West Side must not let the identity be erased. We would be repeating the same mistakes  Italians made when they abandoned the West Side many years ago, for North Buffalo and the Tonawandas.

I was very happy to see cultural displays, murals and even “El Batey” dance studio. These institutions are important as they promote the culture and identity that many Puerto Ricans who have settled in Buffalo either lost touch with or never knew they had.

Puerto Ricans in Buffalo need to positively promote and support one another. We are each other’s keeper and all related in one way. For too long we have been separate in our own little worlds and allowed the politicians sitting in City Hall to make decisions for a part of town that was somewhat forgotten, until folks recognized its low cost homes and prime location, close to downtown.

I don’t fault those who have sold their homes to the highest bidder and left for greener pastures. No one should have to feel guilty for making the best financial decisions possible, especially when outsiders are offering to pay well above what West Side homes used to go for.

My plea, if you want to call it that, is for those who are still there, living on the West Side, to please continue to fight for your place in this special part of town. Don’t let those outside forces price you out and drive you away, particularly the culture.

Make sure your voices are heard politically. As I write this we are only days away from the General Election and I can’t help but shake my head at how little representation Buffalo’s Latinos, more specifically Puerto Ricans have with local elected office.

My trip back home was a very successful one. I spoke with a number of people making the best of their lives on the West Side. Although my film isn’t a documentary about Buffalo West Side Puerto Ricans, I needed to start there because this is a very personal film for me. My film is going to look into what it means to be “Boricua” and in capturing that meaning, since this is a somewhat personal film, I needed to start at the place I started.

My lower West Side.

The Puerto Rican Lower West Side to be exact.

Until next time.

Rocco.


Rising from the ashes of the year 2020

It’s been quite a long while since my last blog post in 2011. Close to nine years in fact!

Since the time of my last blog post, my family has grown by one, as our youngest daughter was born in December of 2013. We have also moved to a larger home in a different city. We are still in Central Florida but closer to the Orlando/Daytona Beach metropolitan area.

I’ve also been blessed to have pursued my dream of being a filmmaker, having completed my first full length documentary film in 2019 titled “In Their Words – Of Service and Sacrifice.

The trailer from my first film

Available on Amazon Prime Video

These last few years have been great for me and my family, and although, as most families do, we have seen many ups and downs throughout the years, there have been more ups than downs for us as a whole.

After being away from this blog for so long, I’ve decided to pick it back up for a few reasons:

One, I remember writing my words down and filling a page was a very therapeutic exercise. At the moment, I am between full time work due to the nice pandemic we have been living with here in 2020. The Coronavirus or as it is commonly known, COVID-19 has really made the lives of many very miserable. Some have lost their health, many have sadly lost their lives and quite a few of us have lost our jobs. All because an administration refused to level with the American people.

The year of Our Lord, 2020 sure has been one that will probably be seen as a paradigm shift, the year where things changed so significantly, that the way we live our lives will be changed forever.

At the time of this writing, there are close to 220,000 Americans who have sadly died from Coronavirus, and unfortunately, since our leaders refuse to take ownership, there will be many more to come.

The second reason I decided to pick up the pen err keyboard, well, I was asked by a new friend if an old post I wrote years ago could be used for a publication he puts out monthly. The old post was titled “A letter from a son to his father….” and it honestly was a post I forgot I wrote. Going through my old WordPress site, I smiled at the thoughts the 2011 version of me was writing down, and although I wish I had continued writing these last nine years, I guess better late than never.

The third reason I decided to pick up my blog posts, was to document the filmmaking process of my current production. I’m in the early beginnings of producing my second feature length documentary project, a film titled “Boricua Soy Yo.” This documentary will look into the history of Puerto Rico, the resilience of the Puerto Rican people and also explore the culture and what it means to be “Boricua” for a Puerto Rican here on the mainland as well as those living on the island. I’m still in the early stages of this film however I’m planning to write blog posts of the process moving forward, to keep myself honest and sane.

In production

Lastly, the fourth reason for picking up my WordPress blog is, well, the year 2020. As mentioned above, this year has been filled with a ton of loss, and one of the losses I had this year was that of a dear friend, Rameer Green.

It was Rameer himself who, back in 2011, inspired me to start this blog after he started sharing his own blog titled “Shoot, Pass, Quibble”.

Rameer was an excellent writer and reading his ill abstract points of view pushed me to wanting to do my best as a writer, especially knowing that he would be reading my posts. Rameer was a dear friend, one of my best friends for many years, one I respected and looked up to. The type of man who never held his punches, one who would always tell it to you straight and many of his friends, myself included, loved and appreciated that from him.

Here’s to you Rameer. Your legacy lives on within all the young people who had a chance to learn from you. It lives on within all the friends who mourn your loss.

So there it is.

I’m looking to continue this blog in honor of all things mentioned, including as a small tribute to my friend Rameer. I may not be as swift with the posts, especially now that our children are in virtual school, and I’m producing this new film, however, I’m looking forward to updating you all from time to time, whenever time allows.

Until next time

Rocco


Buffalo’s Failures in Urban Renewal…..a research paper.

This is just an old paper I wrote for one of my history classes. Buffalo really has a screwed up past. Love my hometown and miss my family, but that city really needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. it’s a long read, but a good one.

Failures in Urban Renewal

Buffalo Politics 1900 to 1989

Over the years, throughout America’s Rust Belt region, where steel factories once stood and American industry strived, urban decay and poverty has seen a rise. In cities such as Detroit, Flint, Gary, Indiana, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland, there has recently been a steady decline in population and jobs. Buffalo New York is one such city, and the presence of urban decay and the remnants of abandonment are visible if one were to take a tour throughout much of the city’s East Side.

Throughout its history Buffalo New York has been known by many names that gave a great representation of what the city had to offer. Whether it was the City of Lights, the City of Good Neighbors or the Queen City, the city of Buffalo has always has always prided itself in identifying the positive aspects of it’s history and such a rich and vast history this city has. Buffalo New York is a city rich in history and influence, not only in the prosperity of the State of New York, but also in its importance on the American landscape, given its location on the Great Lakes. During the early part of part of the 1900s, Buffalo was a growing city with a bright future, however by the 1950s the city reached its plateau, and the loss of industry and population would follow over the next fifty years.

Over the last century, starting in the early 1900s, Buffalo’s neighborhoods have seen a number of changes and renewal projects which haven’t always shaped the city in a positive way. Political, racial and social discrimination and bias have played many roles in the shaping of Buffalo throughout the twentieth century, and these influences have forever shaped the city’s identity, especially if one looked at the way Buffalo’s African American community was created and treated throughout the last century. From the early years of the Pan-American Exposition where American Negro exhibits displayed black men and women as living in shacks and villages as a representation of the African American, to the creation of urban public housing and the riots which shocked the city in 1967, the African American community in Buffalo has a rich and sad history tied to many failures connected to city planning and political influence.

Buffalo is viewed as one of the most segregated cities in America. If one were to take a map of the city as it stands today and split it into four sections, it would be easy to identify which ethnic groups lived where. North Buffalo has been known as the predominantly Italian side with its own “Little Italy” running along Hertel Avenue. Many of the Italian families in North Buffalo had roots in the lower Westside, however with the influx of newer immigration groups and better opportunities for second and third generation Italian families, many families moved to the northern suburbs and to North Buffalo.  The Westside is predominantly Latino, with Puerto Ricans making up a majority of that group followed by a scattering of Italian families left over after the Italian exodus. South Buffalo is the blue collar working poor Irish part of town. Many of South Buffalo’s residents had ties to the steel and flour mills that dominated the industrial past of the city. The Eastside was a predominantly Polish section of the city, however over the years similar to the Westside, other groups moved in and made it their own.

Although there are still many Polish families and influences in this part of town, with the name of parishes which still have Polish flavor, Buffalo’s Eastside is known as the black or African American part of town. Unfortunately, this section of town is perhaps the largest and yet arguably the poorest, due in part to many decisions made in the past which left the Eastside a forgotten piece of the Buffalo puzzle.

The City of Lights

Years before the 1901 Pan American Exposition took place within the city limits; Buffalo had already enjoyed growth due to its importance in the shipping industry.  Set some eighty-eight years after Buffalo was burned to the ground by the British during the War of 1812, the Pan American Exposition was a celebration of the city and the area.

At the time of the Pan American Exposition, the city of Buffalo had a population of 350,000 people, making it the 8th largest city in the United States.  Thousands of people from all over the world made their way to Buffalo during the seven-month long Exposition. Many came to see Nikola Tesla give electrical demonstrations using electrical power fed from Niagara Falls which gave the city of Buffalo its nickname, The City of Lights.  Many others flocked to the city to see musical performances at the Temple of Music. The Pan American Exposition was planned to take place years before, however due to the onset of the Spanish American War, those plans were put on hold. Following the war, as the United States further began to put its imprint on Spain’s former Latin American territories such as Cuba and Puerto Rico, the Pan American Exposition became a symbol of Pan Americanism and the city of Buffalo became a national symbol of pride.

Buffalo was also enjoying inner growth as well with the advent of new technologies such as street cars giving its residents access to parts of the city they normally would never venture out to. Although the city at the time was beginning to show signs of ethnic segregation within its separate district, these streetcars created a sense of accessibility to many of the city’s residents. During the early 1900s people never really ventured outside of their own surroundings and neighborhoods due to the lack of transportation but this all changed once the city of Buffalo began adopting public transportation streetcars as a cheap transportation alternative. These streetcars crisscrossed the city and were powered by the same electrical source Nikola Tesla was using at the Pan American Exposition.  Streetcars helped people move about with people moving around the city, business began to pick up, especially downtown as the city’s business and commercial center began to take shape, however it was the advent and the manipulation of electricity that would help the city gain its audience. In the book High Hope: The Rise and Decline of Buffalo, New York, State University of New York, Albany, 1983, author Mark Goldman wrote of the importance electrical power had in attracting people to the city. Goldman wrote:

Above all else it was electricity and the Electric Tower that attracted the attention of the millions of people who visited the Pan American Exposition during the summer of 1901. Every building was outlined in incandescent lights, and at dusk, peak time at the exposition, when over two million light bulbs were turned on simultaneously, the effect was staggering. Walter Hines Page, the editor of the Atlantic Monthly and an enthusiastic booster of the exposition, described the scene: “here is nocturnal architecture, nocturnal landscapes, nocturnal gardens and long vistas of nocturnal beauty. At a distance the Fair presents the appearance of a whole city in illumination.” But for page, as for all the visitors to the exposition, nothing rivaled the Electric Tower itself.[1]

Buffalo was booming. Industry was taking shape. People were moving about and the Pan American Exposition was seen as a success as it brought in many outsiders to the new City of Lights.

One of the most interesting exhibits displayed during the Pan American Exposition was that of the African Village in which sixty-two people representing over thirty African tribes were brought to Buffalo and displayed alongside their weapons, handicrafts, songs, dances and witchcraft. There have always been a question of the authenticity of the African tribesmen, and although that is an important question which should be explored further, the representation of the African village in the backdrop of the progressive and forward thinking Pan American Exposition is telling. The Pan American Exposition’s theme of human progress from savage to civilized used the African village as a representation of the savagery, untamed man, and this exhibit, for all of its popularity at the time, would go a long way to reinforcing negative attitudes and stereotypes against African Americans.

The Pan-American was also the site of a very tragic and unfortunate historical event with the assassination of President William McKinley. McKinley was originally supposed to be at the opening of the exposition in May 1901, however due to his wife’s illness delayed his trip to Buffalo.  President McKinley arrived in Buffalo in September and on the afternoon of September 6, Leon Czolgosz, a budding anarchist, shot President McKinley twice in the stomach, fatally injuring the president. Ironically, it was an African American man by the name of James Benjamin Parker who tackled and knocked the gun out of Czolgosz’s hand during his attack on the President. The President would survive for over a week before succumbing to his wounds on September 14th. In this instant, Buffalo New York, a place filled with pride and joy, would sadly forever be linked to such a tragic event.

Two months after the assassination of President McKinley, the Temple of Music along with many other buildings that housed the many exhibits of the summer Fair were demolished. Buffalo had hoped the exposition would positively promote the city however with the fallout and aftermath of President McKinley’s death, the city would forever bear shame.

Buffalo’s Ethnic City

Like many other cities of similar size during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the city of Buffalo saw a significant growth in terms of new residents due to immigration from Europe and a large migration of blacks from the post civil war south. Due to Buffalo’s reputation as an industrial center during the early Twentieth Century which provided a number of jobs for an unskilled labor force, many poor black families migrated to the city in search of greater opportunities and a better life. Buffalo’s black population during the early part of the Twentieth Century was centered in the lower east side section of the city, near Michigan Avenue, South Division and Broadway. As the black population began to grow, both in size as well as in prosperity, families began moving into other sections of the city which had been abandoned by other ethnic groups.

When the Great Depression hit the United States in the late 1920s, Buffalo was dealt a harsh blow when it came to manufacturing and industrial job loss. By 1930, unemployment in many of these industries was well over 20 percent. With the signing of the New Deal by President Roosevelt in 1933, the nation and Buffalo would finally see some relief in the form of public works programs. These programs and projects put many Americans to work, building infrastructure, roads, sports stadiums, airports to name a few. Buffalo’s War Memorial Auditorium, former home of the Buffalo Sabres, which was in the last few years demolished to make way for a dreamed Bass Pro Sports store was one of these public works projects. Along with the building of sports stadiums, many public works projects were centered on public housing. Because residents of the city were still feeling the effects of low employment due to the Depression, public housing was seen as a welcomed and needed addition to the city.

The public housing projects would become the home of many African American families; however these families would have a hard time moving out and into better living situations due to the trend towards segregation happening in the city during the 1930s. The lack of political representation of the African American community is perhaps the primary reason for this unfortunate happening. In the book Race, Neighborhoods, and Community Power: Buffalo Politics, 1934-1997, Albany: State University of New York, 2000, author Neil Kraus looks at the lack of political representation as a key ingredient to the segregated city being created in Buffalo. Kraus wrote:

Buffalo’s residential patterns have played a significant role in the local political process, both contributing to policy-making as well as being a product of local policy choices. In terms of policy-making, segregation has been important because the black community was tightly concentrated from the 1930s through the 1950s, yet had little, if any, representation during this period. Consequently, sections of the lower east side were, in effect, simply left out of the policy-making progress. And that very same process from which the black community was excluded segregated African Americans even more, particularly with the introduction of public housing in the 1930s.[2]

The building of public housing would go on to create a negative identity with the communities which housed these new projects.

Not only were black families pushed to live in segregated sections of the city, the absence of representation created a gap when it came to political power which was beneficial to helping the black community make progress. The politics of today were planted in the past and those seeds created a difficult world for the African American community to better themselves, similar to the Irish, German, Polish and Italian immigrants who came before them. However, due to racial prejudice, Buffalo’s African American community has had a difficult time breaking out of the mould created by segregation so many years ago.

The Riots of 1967

The nineteen-sixties was a turbulent decade throughout the nation which saw many changes and challenges to the American psyche, with the civil rights movement in full force, the war in Vietnam and the assassination of leaders, and many race riots defining the decade. Buffalo was the sight of one of these race riots which spread throughout the city for several days in late June and early July of 1967. Although it can be argued that the Riots of 1967 were not an actual race riot, the political landscape present in Buffalo created an environment on the East Side which culminated with the breakout of violence and uproar that summer.

The start of the riots can be traced to acts of vandalism pointed at a group of black teenagers who busted car windows and storefronts throughout the William Street and Jefferson Avenue business district on the afternoon of June 27th. Not long after the group of youths started destroying private property, they were joined by other groups of people who continued to destroy whatever they could. As a response to the massive amounts of property damage caused, the Buffalo Police sent in over 150 riot police to quell and put a stop to the disturbance however the presence of so many police officers further enraged and angered the crowds which gathered. After a few hours, through the use of tear gas fired into the rioters, the crowds were quickly dispersed and three police officers and one fireman were injured.

The next morning, the outbreak of violence, arson and looting would continue as buildings were set ablaze and broken glass covered the landscape. In the book, City on the Lake: the Challenge of Change in Buffalo, New York. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1990, author Mark Goldman describes the riots through the eyes of Floyd Edwards, the Buffalo Police Department’s first black lieutenant. Of what Edwards saw, Goldman wrote,

Edwards had been on the East Side his whole life and had seen all the changes, from the mixed neighborhood that it once was to the black ghetto it had become. Edwards knew it inside and out and wasn’t surprised by the outbreak of violence that June. The morning after the riots Edwards was put back in uniform. With a battalion of police officers under his command, he went back onto the streets. The ghetto was still smoldering. Fires still burned at William and Jefferson, Maple and Carlton, and Peckham and Monroe Streets. Plate glass windows all along Broadway and Sycamore had been smashed, and the streets were sprinkled with glass, empty cartons of shotgun shells, tear-gas canisters, broken eyeglasses, and bricks. Many of the store windows were boarded up, covered with large pieces of plywood bearing the glowing red and white lettering of the Macaluso Emergency Enclosure Company. Small groups of black teenage boys clustered on the corners, taunting the passing police cars from a distance. As the day wore on the situation grew worse. Beginning at about 4:30 P.M. buses passing through the neighborhood were stoned. As night fell the gangs grew larger and more menacing, and still more windows were broken (even those store owners, some white, others black, who had written “Soul Brother” on their windows were not spared).[3]

The scene had been set and the Buffalo Police were challenged and dispatched over four-hundred policemen to the neighborhood that night. By the next morning, more than forty people were injured, fourteen with gunshot wounds and forty-six teenage boys arrested.

In the July 1st 1967 Edition of the Buffalo Evening News, an editorial was written by Paul E. Neville titled Violence Cures Nothing, Neville tried to argue that the violence which broke out during the four-day riot on the East Side wasn’t the answer the African American community needed in righting the wrongs it faced throughout the years. Neville wrote,

“We could sing ‘We Shall Overcome’ until doomsday and nobody would listen to us,” says a teen-age Buffalo Negro. “Throw a brick and break a window and the whole world wants to know what’s wrong – as if they didn’t know already.”

That kind of talk may have a deceptively alluring ring. But like many too-pat answers this too-pat analysis of the results of violence just won’t stand up under incisive scrutiny.

Disorder may or may nor bring quick responses, including some palliatives. But because it diverts vision and energy away from the tougher problems, and because it breeds counter-reactions, disorder is far more likely to delay or set back progress than hasten it.

Moreover, by slighting what has already been done such an easy analysis is unfair to the very Negroes and whites who have responsibly contributed the most. It just isn’t true that there was a lack of genuine, increasing concern for the Negroes prior to this week’s outbreaks. You don’t need to look far to see some of the beneficial results of this concern either.[4]

In his editorial, Neville seems to understand that the neglect Buffalo’s black community has faced, however his opinion of whether violence can cause change and bring about the attention of the city may in fact be false. On the front page of the same edition of the Buffalo Evening News, two of the top stories were centered on expansion of recreational and employment opportunities geared towards the African American community as an answer to the riots the city just faced. In addition to the city of Buffalo pledging to provide these opportunities to black youth, the State of New York also pledge to match money provided by local and private groups which wanted to provide financial aid for youth programs. In an article which appeared on the front page of the July 1st 1967 edition of The Buffalo Evening News, Wilbur Evans wrote of the changes Buffalo was willing to provide as an answer to the violence which had shocked the city. Evans wrote,

Efforts to expand job and recreational opportunities for the city’s Negro population gained momentum today as tenseness in areas of disturbance seemingly continued to ebb.

Sporadic incidents nagged at the East Side overnight – the fourth night of trouble, but lawless activity declined markedly.

Police made only 23 arrests. Five blazes were attributed to fire-bombers. “It was a relatively quiet night,” Police Commissioner Felicetta said at 4 AM.

City, county and state were moving to meet the demand for work and play possibilities for young Negroes. The staffs at the Buffalo Urban League and the Youth Opportunity Center will be at 234 Jefferson Ave. from 10 AM to 5 PM today and tomorrow to receive job applications from East Side youths from 16 to 21 years old.

Mayor Sedita, facing a call from the Negro community for 3000 jobs replied that “with cooperation, I think that number can be provided.”[5]

The answer to the question of whether violent outbursts can reap benefits had been answered. The black community spoke, and although the blame was directed at the black teenagers who originally started the vandalizing private property, the many reasons blamed for causing the riots, from outside agitators and forces to the many broken promises Buffalo failed to live up to, created a environment where rioting was the only way the black community could be heard. There had been many underlining issues taking place in Buffalo throughout the years as the black community grew in size, and it is important to look at the neglect the city of Buffalo showed to parts of the East Side, particularly the sections which were predominately black. Drugs, crime, poor housing, police brutality and racism were blamed as factors which lead the violence which affected the city during the summer of 1967. The riots were a wakeup call to the city and its citizens that something needed to be done and the continued neglect of the East Side had to be addressed. The local and state political establishments made promises of jobs, low cost housing, and even Civil Rights icon and baseball great Jackie Robinson was sent to Buffalo to quell angers and fears, however the damage had been done, as racial tensions throughout the city would continue to grow and force many white families of all backgrounds to move out of the city for safer, whiter neighborhoods in the surrounding suburbs.

Developmental Blunders and Fumbles

Political patronage is a sad part of the Democratic process and the Buffalo and Western New York region is no stranger this, and unfortunately due to political patronage and kick backs, an entire city can be held back due to poor decision making tied to these kick backs, as was the case with two developmental failures the city of Buffalo lived through; the failure to secure a city location for the University of Buffalo and the building of Rich Stadium in Orchard Park.

The proposal and the planning of expanding the University of Buffalo started in the mid 1950s once the state of New York, through then Governor Nelson Rockefeller, bought the private University of Buffalo and integrated it into the State University of New York system. After being absorbed by the state, there were many plans to build a new, larger campus in downtown Buffalo, and this plan was supported by many business owners and people within the city due to the amount of jobs and traffic having a downtown campus would create. The proposed site of the new University of Buffalo campus would be along Buffalo’s waterfront and  an estimated 10,000 students and over 1000 jobs would be introduced to Buffalo’s slowly deteriorating downtown. Although many small businesses and community groups supported the plans to build the new campus in downtown Buffalo, there was also a push to build the new campus in the town of Amherst, one of Buffalo’s suburbs, a good ten miles north of downtown. Due to the plans to grow the campus with new academic and athletics programs, the argument against a downtown campus was that there wasn’t the necessary space for growth and that a suburban campus in the town of Amherst provided such space. The location in the town of Amherst was mostly swamp land, empty and open for development.

The city had support through a variety of groups, starting with Governor Rockefeller and a variety of groups ranging which represented racial and social diversity, downtown businesses, media outlets and political backing. However, due to the decision made by a few, downtown Buffalo would lose out in a bidding war with the town of Amherst. During the middle part of the century, black and minority populations began to grow in cities, due to fears and anxiety, many in the white community responded to this growth by abandoning cities for suburban locations. This can be seen as one of the influences for the building of the new campus outside of the city and in Amherst.  Many felt that the proposal of a downtown campus there was a possibility of the university being influenced by “radical” students and people of color would upset and influence the city’s racial balance. The same fears that would lead to the “white flight” would also influence the decisions to build in Amherst.  In the book Power Failure: Politics, Patronage and the Economic Future of Buffalo, New York. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2006, author Diana Dillaway covered the University of Buffalo proposal and decision making process. Dillaway goes on to explain that the deciding factors weren’t just relegated to location, but on personal and social feelings of prejudice. Dillaway wrote,

During the increasingly rancorous debate, a banker, who also chaired the Albright Knox Art Gallery board, blocked the display of a model of the proposed downtown university at the gallery. It was displayed instead at the Buffalo Public Library at the base of the main stairwell. “As consequence, the rest of the political and social establishment was cowed in silence….The unanswered insult sent a strong message to anyone who might harbor modern ideas for Buffalo. Another banker made his feelings known informally to anyone who would listen, but most especially among the social networks of establishment: “We don’t want all those [New York radicals and people of color] running around downtown. As fate would have it, both leaders sat on the University’s Board of Trustees – one headed the board and the other chaired the Construction Fund.[6]

Building the university in Amherst also made it difficult for many of Buffalo’s low-income residents to take advantage of the university’s academic programs and employment opportunities the new facilities provided.  The location in Amherst created a sense of exclusivity of the University to a certain segment of the population.

The decision to build in Amherst, influenced by city bankers shows the influence that money and politics plays in the decision making process. Although Governor Rockefeller supported a downtown campus, it is argued in Diana Dillaway’s book, Power Failure, that due to the election cycle, Governor Rockefeller didn’t want to push the issue with the prominent bankers who sat on the university’s Board of Trustees. Despite local support and state, downtown Buffalo lost out to Amherst in securing the new University of Buffalo campus. The decision to forgo downtown Buffalo and instead build in one of Buffalo’s suburbs would go on to further the divide and gap between the city and its suburbs.

During the late 1960s, there was another example of a Buffalo institution looking to relocate out of the city, continuing suburban expansion while at the same time draining the city of Buffalo of a resource. The Buffalo Bills played at War Memorial Stadium, a stadium which by the time of the teams founding in 1960, was already thirty-years old and in bad condition. The stadium sat in the Masten District on the city’s East side, not too far from the location of the city’s infamous riots of 1967, a predominantly black neighborhood, and there was a push for the building of a new stadium for the team, similarly to the University of Buffalo experience, in downtown Buffalo. As with the UB proposal, the building of a downtown stadium was met with supporters and detractors alike, and when a city stadium couldn’t be secured, the team and the county looked for a suburban location which would provide the land to do so.

There are many similarities between the building of UB in Amherst and the move of the Buffalo Bills out of their East Side stadium and into a new suburban home. The Buffalo News, who supported the University of Buffalo in downtown, opposed the building of a stadium in the same location, at the foot of Main Street, due to its location close to the Buffalo News’ headquarters and plant.  The push by bankers, again similar to what happened with the University of Buffalo in Amherst project, helped influence the idea of building in the suburbs instead of the city itself.

The village of Lancaster was chosen in 1968 as the location of a new domed stadium and home of the Buffalo Bills, however those plans fell apart in 1970 due to power struggles between local governments, bankers, politicians and the city’s then two newspapers. None of the parties were able to make a decision as to where the new stadium would be built. This process was also covered Diana Dillaway in Power Failure.   Dillaway wrote,

The issue remained unresolved for another year, drawing into 1971. Finally, at a meeting of Buffalo’s business, county and state leaders, an agreement was reached – that they could not come to a consensus. Upon this realization, they took the unusual step of asking the New York State Urban Development Corporation to decide the stadium issue for them. In this unprecedented move, warring factions conceded they were unable to make a decision and agreed to support the Urban Development Corporations choice, given a reasonable price, and move on. Interestingly, the UDC chose yet another location, Orchard Park, south of the city. The cost came in under $40 million; the county negotiated a lease with the Buffalo Bills owner; and just about everyone was relieved this chapter in the city’s history was over.[7]

The city of Buffalo would again lose out to its own suburbs as the exodus of business and identity would continue out of the central city, due to egos, political influences and personal biases of those who had the monetary influences to make things happen. The push towards leaving the city would go on to create a city vs. suburbs debate that continues today.

Buffalo through the 1980s

The introduction of industry to the city of Buffalo in the early 1900s forever laid a foundation that would go on to be the backbone to the city’s reputation and identity for the better part of the 20th Century. One of the constants of that identity was Bethlehem Steel Corporation, located in nearby Lackawanna, which at its peak employed up to 20,000 people from Buffalo and its surrounding towns and suburbs.  However, as times changed and industry demands died down, Buffalo would see a growing trend of job loss throughout the 1070s and into the 1980s. Then on one cold December morning in 1982, Bethlehem Steel announced that it would permanently shut down almost all of its steelmaking operations over the next six months. The news of Bethlehem Steel closing its factories was covered like a tragedy throughout the local media and the loss of these jobs would deal a harsh blow to the local economy. Along Route 5 and along much prime real estate along the waterfront, empty factories would sit for a generation where only years before were filled with thousands of men who proudly built the steel which would go on to be used nationwide in the building American infrastructure.

Although the loss of Bethlehem Steel was a touch blow it wasn’t a total shock due the trend of manufacturing decline throughout the 1970s. In the early 1980s, the state, under then Governor Mario Cuomo, created the Western New York Economic Development Corporation whose goal was to plan, finance and manage development projects in the Buffalo and Western New York region. This new political corporation had ambitious plans and priorities which it had outlined as a way to give the Buffalo area the shot in the arm it needed and get development started.  Among the plans was the development of a medical initiative, centered on Buffalo’s Roswell Park Cancer Institute.  Many leaders believed that strengthening its standing within the city and by using Roswell Park as a foundation fro the medical corridor.  Roswell Park sits bordering on the Fruit Belt neighborhood in the East Side of Buffalo, a neighborhood full of urban decay and due to this the development of such a medical corridor was possible, as the surrounding area contained abandoned homes and was an easy target for urban renewal and revitalization.

Many other grants and projects benefited from the Western New York Economic Development Corporation. In addition to the Western New York Economic Development Corporation, Buffalo saw federal funding through Community Development Block Grants. The federal system of block grants was started in 1968 approximately $12 million in federal funds was allocated to the city to support human service agencies.  By 1980, under Mayor Jimmy Griffin, these federal funds increased to approximately $22 million, and due to political posturing, trading, and back-door deals, a new city structure was created to disperse these federal funds. Buffalo Development Companies was a shell company nonprofit which was created by the Department of Community Development in order to make grants and loans to whomever politicians saw fit. Instead of funneling block grant money to the neighborhoods   under the Buffalo Neighborhood Revitalization Corp., the Buffalo Economic Development Corp. financed industrial projects, funded private hotels like the downtown Hilton Hotel and a number of other downtown development projects which didn’t benefit the communities the federal dollars were aimed at.

The Community Development block grants went to downtown and wealthy neighborhoods, all but ignoring the neighborhoods the moneys could have seen better use in, such as the East Side and lower West Side. The loans given by the city to private developers and downtown businesses was at low to no interest and there were even cases where grant money was given to business which were intending to develop downtown and after receiving the federal dollars, these businesses would close their downtown headquarters and mover their offices into the suburbs.

The Buffalo Common Council and the Mayors office were at odds through most of the 1980s due to the allocation of federal grant money. Mayor Jimmy Griffin was in control of the federal funds and would bypass the common council in most decisions. Due to the creation of these shell companies, with the backing of Mayor Griffin, and there was a political war taking place in Buffalo over the control of federal dollars. The argument over federal funds being awarded to private developers through non-profit corporations was possible due number of seats on the development board Mayor Griffin appointed.  In the book Power Failure, Diana Dillaway covers the questionable political dealings of Mayor Griffin and how the Community Development Block Grant funds failed to reach their intended purpose. Dillaway wrote,

While the amount of the Community Development Block Grant funds during the 1980s doubled, funds going into the neighborhoods remained at the same level. One former public official who was intimately involved suggests that this strategy, if not illegal, could have been considered immoral in that it denied the bulk of these communities for who the funds were originally designated. Others argue that the rules for the block grants in the early days were still flexible, “even though they got here on poverty so no one really challenged it at that point.”

City council members had supplanted Democratic Party committeemen, ministers and grassroots organizations as the voice and power for communities. Blacks and whites on the Common Council united in response to the flow of nearly 98 percent of Community Development Block Grant funds to downtown development and industrial retention strategies.[8]

The power struggles between the Common Council and Mayor Griffin’s team on the development board would continue through the mid 1990s, when Griffin left office, due to the tenure these board appointees were given, and thus, the city of Buffalo would continue its rapid decline and neighborhoods such as the predominantly black East Side would have to continue to wait before it was given the attention it drastically needed.

Jimmy Griffin’s Legacy

James Donald “Jimmy” Griffin was a son of Irish South Buffalo, was sworn into office in 1978 and served as the city’s Mayor for sixteen consecutive years. Often outspoken and controversial, Mayor Griffin alienated much of the city due to his political actions which ignored much of the city, outside of his old South Buffalo neighborhood. Mayor Griffin’s relationship with the black community was distance. Although Griffin was an Irish Democrat and received support from Buffalo’s black populous, the black communities on the East Side rarely were in Griffin’s plan for reshaping Buffalo.

Under mayor Griffin, downtown Buffalo saw the return of a rail system with the building of the Metro Rail system. The Metro Rail system was to connect the downtown business and retail district to the outlying suburbs including the University of Buffalo in Amherst and do away with car traffic in and around downtown Buffalo. However, the plans to connect the city lines to the suburbs were scrapped due to the massive population decreases the city saw as construction of the project began. The Metro Rail project first broke ground in 1977, just before Mayor Griffin took office and would not be completed until 1985, and is considered by many to be the main reason for downtown Buffalo’s decline as a retail and business center due to the stop of car traffic along Main Street.

Another project that Mayor Griffin oversaw during the 1980s was the building of Coca Cola Field, then known as Pilot Field on Swan and Washington Streets in downtown Buffalo. Mayor Griffin was an avid baseball fan and there was a push for a Major League baseball team to be located in Buffalo, even though the city was continuing to see a decline in population during the 1980s. The Mayor convinced the State and then Governor Mario Cuomo, also an avid baseball fan, to fund the project centered on building a downtown stadium with the hopes of attracting big league expansion once Major League Baseball was ready to introduce two new teams to the National League in 1991.

The Buffalo Bisons baseball team played their home games in the East Side of Buffalo at the old War Memorial Stadium, former home of the Buffalo Bills and also home to the New York Knights as seen in the 1984 Robert Redford film “The Natural.” Those who championed the push for Major League Baseball expansion in Buffalo felt the building of a new baseball stadium would push Buffalo ahead of other cities in competition for a big league team.

Pilot Field was completed in 1988 and was considered the crown jewel of new baseball parks in the nation. The design of the stadium was a harkening back to the ballparks of old, and although the stadium only seated just over 25,000 people, it was designed with an easy to expand upper deck for more seating if and when Major League Baseball came calling. The Rich family owned Buffalo Bisons, through avid baseball fans, broke many attendance its first three years of existence, in anticipation and excitement over the prospects of finally realizing Buffalo’s Major League dreams. However, those dreams would be dashed in 1991 as the cities of Denver and Miami were chosen as the expansion teams for the National League. Although it was a valiant effort on the part of city and state politicians, it was apparent that Major League Baseball was never going to expand in a city which had lost half its population, especially when bigger money could be made in south Florida and Colorado.  Buffalo now had a state of the art minor league facility with no Major League team to show for it, and this can be seen as a perfect example of how Buffalo planning throughout the years has failed the city and its residents in spending money wisely, a common complaint and critique of Mayor Griffin’s administration and tenure as the leader of the city.

Many of the Mayors opponents argued that with the amount of time and energy Griffin put into the building of Pilot Field, the lack of interest the Mayor showed to the basic needs of many neighborhood communities, especially the black community was telling.  As poverty and the growing crack problem of the mid to late 1980s continued to grow in the inner city, the problems within these communities continued to be ignored. The segregation seen throughout the black community in lower income neighborhoods continued to grow and make the escape of these segregated neighborhoods nearly impossible for those living in these communities.  During the 1980s crime in the city also exploded and the black East Side became synonymous as a ghetto; a place where whites shouldn’t and wouldn’t go to.

Many of Mayor Griffin’s failed policies and continued lack of attention to addressing problems on the East Side are to blame for the deterioration of these once safe neighborhoods. Throughout Jimmy Griffin’s sixteen year tenure as Buffalo Mayor, his relationship with the black community was mostly non-existent outside of election time. Whenever Mayor Griffin and his administration did pay attention to the city’s neighborhoods it was primarily to South Buffalo, North Buffalo, Lovejoy and the Niagara districts, sections in which a strong pro-Griffin sentiment was shared and sections which were stronger voting districts. The black East Side just wasn’t important enough to Griffin and his administration and it would continue be ignored for years, until Mayor Byron Brown, Buffalo’s first African American Mayor who represented the East Side took office in 2006.

After winning his record breaking fourth term as Buffalo Mayor, Jimmy Griffin was called to diversify his administration. In an editorial written by Daniel H. MacDonald in the Buffalo News, there wasn’t much to celebrate with the Mayors victory. Of the Mayors victorious election, MacDonald wrote,

In Buffalo, Mayor Griffin faced no genuine competition after out-maneuvering all the city’s political factions again. Griffin made no new promises in the campaign, so Buffalonians can expect a continuation of his conservative, brick-and-mortar administration.

Yet his election to an unprecedented fourth term has also handed Griffin an unprecedented opportunity to become the mayor of all the people. That should include, for example, bringing more black residents into his administration. It should involve closer cooperation with the School Board and a consistently visible interest in building excellence into Buffalo’s system of public education.

Thus, this election presented to Griffin, along with a solid victory, a challenging opportunity that we urge him to capitalize on – and one in which he will have our support.[9]

Mayor Griffin’s power and influence can be seen throughout downtown Buffalo as the Metro Rail and Coca Cola Field, then Pilot Field, were built under his watch but it can also be seen in his lack of leadership and attention to facing problems within the city outside of the downtown area. Although the Metro Rail is still in operation, it only goes in two directions; north and south. Similarly, although Pilot Field, now known as Coca Cola Field still hosts Americas Pastime during the summer months, Major League dreams are only on the minds of the minor league players who suit up in uniform on the field.  The end of car traffic on Main Street in downtown Buffalo was also a death blow to retail business and the building of a now mostly empty ballpark and failure in securing a Major League baseball team are two examples of how Griffin’s leadership failed the city. Instead of focusing attention and federal funds on the city’s neighborhoods which desperately needed it, attention was paid to dreams which never came to fruition. Griffin’s legacy can be seen as that of a man who took care of his own, dreamed big and failed miserably, all while getting elected four times and doing nothing as his city crumbled around him.

Final Thoughts

The history of Buffalo’s political relationship with its neighborhoods is one which can span a library’s worth of material. Events and actions of the past have shaped the city of Buffalo into what it is today; a vibrant yet poor, multicultural yet segregated, dying yet surviving big little city. From the dreams and future the Pan American Exposition provided, the hopeful wishes of black southerners who came looking for a better life through the turbulent times seen in during the 1960s and 80s, Buffalo has survived many ups and downs in its history. Although many who aren’t familiar with the area can only picture snow, four Super Bowl losses and a plate of chicken wings when the city of Buffalo is brought up in conversation, to those who live here the story of this city, is much deeper.

Similarly to many other Rust Belt cities which have pushed for urban renewal projects, unfortunately many of these projects failed to grow and benefit the people in the city of Buffalo, particularly the African American community. Although the failures of past political leadership has stunted the growth of the city’s population and job opportunities, the heart of the city, especially within the people which make up the city, Buffalo will forever be a living, thriving place to live.

Known as the “City of Good Neighbors,” Buffalo for all of its faults and disappointments continues to find a way to survive and be a good neighbor to those who have come here. Looking at the current population trends in the city, although there continues to a decline of city residents, newer immigrants are moving into the city, primarily on the lower West Side. In a neighborhood which saw the Italian “white flight” during the 1960s and 1970s as Puerto Ricans began relocating to it’s the lower West Side, the neighborhood is again seeing change as groups of immigrants from Burma, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan are now calling it home.  Buffalo throughout its history has opened its arms to people of all backgrounds and has been a good neighbor to those seeking a better life. Although much of its history can be viewed through segregated eyes, especially when one looks at the politics that shaped the current identity of the city, Buffalo has provided many with the dreams they were seeking, and for some of those people, those dreams did come true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Dillaway, Diana. Power Failure: Politics, Patronage, and the Economic Future of Buffalo, New

York. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2006. Print.

Evans, Wilbur. “Drive to Find Jobs For Negroes Gaining; Lawlessness Declines.”  Buffalo Evening

News 1 July 1967, Evening ed., Section A1. Print.

Goldman, Mark. City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2007. Print.

Goldman, Mark. City on the Lake: the Challenge of Change in Buffalo, New York. Buffalo, NY:

Prometheus, 1990. Print.

Goldman, Mark. High Hopes before the Fall: the Rise and Decline of Buffalo, New York. Albany:

State University of New York, 1983. Print.

MacDonald, Daniel H. “Amherst, other towns, steal the spotlight on Election Day” Editorial            Buffalo News 8 November 1989, Evening ed., Section B2. Print.

Neville, Paul E. “Violence Cures Nothing.” Editorial. Buffalo Evening News 1 July 1967, Evening

Ed., Section B2. Print.

The Staff of the Buffalo City Planning Association, Inc. “Buffalo’s Recreation Survey: A Digest of

the Studies Conducted under the Buffalo City Planning Association, Inc.” Social Forces

4.3 (1926): 566-75. Print.

Thomas, William B., and Kevin J. Moran. “Centralization and Ethnic Coalition Formation in

Buffalo, New York, 1918-1922.” Journal of Social History Autumn 23.1 (1989): 137-53.

Williams, Lillian Serece. Strangers in the Land of Paradise: the Creation of an African American

Community, Buffalo, New York, 1900-1940. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1999. Print.

Wolcott, Victoria W. “Recreation and Race in the Postwar City: Buffalo’s 1956 Crystal Beach

Riot.” The Journal of American History June 93.1 (2006): 63-90.


[1] Mark Goldman, High Hopes: The Rise and Decline of Buffalo, New York, State University of New York, Albany, 1983, p. 7

[2] Neil Kraus, Race, Neighborhoods, and Community Power: Buffalo Politics, 1934-1997, Albany: State University of New York, 2000, p. 44

[3] Mark Goldman, City on the Lake: the Challenge of Change in Buffalo, New York. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1990. p. 112

[4] Neville, Paul E. “Violence Cures Nothing.” Editorial. Buffalo Evening News 1 July 1967, Evening ed., Section B2. Print.

[5] Evans, Wilbur. “Drive to Find Jobs For Negroes Gaining; Lawlessness Declines.”  Buffalo Evening News 1 July 1967, Evening ed., Section A1. Print.

[6] Diana Dillaway, Power Failure: Politics, Patronage and the Economic Future of Buffalo, New York. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2006. p. 69

[7] Diana Dillaway, Power Failure: Politics, Patronage and the Economic Future of Buffalo, New York. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2006. p. 79

[8] Diana Dillaway, Power Failure: Politics, Patronage and the Economic Future of Buffalo, New York. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2006. p. 181

[9] MacDonald, Daniel H. “Amherst, other towns, steal the spotlight on Election Day” Editorial Buffalo News 8 November 1989, Evening ed., Section B2. Print.


A letter from a son to his father….

Dear dad,

It’s been nine years since you left us. Nine years since I drove you to the hospital. Nine years since I prayed to God and asked him to end your suffering. I have always tried to pray to God however cannot honestly say with confidence that my prayers had ever been answered, that is until that fateful day, nine years ago. There I was, my eyes swollen and stressed, filled with Xanex due to anxiety, sleep deprived from working my overnight shift at Channel 7, fed up because you didn’t want to go to the hospital. After mom got home from work, I went home to get rest, and before I closed my eyes, I asked God to take you, to end your suffering, because I didn’t want to see my superman, my father, my idol in such pain. I never thought my prayers would be answered only a few hours later.

When we took you to the hospital, mom told me while you and her were waiting to get checked in that you dreamed of your mother, my grandmother who I never had the pleasure of meeting. I guess she was preparing you and was there to comfort her child home to be at peace.

When you went into cardiac arrest, everything was a blur. They whisked mom and I into a separate waiting room, and there we stayed. In what felt like an eternity, the doctors finally came in and said you were stable however, your heart was very weak and that you were only going to survive on machines for possibly only a few days….This is when I made the hardest yet, easiest decision I ever had to make. I, Rocco Anastasio, your first-born son, told the doctor to let you go. I knew the man you were and I knew you wouldn’t want to spend the last few moments of your existence tied to a machine….I’m sorry dad. I sometimes wonder if it was the right decision, but please understand that I just didn’t want to see you in pain anymore. Mom was a mess. She loved you, and I know you guys fought a lot, but trust, she always felt safe with you there. I always felt it was ironic that your heart, perhaps your strongest attribute, was what would fail you.

We called Tita and Pablo to come to the hospital. My biggest regret that night was not calling Joe and Dom. I guess I wanted to protect them from seeing their father in such a state. I have apologized to them numerous times over the years and continue to feel guilty to this day for not giving them the opportunity to say goodbye to you. I’m truly sorry for that dad. Since you died, I felt the need to sort of become a father figure to them, do things for them that you normally would have done, but I could never be as good as you.

It’s been nine years and a whole lot has happened since you physically left us. I have a family of my own now, having gotten married this year. We have a daughter, Valentina and a son, Rocco Giuseppe. I’m sure you’ve seen them already, I like to believe that you are always there, watching over them like a guardian angel. I look into my children’s eyes and sometimes feel guilty and cheated that you never had a chance to hold them. How I would give anything to speak to you again, tell you I love you and hear you call my name, or even whistle at me when as if I was down the street playing with my friends when I was a kid. I hope I can become the man you were, hell I hope I can even become the fraction of the man you were. I sometimes have so many questions I wish I could ask you. Questions ranging from many things, but mostly on life, fatherhood, our family history and such. You were such a mystery to me yet so familiar. I respect the fact that you kept a lot to yourself, but sometimes I wish we knew more. I just want you to know, that no matter how long you’ve been gone, my son and daughter will know your name, they will know your story and they will always know their grandfather.

I love you dad, sorry if this letter came off as a bit of a downer, I just needed to get a few things off my chest. We bumped heads a lot as I was growing up, but I will always be Joe the Barber’s son. We miss you so much, Joe, Dom, Pablo and mom. We know you’re in a better place, but we still wish you were here. Christmas is coming up and it will be my son’s first and my daughter’s second but it will be our 9th without you. Time heals wounds and although I have come to grips and accepted your passing, part of me will always wonder if I did the right thing.

Know that I will always have you in my heart. I can never forget the man you were and am so proud to be your son. You are my father, my dad, my pops and although 12/13/11 will mark the 9th anniversary of your death, I’m looking forward to celebrating Three Kings day with my children on January 6th, your birthday. We will light a birthday candle for you dad. I swear whenever I look into my sons eyes I see you there, and I sometimes feel whenever he smiles at me that he (you) recognizes me too.

RIP Dad, you are always missed. Not a day goes by that I don’t look at you as an example.

Your son,

Rocco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until next time.