Urban Renewal Redux: A Wall Rises in Buffalo
Flag Bedecked Main St., Buffalo, c. 1906.

Campaign for Greater Buffalo Documenting all Green Book Sites in City

Seven Reasons c.1959
"Seven Reasons," (c.1959) a slide image taken by an employee of the Buffalo Department of Planning documenting pre-Urban Renewal conditions. The photograph in all probability is on the Lower East Side. The pencilled title, on the slide's paper frame, is indicative of the notion, at least among some bureaucrats, that, in order to give these children a better life, their homes and neighborhood had to be destroyed. Besides the enormous social toll, that cost Buffalo thousands of historic structures and businesses, including those listed in various editions of the Green Book, which The Campaign for Greater Buffalo is documenting.


The Campaign for Greater Buffalo is in the midst of a project to document all the Green Book sites in the city of Buffalo. The Green Book is the most well-known of various directories published during the Jim Crow era to assist citizen-travelers of color find services and accommodations that welcomed them. Simple intercity travel was a the Green Books between 1947 and 1967, only a dozen have extant buildings. The rest fell victim directly or indirectly, to the federal and state bulldozers of the Urban Renewal era, funding clearance plans drawn up in City Hall. Ostensibly, the work was being done to benefit the very residents whose homes were being destroyed and their lives upended. Now, building on the work of Fredonia State intern Cameron Flynn, The Campaign hopes to mark every site with long-lasting sidewalk stickers or other markers, and to encourage rehabilitation of the extant structures.

Green books
The past months have seen two outstanding books published on the Green Book: Driving While Black, African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights by Gretchen Sorin, and  Overground Railroad, The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candace Taylor. The two books compliment each other in many ways, and those interested will want to read both, as well as any of several facsimile editions of The Green Book. All have helped inform the Campaign's Green Book Project.


Lorna Peterson, Gail Wells, and Tim Tielman are on the Campaign's Green Code committee, with an assist from Chris Hawley at City Hall, who helps coordinate interns' research in city records. Fredonia State's news service published a nice piece on the Green Book and Cameron Flynn's work earlier this year.

The past months have seen two outstanding books published on the Green Book: Driving While Black, African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights by Gretchen Sorin, and  Overground Railroad, The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candace Taylor. The two books compliment each other in many ways, and those interested will want to read both, as well as any of several facsimile editions of The Green Book. All have helped inform the Campaign's Green Book Project.

Ellicott_URA aerial_sdiv 2
Thousands of homes and hundreds of businesses were destroyed with city and federal funds—including dozens of Green Book sites—in the Ellicott Urban Renewal District, bounded by Swan Street (left) Michigan Avenue, William Street, and Jefferson Avenue. The consequences reverberate to the present day.


This is written while demonstrations are occurring in Buffalo and across America—and the world— almost daily since a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd through asphyxiation by kneeing him in the neck for almost nine minutes while the victim lay unresisting on the ground. One can't help but look back at the state-sponsored destabilization and dislocation of thousands of Ellicott District residents in Buffalo in the 1950's and 1960's and the demonstrations and riots they helped unleash and wonder how much society and the city would have been better served if those thousands of homes and businesses could have been preserved and rehabilitated. We cannot let the remaining Green Book buildings—symbols of struggle, survival, and triumph—be lost.

The Campaign is seeking donations and grants to complete its Green Book project. Donations can be made online on the Campaign's blog homepage sidebar, Greater Buffalo, or by mail at 403 Main Street, Suite 705, Buffalo, NY 14203.

Comments

Howard Goldman

Perhaps ever broadening eminent domain public benefit definition should be scrutinized and re-crafted.

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