In 1962, Dr. Lydia T. Wright was named to the Buffalo Board of Education, making her the first black person to serve on the board. Today there is a school named for her.
Five years earlier, Cora P. Maloney had become the first woman elected to Buffalo's City Council. Three years after Dr. Wright's achievement, Barbara Banks was graduated from Riverside High School. People know her today as Al-Nisa Banks, editor, publisher and part owner of The Challenger.
More than race, gender and personal accomplishments connect these women and the 60 others who have been named to an honor roll of African American women that commemorates the centennial of Buffalo's Pan-American Exposition of 1901. Barbara Seals Nevergold, coordinator of student support services at the University at Buffalo's Educational Opportunity Center, said these women individually and collectively have contributed to the betterment of their community.
They are being called "Uncrowned Queens," and their stories have been encapsuled in a series of biographies that reveal their community, professional and personal accomplishments. They are in the vanguard of what is expected to be a much larger group of outstanding black women being selected for the project.
Nevergold and Peggy Brooks-Bertram, adjunct associate professor in African American Studies at UB, will unveil the Uncrowned Queens Web site at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 15 at a reception in Butler Mansion, 672 Delaware Ave.
They have been coordinating the project as part of Women's Pavilion Pan-Am 2001 and plan to make it a highlight of both Black History Month now and Women's History Month in March. Eventually the honorees' pictures and biographies will be published in a book, a permanent record of their role in the struggle to build a better life for black Americans.
The Web list includes contemporary and historical women of renown and many women whose contributions are little known, Nevergold said. It's a site in progress, and she is hoping people will provide more information on current selections.
Nominations for Uncrowned Queens are still being accepted and a form is available on the Web site, wings.buffalo.edu/uncrownedqueens or call Nevergold at 849-6733.
Those already on the honor roll are among the "firsts," some listing as many as a dozen accomplishments in which they were the "first black woman to..." But they didn't have the luxury of purely personal pursuits, and most biographies portray lives of activists who fought for integrated schools, open housing, political empowerment, financial and educational opportunities, civil rights and an end to discrimination. These goals did not came easily and in some cases, not at all, but Buffalo's black women never have lost their appetite for trying.
Starting with Mary B. Talbert, who lost her battle with the Pan-American Exposition officials in 1901 when they refused to scuttle exhibits seen as demeaning to African Americans, black women have seldom wavered.
Four years after the Pan-Am setback, Talbert would take part in the birth of what would become the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and she waged her anti-lynching and anti-racism campaign on an international scale.
Black women, as historian Lillian S. Williams notes, are able to work together despite the frustrations that often divide male leaders. They are the builders and the caretakers of many of the institutions that hold the community together. They have done much of the hard work to improve life in the black community, and they provide most of the healing when progress stalls in the face of racism and economic decline.
The informal networks among black women and the formal alliances, from Talbert's Phyllis Wheatley Club and the Lit-Mus Club to today's church, sorority and business women's associations, have been an anchor for the women and their community.