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King's 1967 Buffalo visit recalled as community honors slain leader

Many Western New Yorkers, especially young ones, may not know that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Buffalo in 1967 and gave a speech at Kleinhans Music Hall.

Brought here by the University at Buffalo, King met with local leaders during his visit, including former Common Council President George K. Arthur and retired Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve.

His topic that evening was "The Future of Integration," but he also spoke out against the Vietnam War.

"Five months later he was assassinated," said Sharon Holley, a professional storyteller and local activist, who participated Thursday in the 33rd Annual Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Central Library downtown.

The event featured musicians from the Colored Musicians Club, storytelling, readings and presentations in honor of the slain activist who would have celebrated his 82nd birthday Saturday.

The keynote speaker was Arlee Daniels, chairman of the Stop the Violence Coalition.

He used a familiar King quote to make his point: "Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools."

Parents, grandparents and guardians must show children that diversity is what this country is about, not separation, Daniels said.

"This is not about one, but about us all. We all need each other," he added.

Daniels highlighted his background as a former gang member-turned-community activist to encourage students in the audience.

"Don't ever give up. Don't ever let somebody tell you you can't be all you can be. Don't ever let somebody tell you there is a difference in color. God created us all," Daniels said.

Members of the Latino community also participated. Miguel Santos, community outreach coordinator for National Grid, and Luz N. Garcia-Ester, a KeyBank manager at the Bailey Avenue branch, read the poem "Going the Distance."

Library employee Angela Stewart sang "Precious Lord," and students from the Bennett Park Montessori School made a presentation, based on research they did, about King's message and what it means. They also recited a list of King quotes.

Clifford Bell, a former Buffalo Common Council member and small-business owner, used King's academic history to inspire students.

He noted that King skipped the 9th and 12th grades and graduated from Morehouse College with a bachelor's degree at age 19. By the time he was 26, he had received his Ph.D.

"In common terms, he was 'heavy,' very heavy," Bell told students.

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com