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A lesson in desegregation

LOCKPORT -- Lockport's public schools were desegregated nearly 80 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the change nationally, students learned at a Martin Luther King Day program Monday in the Niagara County Historical Society.

The 16 children who attended the holiday program painted bricks in honor of Aaron Mossell, who owned a brickyard and a hotel in Lockport after the Civil War.

Mossell was hired to sell bricks to the Lockport School District in 1870 for a school on High Street, but when he took his children there after construction was done, they were barred and ordered to attend "the colored school," said Ann Marie Linnabery, historical society education coordinator.

After five years of petitioning the Board of Education, Mossell succeeded in opening the doors of Lockport schools to black students.

Monday, Brenda Reaves of Lockport performed a living history portrayal of Mossell's wife, Eliza, who is buried in Cold Springs Cemetery. Her husband died in 1908 on a trip to London and is buried there, Linnabery said.

Mossell and his wife were never slaves, Linnabery said. They were originally from Baltimore, but moved to Hamilton, Ont., to keep from being hassled by enforcement of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. They came to Lockport in 1866.

The Lockport history lesson was among several gatherings that took place over the weekend to honor the civil rights leader on the 25th anniversary of the holiday that honors King.

In Buffalo, hundreds of volunteers braved Monday's arctic cold to participate in the Martin Luther King Day of Service.

Installing weatherization kits in more than 100 homes in the Martin Luther King Park and Old First Ward neighborhoods was among the tasks tackled by volunteers from Western New York AmeriCorps.

"What better day to put in insulation than zero degrees," said Mark P. Lazzara, chief executive officer of WNY AmeriCorps. "We'll know if it's working immediately."

On a more somber note, Lazzara continued: "In the last two years, I have seen probably 50 windows that were not windows but just blankets. It really, really is an issue."

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federal holiday established in 1986 to honor the slain civil rights leader, whose birthday was Jan. 15. Congress designated the holiday a national day of service in 1994.

The weatherization effort was a collaboration by AmeriCorps and its Hands On Greater Buffalo initiative, as well as the Buffalo Sabres Green Team and National Fuel.

The homes of two veterans were chosen for "extreme weatherization makeovers," which included new furnaces, windows and plumbing fixtures.

Gregory Repman, a disabled Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, was one of the beneficiaries.

He said the furnace in his O'Connell Avenue home is about 40 years old. "You're warm, but you're not warm," Repman explained. "You've got to keep turning it up."

It was replaced Monday with a new high-efficiency model.

Repman said he and his wife were "overwhelmed" when they were notified Friday that they were chosen to receive a new furnace.

Elsewhere in Buffalo:

*Volunteers from Hilbert College were at St. Vincent de Paul Society of Buffalo, preparing and serving meals in the dining room, and working in the discount store and warehouse.

*The Buffalo Museum of Science, which offered free admission, held a health and wellness fair and dental screenings.

*Volunteers from Buffalo State College and youth from the Asarese-Matters Recreation Center worked together to create a ceramic tile mural for the lobby of the West Side community center.

At the Belle Center on Wyoming Avenue, volunteers from AmeriCorps, Hilbert College and the University at Buffalo were busy throughout the building, which houses VIVE -- La Casa, a refugee shelter.

Daytuan Antonetti, program director of Buffalo AmeriCorps, was painting the vestibule on the building's east side, while one group of volunteers painted the south entrance, and another group replaced ceiling tiles in the basement. A load of donated furniture was waiting to be installed in the administrative office.

The odor of bleach was detectable in a playroom on the main floor, where volunteers meticulously wiped down every surface.

"These are toys that the refugee children play with," said Pamela James, program coordinator for Buffalo AmeriCorps.

"We have had 40 [to] 50 people here doing volunteer work," said Ursula J. Davis, director of operations for the shelter, where 120 refugees are in residence. "I

tprohaska@buffnews.com jhabuda@buffnews.com

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