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Elbert Alfred “Cootie” Blanks Jr., helped launch Buffalo's Juneteenth festival, founding member of BUILD

April 5, 1941 – Oct. 13, 2016

Elbert Alfred “Cootie” Blanks Jr., active in the community and standout basketball player in his youth, died Thursday in his Buffalo home after an illness. He was 75.

Born in Bessemer, Ala., the fifth of seven children, he came to Buffalo with his family as a child. He attended School 47 and School 87, where he was a member of the school’s first championship basketball team, the Western Trotters. He also was the lead scorer on two city teams, the Westminster Community House team and the Buffalo Urban League team, leading them to consecutive city championships.

He was a 1960 graduate of Bennett High School, where he excelled in basketball, track and cross-country all four years. In his junior year, he won all-high honors as a high jump champion, often exceeding six feet. As a senior, he was the only African American player to be selected for the All Western New York basketball team. He was inducted into the Bennett High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.

He earned an athletic scholarship to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where he played basketball in 1960-1961. Returning to Buffalo, he continued to play basketball on a traveling all-black team, the New York Jesters, and a muny team, the Plaidlocks.

He was credited with developing a special basketball move in which he would pin the ball to the backboard, blocking shots by his opponents, a maneuver later made famous by LeBron James.

Mr. Blanks worked at Bethlehem Steel Corp. for many years, then at Unipunch Products, where as president of the labor union he helped bring a health care plan and a 401(k) retirement plan to his co-workers.

He later worked at the St. Augustine Community Center, where he coordinated the home improvement program and helped distribute food to underserved neighborhoods, and in the Research Department at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, from which he retired.

He helped launch Buffalo’s first Juneteenth Festival in the 1970s. A founding member of the BUILD organization, he was active in its Manpower Program, which helped hundreds of African Americans find jobs.

Mr. Blanks was one of the 25 founding members of Strike Force, a social club, and was instrumental in raising funds and organizing the first Charity Elite Ball in 1993. For many years, he served as master of ceremonies for the ball, joined by local dignitaries.

He was the YMCA Senior Group president from 2012 to 2014 in the Ellicott District. He also was a founding member and longtime vice president of the School 87 Class Reunion Committee.

A talented dancer and a stylish dresser, he delighted crowds at numerous nightclubs. He held many positions at clubs, including manager, master deejay and dance instructor. He taught scores of people how to swing dance and perform line dances.

His wife of 21 years, the former Katie L. Parker, died in 2004. He was remarried seven years ago to the former Phyllis Smith.

In addition to his wife, survivors include four sons, Minister Brian West, Anthony Morrow, Elbert O. Blanks and Demetrious Levy; two daughters, Minister Yvette Blanks Suarez and Monique Brown; two stepsons, Mark Matthews and Daniel Smith; three brothers, James Manuel, Albert and Samuel Lee; two sisters, Celestine H. Wiley and Sandra Martin; 25 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday in True Bethel Baptist Church, 907 E. Ferry St.

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