By Robin Raphael
Have you dreaded taking on the task of cleaning out a basement or attic? Here I was, a new retiree, asked to do just that for a not-for-profit organization called the Network of Religious Communities (NRC). I did not know what I was getting into.
It turns out that a job that was presumed to take six months is now still going strong after more than two years. However, this has become a fascinating venture because of the history, artifacts and, in many cases, the treasures that have been uncovered.
The NRC is a venerable institution whose roots date back to 1857. (I know this because we found the notebooks with the information just a few weeks ago). It is an organization whose purpose is to find common ground among its constituent members: all of the major religions in the Western New York area. The ability to work together when there are substantive differences in belief is so critical in this divisive era.
However, this is a column about the network’s history. As a member of a very small group of people who committed to organizing the papers of the NRC and its predecessor organizations, I have found projects that the network has preserved that could be right out of today’s headlines.
For example, the Coalition for Police and Community was created in Buffalo as a response to the beating of Rodney King. This led to modifications in the Buffalo City Charter dealing with policing.
Once again this is a “hot” topic in Buffalo. Perhaps a review of the NRC records (Box 158!) can facilitate the conversation.
Buffalo was the site of major national demonstrations around abortion in 1992. As a result, the NRC facilitated the Buffalo Coalition for Common Ground, which created a model for dealing with conflict over social policy issues. This model spread nationally. The timeliness of these issues would suggest that the study of the history of community members who seek to work together would once again be valuable.
The photos, newspaper articles and flyers we’ve found from days gone by have provided much comic relief as well.
One of our favorites was the orange poster that states: “I am pledged to fight the filth column.” The poster has a shield with the words: “Clean minds make strong bodies for good citizenship.” The conclusion is: “I do hereby agree that I will not possess, sell, lend or give away any indecent or suggestive book, magazine or article.” The proprietor signed the poster and displayed it.
One of my favorite treasures is a handwritten letter dated 1909 written to the Honorable Board Federation of Women’s Clubs in Buffalo.
The letter was written to “abolish the nuisance created by the Jacob Told Packing Company and Joseph Salter by driving their pigs and cattle through our streets between the hours of 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. and the yelling and whistling of the drivers greatly disturbs our night rest.”
Despite the dust, mold and cold, it has been an honor to find and organize these documents and photos that show how similar we are to our grandparents and great-grandparents in so many ways.
By inventorying these records, along with a plan to digitize them for posterity, our goal is to make it easy for the reader to access this information. We can then learn from our past and not reinvent the wheel every single time. And clean out the attic, too!