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Editorial: Buffalo loses a leader

The community has lost one of its great leaders.

Frank B. Mesiah, who served most prominently as president of the Buffalo Branch NAACP for 20 years before stepping down in 2016, died Friday at age 89. Countless community members, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can thank Mr. Mesiah for fighting for change.

His advocacy began well before his role with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In those early days, he challenged blockbusting real estate agents in his Humboldt Parkway neighborhood. These unscrupulous agents would tell lies to trick white homeowners to move from the neighborhood, getting them to sell cheap by claiming that blacks were moving in. Mr. Mesiah stopped the egregious practice by organizing a letter-writing campaign.

He wasn’t finished.

He then protested the location for the former Woodlawn Junior High School which perpetuated racial separation. The effort was unsuccessful but it proved the foundation for the lawsuit that led to Judge John T. Curtin’s ruling to integrate Buffalo schools.

Bomb threats by phone and death threats to his family did not stop Mr. Mesiah. It made him more determined.

He pushed for a downtown campus for Erie Community College, worked to prevent students from dropping out. Mr. Mesiah, Buffalo’s 13th African-American police officer, fought to open police and firefighter positions to minorities.
Mr. Mesiah was an indefatigable change agent.

During the past year, he campaigned to bring awareness to Buffalonians. Specifically, he focused on President Millard Fillmore’s actions and his “role in maintaining slavery” by signing the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. Fillmore was from Western New York.

Mr. Mesiah, who also served as vice president of the New York State NAACP, embodied public service. He sat on boards of foundations, arts and culture, humanity, economic development, health care, media and law enforcement. The long list of well-earned awards and honors, including from this newspaper, speaks for itself.

It is a teachable moment for the rest of us that, as his daughter Francesca recalled: “He would recognize the accomplishments but he always said ‘There’s still work to be done.’ ”

Mr. Mesiah has left a rich legacy for the rest of us to follow.

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