Dr. Lydia T. Wright was the first African-American to serve on the Buffalo School Board over a generation ago, and she will likely someday be the first African-American woman to have a Buffalo Public School building named in her honor.
This is the wish of dozens of family, friends and admirers of the retired pediatrician who packed a reception for Wright Monday in City Hall. They later filled Buffalo Common Council chambers to sing her praises and strongly urge the Board of Education to consider the idea.
"Lydia Wright was the heroine of school integration in Buffalo," said Nan Clarkson, during a public hearing before the Council's Education Committee.
Wright and Clarkson have been friends for 35 years, since the two helped organize a group of black and white women who met monthly to address racial and other civic and social concerns in Buffalo. This was during the height of the tumultuous civil rights era, and Wright -- who served on the School Board from 1962 to 1967 -- was breaking new ground with a call for racial integration of Buffalo Public Schools.
"We had our great champions on both sides of the color line, but it was Dr. Wright, with her Madame Butterfly chignon, her elegant Dior suits and her articulate ability to season moral indignation with just the right blend of charm, that got the attention of a city that had never seen anyone quite like her," said Clarkson.
Wright "has built bridges into every community. She is a builder, and now it is our turn to build a school for her," Clarkson added.
Wright was raised and educated in Cincinnati. She attended the University of Cincinnati and Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., before graduating from Meharry Medical College. She met her husband, Dr. Frank G. Evans, while the two were serving a residency at a New York City Hospital. The couple married in 1951 and a year later moved to Buffalo, where they opened medical offices at 1453 Jefferson Ave.
During her tenure on the School Board, Wright proposed the idea of creating academic high schools that specialize in a particular area of the curriculum to draw pupils from all over the city, foreshadowing the city's eventual magnet school system. She also was the lone voice on the School Board to oppose the controversial 1964 decision on creating an attendance zone for the former Woodlawn Junior High School that would have resulted in it becoming an all-black school.
Council Member at Large Charley H. Fisher III is the sponsor of a resolution that was unanimously approved by the Council that urges the Board of Education to name one of its proposed new school buildings in honor of Wright.
"There are many people here with a sense of justice who want to serve history fairly, because she deserves to have a school named in her honor," said Fisher, who is also chairman of the Council's education committee.
Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve was one of several speakers at the hearing that included remarks from Dr. Wright's family.
"For her struggle to integrate our school system and get people to know one another and appreciate one another for who they are, regardless of color or creed, she deserves what is being planned here," said Eve.
Council President James W. Pitts, calling Wright one of the heroes of Buffalo Public School history, said the honor is long overdue.
"Tonight we're saying that the future of our educational system is bright. It's diverse, it's sound and it certainly recognizes its many heroes, but particularly tonight, Dr. Lydia T. Wright," said Pitts.