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Buffalo in the '60s: Fighting for racial equality in Buffalo schools

In 1964, many Buffalonians of all races were protesting a plan that was set to throw off the racial balance at the city’s junior high schools.

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Buffalo News archives

Woodlawn Junior High, freshly built on the site of Offermann Stadium, was ready to open — with some school leaders looking to make it the junior high school for the city’s black students by drawing its population from elementary schools in mostly black neighborhoods.

An alternate plan, backed by Dr. Lydia T. Wright — the only black member of the school board — called for students to be drawn from elementary schools in both black and white neighborhoods.

The Coordinating Council of Community and Civil Rights was formed in the shadow of the issue. The group’s stated objective was to “insure a stable racial balance at Woodlawn Junior High School with no more than one-third Negro pupils.”

A crowd of 150 protesters marched from Michigan Avenue and William Street to City Hall on March 25, 1964, to protest what was shaping up to be a “separate but equal” scenario in Buffalo’s public schools.

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Buffalo News archives

That evening, the school board voted 6-1 to draw Woodlawn’s population from mostly black neighborhoods. Lydia Wright was the lone vote against.

Local NAACP leader Raphael du Bard said the decision left Buffalo’s schools the most rigidly segregated in the state.

In 1972, a group of Buffalo parents filed a federal lawsuit to order the desegregation of Buffalo Public Schools. By the mid ’80s, Buffalo’s desegregation efforts were being nationally recognized— but today, changing demographics in the city leave Buffalo’s schools with the same racial imbalance as was protested more than 50 years ago.

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