Preserving Buffalo’s hidden history in the African American Heritage Corridor

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) –– Buffalo has been polishing its architectural and cultural roots. The city’s renaissance is real and it is off and running.

But one vital part of this rebirth that could use a communal push forward is right in the heart of Buffalo. The Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor features a host of landmarks in local and national black history and the Underground Railroad.

“This is our jewel,” says Karen Stanley Fleming.

Fleming is chair of the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission. The Corridor is most concentrated, with churches and points of interest, along Michigan Avenue running from the First Shiloh Baptist Church at Pine Street and the William Wells Brown marker–northward to East Ferry Street at the Bethel AME Church and the Freedom Wall.

“You know eventually we see a place where the whole corridor is like a….driving tour all the way from South Division up to Ferry,” says Fleming. “We see that people could come along…historic markers in various places.”

The Commission is working with both the city and the state to revitalize this portion of Buffalo with a compelling story to tell.

“In the heyday,” says Fleming, “it was a very vibrant community, it was a walkable community. There were dry cleaners and restaurants, so many restaurants, like the Little Harlem Hotel and Restaurant across the street. They’re not there anymore, and we wish that they were.”

This hidden history requires vision and money to bring it into full view. For instance the scaffolding protecting the altar at the historic Michigan Street Baptist Church shows the need for financial aid.

“(There were) so many activities in this church, even to potentially fugitive enslaved people hiding in the rafters before they could travel up Michigan over across Ferry and get down to the Broderick Park ferry. So history happened here,” says Commission Chair Karen Stanley Fleming.

There is an urgency to preserving these landmarks. Just a few weeks ago (in January) a building on Sycamore Street that pre-dates the Civil War and was due to be restored soon, burned to the ground.

‘It was used during the Underground Railroad,” says Rocco Termini of Signature Development. “So it’s got a lot of history to it. We were going to convert it to a commercial building and now, it’s gone. Buffalo history went up in smoke.”

Buffalo’s black history is America’s history and the Queen City has irreplaceable landmarks and locations that can teach and inspire generations to come.

“That really, in the end, is the message of the corridor,” says Fleming. “That when we respect our diversity, when we remember the history of everyone, we see the total courage and the inspiration of the human spirit.”

To learn more about Buffalo’s Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor click here.

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