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Minnie Gillette

American, 1930-1992

Chuck Tingley’s portrait of Minnie Gillette for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Minnie Gillette’s commitment to and work for her community far exceeded her historic tenure as a member of the Erie County Legislature. Gillette did not become involved in formal politics until relatively late in life; before running for office, she was a longtime employee at Columbus Hospital (formerly on Niagara Street), where she worked her way to becoming a supervisor in the Dietary Department. During the 1960s, she was instrumental in the local implementation and success of federal antipoverty programs and served as both the director of Buffalo’s Model Cities Program and vice president of the Ellicott Community Action Organization.

In 1977, Gillette secured the backing of Democratic, Republican, and Conservative parties in her election to become the first African American woman on the Erie County Legislature. During her time in office, she eschewed party politics in favor of getting things done across the aisle, including working with Republican legislator Joan K. Bozer to convert the city’s former main post office building into Erie Community College’s City Campus. Gilette also fought to make sure minority contractors received an equal amount of county contracts. After her two terms in the legislature, Gilette served as coordinator of the county witness protection program and as an election inspector while continuing to be active in her community, opening a food bank at the Towne Gardens apartment complex among other projects.

Last updated 2019