The Freedom Wall:  The Freedom Wall

A view of The Freedom Wall featuring, from left to right, Malcolm X, Alicia Garza, George K. Arthur, W. E. B. DuBois, Eva Doyle, and Huey P. Newton


Rosa Parks

Painted by Julia Bottoms

Widely lauded as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” Rosa Parks’s commitment to the pursuit of racial justice both predated and extended long after her famous refusal to move to the back of a segregated bus in December 1955. Parks’s act of civil disobedience instigated a 381-day boycott of Montgomery’s bus system, led by a then relatively unknown Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. By the time of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, however, Parks had been involved with the Civil Rights movement for nearly twenty years. As a member and secretary of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP, Parks was particularly dedicated to bringing awareness to the era’s widespread sexual violence against African American women by white men and to mobilizing young people in the struggle against oppression.

Parks and her family faced pervasive persecution for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and in 1957, they moved to Detroit. Throughout the 1960s, Parks remained an active voice in the movement, participating in Southern Christian Leadership Conference conventions, the 1963 March on Washington, and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March. Parks’s historic contributions in service of equity and freedom have been recognized with numerous awards, including the Spingarn Medal, the NAACP’s highest award, in 1979, as well as the United States’s two most prestigious civilian honors: the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. Top   

Julia Bottoms’s portrait of Rosa Parks for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure)

Painted by Chuck Tingley

At once influential and divisive, Stokely Carmichael is best known for popularizing “Black Power” as both a powerful slogan and a philosophy of self-determination. A chance encounter with members of the Howard University branch of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during Carmichael’s senior year of high school prompted the young man to reject scholarships from several white universities in order to study at Howard. There, Carmichael quickly became involved in the Civil Rights movement. By the end of his freshman year in 1961, he joined the Freedom Riders on their racially integrated bus trips, which were organized in defiance of laws banning such interstate travel. Carmichael, like many of the Freedom Riders, endured bitter racism, mob violence, and arrest for his participation.

After graduating from Howard in 1964, Carmichael helped educate and register disenfranchised African Americans as part of the SNCC’s Freedom Summer, and in 1966, he was chosen as chairman of the organization. However, by this time Carmichael had begun to question the effectiveness of the nonviolent strategies long advocated by the mainstream Civil Rights movement. After being jailed for the twenty-seventh time at a rally in support of James Meredith (who had been wounded by a sniper on his “Walk Against Fear” from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi), Carmichael made a decisive turn in his politics, declaiming after his release, “We been saying ‘Freedom’ for six years . . . . What we are going to start saying now is ‘Black Power!’”

During the next few years, Carmichael spoke frequently on college campuses across the country to audiences who embraced his more radical vision for achieving an end to white oppression of African American communities. After severing ties with the SNCC, which maintained its allegiance to ideas of nonviolence and integration, Carmichael became honorary prime minister of the Black Panthers. But he soon found himself at odds with the Panthers over the role of white radicals in the movement. In 1969, he moved to Guinea, where he renamed himself Kwame Ture in honor of two of his heroes: Kwame Nkrumah, who had helped lead Ghana to independence, and Ahmed Sékou Touré, the first president of an independent Guinea. Until his death in 1998, Ture continued to advocate for revolutionary liberation. Top

Chuck Tingley’s portrait of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure) for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Born 1944

Mama Charlene Caver Miller

Painted by John Baker

Growing up, civil rights activism was a family affair for “Mama” Charlene Caver Miller. Alongside her parents and siblings, Miller participated in sit-ins to protest the segregation of beaches, libraries, restaurants, and banks in her hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. She marched with her mother, one of the first African American graduates of the local police academy, for inclusive and representative hiring in the city’s fire, health, and police departments.

“All the things I do all over this city is what I was raised doing,” Miller says. She is a powerhouse of community service in Buffalo, volunteering for local block clubs, food pantries, and The Challenger as well as the American Red Cross, NAACP, YMCA, and other religious and public organizations dedicated to helping those in need. Feeding the hungry, especially young people, is a particular calling for Miller. She takes her guidance from a passage from the biblical Sermon on the Mount: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Miller’s home and her heart are perpetually open, and she helps steward youth in our region with a combination of tenderness and fearlessness. Top

John Baker’s portrait of Mama Charlene Caver Miller for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

ca. 1814–1884

William Wells Brown

Painted by Edreys Wajed

William Wells Brown escaped to freedom shortly before his twentieth birthday in 1834, taking the first step toward what would be a nearly fifty-year career as a celebrated abolitionist, speaker, and author. Born William to an enslaved woman and a relative of her owner, he adopted the middle and last names Wells Brown in honor of the Quaker who helped him get on his feet when he first arrived in Cleveland. Brown educated himself while working for various Lake Erie–based steamship companies, and he eventually moved to Buffalo in 1836. There, he began publicly speaking out against slavery and privately using his work connections to secure passage across Lake Erie to Canada for escaped slaves.

In 1843, Brown’s increasingly prominent public profile in progressive circles earned him a job as public speaker with the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society. This position brought him into contact with some of the era’s most prominent abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass. In part inspired by the success of Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Doug­lass, an American Slave, Written by Himself, Brown published Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave in 1847, which became widely read in its own right. Now a best-selling author and public speaker, Brown was invited to speak at 1849’s International Peace Conference in Paris and in venues across Britain. While he was abroad, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 became law, which delayed Brown’s return to the United States until 1854, when British friends formally purchased his freedom from the owner he had escaped twenty years prior. During his extended stay in Britain, Brown built on the success of his Narrative with the first travelogue and novel published by an African American. Even after becoming a physician in the 1860s, Brown continued to write extensively, publishing groundbreaking popular histories of black Civil War soldiers, Haiti’s eighteenth-century slave revolution, and African American contributions to world history and culture, as well as authoring plays and a compilation of antislavery songs. Top

Edreys Wajed’s portrait of William Wells Brown for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


King Peterson

Painted by Julia Bottoms

A champion of both public service and the labor movement, King Peterson dedicated his life to his community. As a child, Peterson’s family relocated to Buffalo, New York, where he went on to graduate from Hutchinson Central Technical High School. After receiving a degree in Sociology from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, he went to work at the Ford Motor Company’s Buffalo Assembly Plant. He was later appointed to the union bargaining committee and eventually became an International Representative of the United Auto Workers.

Peterson began his career in politics by serving two terms on the Erie County Board of Supervisors. He was elected to the Buffalo Common Council as the Ellicott District representative in 1955, becoming only the second African American to serve on the Common Council in the city’s history. A progressive Democrat, Peterson stood against police discrimination and supported public housing projects. As President Pro Tempore of the Common Council, he became the first African American to hold the position of acting mayor of Buffalo in 1956, while both the Mayor and Common Council President were attending the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. While some opposition was initially expressed to the idea of having an African American mayor, only one person—Rufus Frasier, an African American man and supporter of Peterson for acting mayor—showed up at the mandatory public meeting before the decision went into effect. Peterson later served as the Assistant Project Manager for the City of Buffalo, as a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention in 1967, and as First Shiloh Baptist Church’s Food Pantry Coordinator and Assistant. After his retirement in 1979, he remained involved in a number of organizations until his death in 2012. Top

Julia Bottoms’s portrait of King Peterson for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Born 1944

Angela Davis

Painted by Chuck Tingley

Angela Davis is an outspoken advocate for the oppressed and exploited, and has written extensively on civil and human rights with characteristic boldness and clarity. Davis has dedicated her life to examining the complex systems that perpetuate injustice and continues to offer powerful, blunt, and audacious commentary on the ongoing struggle for political and cultural freedoms.

Her work reveals the damaging ties between culturally pervasive notions of race, gender, and class and institutional and social injustice. Davis applies historical insights to present notions of freedom in order to explore ways in which we can form new and healthy dialogues and develop creative and even radical plans for collective freedom and true democracy.

Davis rose to international prominence during the 1970s for her unwavering pursuit of racial and economic justice through radical political action. During her time as a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, she began to orient both her academic studies and personal politics toward communism. For Davis, communism’s vision of societies run by and for working people offered a path toward liberation and economic equality for African Americans and other minorities. She was also active with both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panthers, though she became disillusioned with both organizations because of what she considered to be their unequal treatment of women.

Davis was at one point infamously named as one of the FBI’s most wanted individuals when she was implicated in a deadly attack that resulted in the death of a judge in 1970. Based on her relationship to the offenders and other circumstances, Davis was charged with aggravated kidnapping and first-degree murder. Davis maintained her innocence, opened the defense to her case herself, and was ultimately acquitted of all charges. Today, due in part to her own experiences during incarceration, Davis remains committed to challenging what she views as an inherently racist penal system designed to exploit poor, immigrant, and racially marginalized communities. Davis is the subject of the acclaimed documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners. She retired from the University of California, Santa Cruz as a Distinguished Professor Emerita in 2008, and she continues to write and speak on race-, class-, and gender-based oppression, especially in the criminal justice system. Top

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


Bill Gaiter

Painted by John Baker

Watching from Buffalo the events of the Civil Rights movement unfold in his hometown of Anniston, Alabama, and across the South prompted Bill Gaiter to attend an early meeting of B.U.I.L.D. (Build Unity, Independence, Liberty, and Dignity): a collective of local religious and community groups that coordinated on issues impacting the city’s African American community. A longtime bus driver for the NFTA, Gaiter would later become B.U.I.L.D.’s president and then executive director. During the 1970s, Gaiter organized various demonstrations, boycotts, and lawsuits challenging instances of inequality, and was responsible for securing employment for hundreds of minority construction workers. He also worked to improve living and health standards in the community and address issues of discrimination in the workplace, housing, the criminal justice system, and education.    

After resigning from B.U.I.L.D. in 1978, Gaiter went on to found the Institute for People Enterprises, which helped to connect workers to more than 120 service groups around the country and provided consulting, training, and operations assistance to various community, business, and political groups. In 1984, he also established the Western New York Council for African Relief to raise money for and develop cultural ties with Malika, Senegal, and other African communities. As a political organizer, Gaiter coordinated voter registration campaigns for various local African American candidates. Top

John Baker’s portrait of Bill Gaiter for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Malcolm X

Painted by Edreys Wajed

Malcolm X’s impassioned rhetoric helped shaped the course of the modern struggle for civil rights. He argued for Black empowerment and the abolishment of what he perceived to be nationally pervasive racial inequities. Malcolm was a fiery and fearless orator who never shied from criticism of systemic barriers or cultural attitudes that denied rights and justice to African Americans. His articulation of racial pride, Black nationalism, and, later in his career, human rights was unique among his contemporaries.

In 1964, Malcolm X embarked on a pilgrimage to Mecca that would cause him to dramatically rethink his beliefs about how best to combat racism in the United States. The journey proved to be both a political and spiritual turning point in his life. Malcolm was among the first and most prominent American civil rights leaders to contextualize their movement within the context of a global anticolonial struggle. He returned to the United States with renewed optimism about the prospects for peaceful resolutions to America's race problems. “The true brotherhood I had seen had influenced me to recognize that anger can blind human vision,” he said. “America is the first country . . . that can actually have a bloodless revolution.” While still dedicated to protecting constitutional and basic human rights for African Americans, Malcolm began to welcome allies from any and all cultural backgrounds to help accomplish the common goal of freedom and equality. After his return, Malcolm said he had met “blonde-haired, blued-eyed men I could call my brothers.”

“Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression,” he said. “Because power, real power, comes from our conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.” When these words are seen in relation with Malcolm’s often quoted and even more often misunderstood assertion that freedom should be sought by “any means necessary,” we can begin to appreciate that Malcolm stood not for violence itself but for self-determination and equal rights including the right to self-defense, a protection guaranteed under the law.

Tragically, just as Malcolm appeared to be embracing a dramatic ideological transformation, one that emphasized inclusion and the promotion of human rights for all races and that had the potential to alter dramatically the course of the Civil Rights movement, he was assassinated in February 1965. Top

Edreys Wajed’s portrait of Malcolm X for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Born 1981

Alicia Garza

Painted by Julia Bottoms

Alicia Garza, an Oakland, California–based organizer, writer, public speaker, and self-described “freedom dreamer,” is currently the Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the nation’s leading voice for the millions of domestic workers in the United States. Garza, along with Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, also cofounded Black Lives Matter, a globally recognized organizing project that focuses on combatting anti-Black state-sanctioned violence and the oppression of all Black people. Garza proclaims provocatively and proudly, “When Black people are free, everyone is free.”

Critically, Garza’s leadership as a queer Black woman challenges the misconception that only cisgender men of color encounter police and state violence. While the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were catalysts for the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Garza is clear that the issues around race, rights, and privileges in this country extend far beyond interactions between African American men and police. For Garza, in order to truly understand how devastating and widespread this type of racial violence is in the United States, we must come to terms with and work to solve this epidemic through of a lens of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Top

Julia Bottoms’s portrait of Alicia Garza for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


George K. Arthur

Painted by Chuck Tingley

Over the course of a political career that lasted almost half a century, Buffalo native George K. Arthur dedicated himself to ensuring equality and promoting unity in a constantly changing city. Arthur’s public service began in 1964, when, at the urging of a friend, he ran for and subsequently won a seat on the Erie County Board of Supervisors. He later served as the Ellicott District Common Council Member from 1970 to 1977, Common Council President from 1984 to 1996, and was appointed as a director of the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority in 2007. In his various roles, Arthur was a passionate advocate for economic development and equality in housing and education, serving as the lead plaintiff in Arthur v. Nyquist, a federal suit that brought to an end segregation and unequal resources in Buffalo schools that spanned from 1981 to 1996. In 1985, he challenged long-serving incumbent Jimmy Griffin in Buffalo’s mayoral race, becoming just the third African American to run for mayor in the city’s history and only narrowly losing.

Outside of political office, Arthur has worked with a number of organizations including the NAACP, the historic First Shiloh Baptist Church, and the Michigan Street Preservation Corporation, where he was instrumental in preserving the home and archives of Rev. J. Edward Nash, Sr., as the Nash House Museum. Top

Chuck Tingley’s portrait of George K. Arthur for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Born 1947

Al-Nisa Banks

Painted by John Baker

Al-Nisa Banks is the owner, editor, and publisher of The Challenger, one of the largest African American newspapers in the state of New York. Since starting as a volunteer at the Buffalo-based paper in 1979, Banks has worked tirelessly to give the local African American community a platform to address and discuss the issues that impact them and the city of Buffalo.

For Banks, the mission of The Challenger is to present the human impact of regional and national issues of politics, the economy, and social justice. As editor, she develops stories that highlight many of the positive or behind-the-scenes events and partnerships integral to Buffalo’s African American community. Both personally and professionally, Banks is fearlessly and fiercely critical of racist circumstances and systems of injustice. "I don't hate people, I hate conditions," she has said. Her unwavering pursuit of self-empowerment and equality has consistently earned her credibility with her supporters and critics alike, and to this day, she remains committed to giving a voice to those who deserve to be heard. Top

John Baker’s portrait of Al-Nisa Banks for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


W. E. B. Du Bois

Painted by Edreys Wajed

W. E. B. Du Bois was a prolific scholar whose influential writings revolutionized our understanding of the myriad forces responsible for racial inequity in the United States and what form possible solutions might take. Raised in a relatively tolerant and integrated small town in Massachusetts, Du Bois was dismayed by the pervasive discrimination he encountered when he moved in 1885 to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend Fisk University. After completing his doctorate at Harvard University, Du Bois continued to hone his understanding of systemic racism in the United States while teaching at various universities, and in 1903 he published what is considered his seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk. In the book, Du Bois speaks passionately to the perseverance and vitality of the African American community in the face of oppression and argues for the integral importance of higher education in altering these circumstances. The Souls of Black Folk found a sympathetic readership among a burgeoning community of intellectuals of color, and in 1905 Du Bois invited fifty-nine of his peers to Niagara Falls, New York, to form the Niagara Movement: an organization dedicated to advocating for equal rights and privileges for all citizens, regardless of race. While the group’s initial gathering took place at the Buffalo home of Mary B. Talbert, a noted civil rights activist and friend of Du Bois, meetings later in the week were ultimately held on the Canadian side of the Falls after American hoteliers denied the group lodgings. The Niagara Movement later formed the nucleus of the NAACP, which Du Bois helped to establish in 1909 and in which he served in various roles, including as the founding editor of Crisis, its monthly magazine.

Du Bois was also deeply concerned with the living conditions of peoples of African descent outside of the United States, and he organized a series of pan-African congresses around the world in 1919, 1921, 1923, and 1927. Disillusioned with what seemed to be intractable problems of discrimination in the United States, Du Bois moved to Ghana in 1961 and became a citizen shortly before his death in 1963 on the eve of the March on Washington. Top 

Edreys Wajed’s portrait of W. E. B. Du Bois for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Born 1946

Eva Doyle

Painted by Julia Bottoms

Eva Doyle is a prominent historian, author, and lecturer whose focus is African American history. In her various professional and volunteer activities, Doyle has exhibited a lifelong commitment to progress for African Americans in the region. Her motto is “Learning is a lifelong process.” She considers herself not only a teacher but also a student, and she is dedicated to exploring, discovering, and sharing dynamic and underrepresented legacies of African Americans. Doyle is a gifted storyteller and has shared some of her research in her ongoing newspaper column “Eye on History,” which she first began in 1979 for The Challenger and now runs in the Buffalo Criterion.

Doyle is deeply committed to education and equality, and to this day she continues to selflessly devote her time to the benefit of others. She has developed more than one hundred essay contests designed to encourage young students to enhance their writing skills, and in 2009, she inaugurated the Romeo Doyle Muhammad Scholarship, named after her late husband and awarded yearly to exceptional college-bound students of color. Her annual Roses for Outstanding Women awards program has honored more than 250 women since its inception. Top

Julia Bottoms’s portrait of Eva Doyle for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Huey P. Newton

Painted by Chuck Tingley

As a cofounder and leader of the Black Panthers, Huey P. Newton was a powerful voice for militant revolution in the name of freedom and justice during the 1960s. While attending Merritt College in Oakland, California, Newton became involved in the study of Third World theorists promoted by the black students association as well as the practical politics of Oakland’s largely segregated African American community. For Newton and many younger African Americans, the major strides toward ending legal discrimination made by the mid-1960s seemed to have little effect on the racism, economic injustice, and police brutality they and their neighbors regularly experienced. In 1966, Newton and Bobby Seale translated this frustration in the platform of the Black Panther Party, which advocated for armed self-defense and, in a major break with the mainstream Civil Rights movement, allowed for the use of violence for revolutionary ends.

While the Panthers’ unapologetic pursuit of “Power to the People” quickly drew many recruits to the organization, it also provoked a violent crackdown by local police and federal agents. In 1967, Newton was charged with killing a police officer during a gun battle in Oakland. Although he was initially convicted, his imprisonment became a rallying point for activists—“Free Huey” rallies were held around the world—and the charges were overturned in 1970. After his release from prison, Newton attempted to redirect the Panthers’ energies toward positive action in the community, including the development of breakfast programs for children and free medical clinics. However, he continued to have run-ins with the law, at one point spending three years in Cuba to avoid arrest, and was killed in a street shooting in 1989. Top

Chuck Tingley’s portrait of Huey P. Newton for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Shirley Chisholm

Painted by John Baker

Shirley Chisholm’s life was one of historic firsts: she was the first African American woman elected to Congress and both the first African American and the first woman to compete in the presidential primaries for a major political party. However, the true significance of her legacy exceeds these firsts and lies in her unwavering commitment to the people she represented in office. Announcing her candidacy in 1972, Chisholm declared, “I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that. . . .  I am the candidate of the people of America.”

In 1960, Chisholm, who had been politically active for decades, began seriously challenging the local Democratic Party on their refusal to support African American candidates. After assisting several other candidates run for office, Chisholm succeeded in being elected to the New York State Legislature in 1964, becoming only the second African American woman to serve in Albany. During her four years in the Assembly, Chisholm created important programs proving financial and academic assistance for college students of color and unemployment insurance for domestic workers. In 1968, she ran a successful grassroots campaign for Congress. During her fourteen-year tenure, she worked to establish federal funding for day care centers, increase the minimum wage, and promote job-training initiatives. While her 1972 bid for president ended in defeat, her high-energy campaign opened up important discussions about who and what the Democratic Party stood for and paved the way for later female and African American presidential candidates. After retiring from Congress in 1983, Chisholm lived for several years in Buffalo, the hometown of her second husband, Arthur Hardwick, Jr., and she is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery. Top

John Baker’s portrait of Shirley Chisholm for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Frank Merriweather

Painted by Edreys Wajed

As a publisher, political organizer, and dedicated family man, Frank Merriweather helped shape the political, economic, and civic growth of Buffalo’s African American community for more than three decades. After moving to the area in 1922, Merriweather founded the Buffalo Criterion. He envisioned the publication as a space to interweave local and national issues impacting the lives of African Americans, featuring stories on housing, employment, education, and civil rights, as well as the push for greater representation on the Buffalo Board of Education. Today, the Buffalo Criterion is still published by the Merriweather family and is the longest-running continuously published African American newspaper in Western New York.

Alongside his publishing work, Merriweather was active in the local political scene. In 1928, he helped form the first African American political clubs in Buffalo and subsequently organized voter registration drives. During the Great Depression, Merriweather opened the doors of his home to friends and neighbors who were hungry, helped secured bail for men who were arrested, and hired recently released prisoners as temporary employees, transforming his household into a center of the community. Top

Edreys Wajed’s portrait of Frank Merriweather for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Martin Luther King, Jr.

Painted by Julia Bottoms

One of the most profoundly influential participants in the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, led the Southern Christian Leadership Council, orchestrated nonviolent protests and marches throughout the United States during the 1950s and 1960s, and delivered a number of speeches that ultimately led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

King recognized that the Voting Rights Act would not entirely solve the country’s systemic problems of racial and social injustice, and he became frustrated with the movement’s lack of progress after 1965. His commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience was questioned by former colleagues and supporters who began to preach the ideology of Black Power and more radical action. But King persisted in his efforts to form a coalition among all races by drawing a relationship between racial and economic inequality. In 1966, King shifted his attention to the north, specifically Chicago, to bring attention to the elaborate network of city laws and ordinances that resulted in the dramatic housing segregation seen there and in other urban centers. At the same time, he became an increasingly vocal critic of the war in Vietnam, stating, “The bombs in Vietnam explode at home; they destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America.” Both King’s powerful antiwar message and his efforts to bridge divisions between poor African Americans and whites in order to challenge economic injustice and exploitation drew the ire of important sectors of the federal government, and the F.B.I. subjected King, his family, and his associates to more than two decades of extrajudicial surveillance. In his last speech, on April 3, 1968, King delivered the spiritual message, “I’ve looked over and seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.” Top

Julia Bottoms’s portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Mary B. Talbert

Painted by Chuck Tingley

In both her Buffalo community and on the international stage, Mary B. Talbert was a pioneering civil rights activist who emphasized the potential power of women—especially African American women—to bring an end to injustice. Shortly after graduating from Oberlin College, she moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, to teach at Bethel University (now Shorter College) before becoming assistant principal of Union High School, the first African American woman to hold this title in what was still a segregated school district. In 1891, she married William H. Talbert, a successful businessman and city clerk, and moved to Buffalo.

Talbert quickly became involved in the local community, training Sunday school teachers at the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church and in 1899, cofounding the Phyllis Wheatley Club, which brought African American women together to organize food drives, place books by African American authors in school libraries, establish kindergartens for African American children, and otherwise support the community. Talbert led the Club’s rally against the all-white organizers of the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition and their decision not to include any representation of contemporary African American life. In 1905, Talbert hosted W. E. B. Du Bois and the other founders of what would be the Niagara Movement, which subsequently formed the nucleus of the NAACP. Talbert later served as a vice president and board member of the NAACP from 1918 until her death in 1923, leading the organization’s nationwide anti-lynching campaign. Talbert was also a long-serving leader in the National Association of Colored Women, spearheading the organization’s campaign to purchase and restore Frederick Douglass’s home as a national historic site and becoming the first African American delegate to the International Council of Women in 1920. Top

Chuck Tingley’s portrait of Mary B. Talbert for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Reverend J. Edward Nash, Sr.

Painted by John Baker

From his arrival in Buffalo in 1892 until his death in 1957, Rev. J. Edward Nash, Sr., stood as one of the most well-known and influential voices in Buffalo’s African American community. Born in 1868 to two former slaves in Occoquan, Virginia, Nash went on to receive his education at Wayland Seminary, finishing his theological studies in 1892. At the age of twenty four, he accepted a position as pastor of Buffalo’s Michigan Street Baptist Church, in part because of its legendary association with the Underground Railroad. During his notable sixty-one-year ministry, Nash developed a statewide and national reputation not only for his powerful sermons but also for his tireless advocacy on behalf of the less fortunate.

His work extended beyond the church into the public sphere and included his tenure as director and founder of the Buffalo Urban League and the local branch of the NAACP. He later served as a member of the Council of Social Agencies and was a Protestant chaplain at the Edward J. Meyer Memorial Hospital (now ECMC) for twenty-one years. Nash also served for thirty-two years as secretary of the Ministers Alliance of Buffalo and as treasurer of the Western New York Baptist Association. Top

John Baker’s portrait of Reverend J. Edward Nash, Sr. for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Dr. Lydia T. Wright

Painted by Edreys Wajed

Dr. Lydia T. Wright dedicated her life to her community both as a doctor and member of the Buffalo Board of Education. After graduating from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and completing her residency at Harlem Hospital in New York, Wright and her husband, Dr. Frank G. Evans, moved to Buffalo and opened their own practice on Jefferson Avenue in 1952. Wright became the city’s first African American pediatrician, serving generations of children in the community over what would be a thirty-six year career as a physician.

In 1962, Wright was elected to the Board of Education, vowing to be “the community’s voice during Board debates on school racial integration.” At the time, Buffalo public schools were among the most dramatically segregated in the country and their integration over the course of the 1960s was highly contentious. In 1963, Wright was the only Board member to vote against a plan to district the new Woodlawn Junior High School so that it would be exclusively African American; following a petition by the local branch of the NAACP, the school was forcibly desegregated by the New York State Education Department two years later. During her five years on the Board, Wright fought to develop busing and redistricting plans that would more evenly distribute African American and white students across schools in the district. As a draw for students and their families, she proposed that each high school have a specialization—an idea that anticipated the city’s current magnet school system. In 2000, the Buffalo Common Council agreed to name a new school the Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence in honor of “her struggle to integrate our school system and to get people to know one another and appreciate one another for who they are, regardless of color or creed.” Top

Edreys Wajed’s portrait of Dr. Lydia T. Wright for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Frederick Douglass

Painted by Julia Bottoms

A former slave, Frederick Douglass was one of the most influential voices in the abolitionist movement prior to the Civil War and in the work to ensure the full recognition of the civil rights of African Americans after the war’s end. After escaping in 1838, Douglass eventually made his way to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he quickly came to the attention of the local abolitionist community as a powerful orator. In 1841, he was hired by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society as a traveling public speaker, and in 1845, he published his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself. While the immediate success of the book brought needed attention to the horrors of slavery, the publicity also inadvertently put Douglass at risk of being captured and re-enslaved. He would spend the next two years in Britain, continuing to speak out against slavery and returning to the United States only after a group of British friends purchased his freedom. On his return, Douglass moved to Rochester, New York, where he began publishing the North Star, a newspaper dedicated to ending slavery and promoting civil rights for African Americans, and he became active in helping escaped slaves make their way to Canada. During this time, Douglass continued his public speaking, and in an 1857 speech, he delivered one of his most powerful calls on the potential of the oppressed to resist oppression: “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Douglass was an early supporter of Abraham Lincoln in his bid for the presidency, and following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, he became an active recruiter of African Americans for the Union army. Throughout the war and in the years following, Douglass leveraged his influence in the government to fight for new legislation and enforcement of existing laws protecting the civil rights of African Americans. Until his death in 1895, he was a committed advocate for the right of African Americans to vote—which was finally codified in the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870—and against the emergence of segregation laws that threatened this and other rights in the American South in the wake of Reconstruction’s failures. Top

Julia Bottoms’s portrait of Frederick Douglass for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Dr. Monroe Fordham

Painted by Chuck Tingley

Beginning in the 1960s, Dr. Monroe Fordham worked tirelessly to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans—especially members of Buffalo’s African American community—to this country’s history and culture. In 1974, Fordham (who had recently completed his doctorate at the University at Buffalo) was a driving force in founding The Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier: an organization dedicated to collecting and preserving records documenting the legacies of African Americans in Western New York. The Association shared its work in part through an interdisciplinary journal, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, which Fordham edited between 1977 and 2008. Today, the Association’s collections are shared by the William A. Miles Center for African and African-American Studies at the Frank E. Merriweather, Jr. Library and the Monroe Fordham Regional History Center at Buffalo State College.

Also in 1974, Fordham began what would be a twenty-four year tenure as a professor at Buffalo State College. As a member and longtime chair of the History Department, Fordham not only made significant contributions to the study of African American history but also helped to inspire generations of students and researchers. Top

Chuck Tingley’s portrait of Dr. Monroe Fordham for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Thurgood Marshall

Painted by John Baker

In 1954, Thurgood Marshall, the long-serving chief counsel of the NAACP during the height of the Civil Rights movement, rose to national prominence after successfully arguing before the Supreme Court the case of Brown v. Board of Education, which ended racial segregation in public schools. Brown v. Board of Education was only one of Marshall’s twenty-nine Supreme Court victories, which also included major blows against segregation at graduate and professional schools and in housing. His success in fighting discrimination through the legal system led to his appointment to the United States Court of Appeals in 1961, as Solicitor General of the United States in 1965, and to the Supreme Court in 1967, where he would become the first African American justice.

Marshall believed in the power of the law to create positive change in society and protect human rights, stating, “In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.” During his twenty-four year tenure on the Supreme Court, Marshall passionately pursued an interpretation of the Constitution that actively protected citizens against discrimination, especially in education, and preserved their rights within the criminal justice system. Top

John Baker’s portrait of Thurgood Marshall for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Fannie Lou Hamer

Painted by Edreys Wajed

On August 22, 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist and organizer, delivered one of the era’s most powerful testimonies before the Credentials Committee at the Democratic National Convention. The year prior, she was jailed and viciously beaten for her work helping African Americans register to vote in Mississippi, and earlier in 1964 she helped to found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party when the state’s standing Democratic Party refused to allow African American delegates to attend the National Convention. “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Hamer declared to the Committee, and she ended her testimony by offering a challenge to the United States as a whole: “Is this America, the land of the free and home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hook because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings in America?”

Hamer worked as a sharecropper in Mississippi for the majority of her life. She became active in the Civil Rights movement in 1962 after attending a meeting near her home organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Hamer quickly became active in the organization’s voter registration campaign and established herself as a leading voice for racial equality in the region. Later in the 1960s, Hamer continued to work toward social justice in her community, organizing projects that helped provide housing and food to low-income families. Top

Edreys Wajed’s portrait of Fannie Lou Hamer for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Born 1933

Arthur O. Eve

Painted by Julia Bottoms

As the New York State Assembly’s longest-serving member and as a private citizen since his retirement, Arthur O. Eve has been committed to improving the lives of his community’s most underserved. He began his public service by looking to solve what on the surface appeared to be a minor issue: a lack of enriching recreational activities for kids in Buffalo city parks. From there, Eve quickly became a prominent force in local Democratic Party activities, challenging the establishment to fight for the rights of minorities. In 1966, he won his first election to begin what would be an historic thirty-six year tenure in the Assembly, where he would serve as Deputy Speaker from 1979 to 2002. In 2000, Eve cosponsored a resolution in the Assembly to declare Harriet Tubman Day on March 10, the anniversary of her death. Eve also became the first African American to win a Democratic mayoral primary in Buffalo, but he ultimately lost the general election to Jimmy Griffin.

In September 1971, Eve was brought in as part of a team of negotiators during the deadly uprising at Attica Correctional Facility. He had first encountered the prison a few years prior, and appalled by the treatment of the facility’s predominantly African American and Latino population, he began developing legislation aimed at correcting injustices in the state’s prison and sentencing policies. Alongside his efforts at criminal justice reform, Eve focused his time in the Assembly principally on issues of education, economic development, and job creation. Among the many projects he helped organize and pass through the legislature is the state’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), which provides financial and academic support for academically and economically disadvantaged students, and was later named in Eve’s honor. Top

Julia Bottoms’s portrait of Arthur O. Eve for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.


Minnie Gillette

Painted by Chuck Tingley

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. Top

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


Marcus Garvey

Painted by John Baker

Marcus Garvey was a pioneer of pan-Africanism, persuasively arguing for a vision of social and political equality through the global unification of all peoples of African descent that would be hugely influential to activists working outside the mainstream Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Born and raised in Jamaica, where he learned the printing trade and got his start in public speaking as a union activist, Garvey also worked in Costa Rica and in Panama in his early twenties. These experiences convinced him that racial discrimination was an issue that transcended national boundaries and one that whites were never going to solve. After studying in London for two years, Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1914 to start the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA): an umbrella organization dedicated to encouraging black pride, providing educational opportunities, and supporting black-owned businesses geared toward people of color as consumers.

When the organization failed initially to take off, Garvey moved to United States, where his new community in Harlem was much more receptive to his speeches, delivered everywhere from street corners to church pulpits. To further publicize his message, Garvey founded his own newspaper, Negro World, which was eventually distributed in Spanish- and French-language editions across Latin America and Africa. In 1919, he successfully crowd-funded the beginnings of an international fleet of steamships, the Black Star Line, which was intended to connect black-owned enterprises in Africa and the Americas, as well as the Negro Factories Corporation, which provided start-up funding for a number of small businesses. The popularity and success of the UNIA’s message and projects alarmed British and French colonial authorities as well as the United States government, and in 1922, Garvey was convicted on charges related to fraud. When his sentence was ultimately commuted in 1927, Garvey was deported and was never successful in trying to revive the UNIA’s momentum of the early 1920s. Top

John Baker’s portrait of Marcus Garvey for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

ca. 1820–1913

Harriet Tubman

Painted by Edreys Wajed

After escaping from slavery in 1849, Harriet Tubman went on to become one of the Underground Railroad’s most daring and successful operatives in the years preceding the Civil War and then a scout, spy, and nurse for the Union army during the conflict. Between 1850 and 1858, it is estimated that she made as many as nineteen trips back into slave-holding states in order to lead as many as three hundred people, including her own parents, north to Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada, where she herself was based. Tubman quickly became notorious among slaveholders and at one point a $40,000 reward was unsuccessfully offered for her capture.

When the Civil War began, Tubman volunteered for the Union army, eventually joining up with forces stationed in South Carolina. Her skills in disguise and infiltration developed during her work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad made Tubman a uniquely skilled spy, and she often crossed into Confederate territory to gather information. In 1863, she became the first American woman to organize and lead an armed expedition: a raid on the Combahee River in South Carolina that freed an estimated 700 slaves. After the war, Tubman dedicated herself to caring for poor and elderly African Americans, initially out of her home and farm in Auburn, New York, and eventually in the purpose-built Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged. She also became involved in the women’s right movement and in 1896 cofounded the National Association of Colored Women. Top

Edreys Wajed’s portrait of Harriet Tubman for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.