BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Louisiana native, Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold, moved to Buffalo in 1947 when her parents joined the Great Migration. One of nine children, they moved into a four-room cold-water flat on Walnut Street where her family’s love and support made her into the person she is today.
“That’s where my roots are, growing up on the East Side,” Dr. Seals Nevergold said. “I guess it’s where a lot of my personality, a lot of what my parents instilled in us, you know, as being important and valuing each other, valuing our community, giving back to the community, as well.”
For Dr. Seals Nevergold, learning was fundamental. She received a bachelor’s degree in French education from Buffalo State College and a master’s in French education and counseling education from the University at Buffalo. She later went back to UB and earned a doctorate of philosophy in counseling education.
“There was a certain practicality to my selecting of French as a major,” Dr. Seals Nevergold said. “When I looked around at the jobs that were available and that the district was hiring for, they were hiring more language teachers than they were history teachers… I knew that I’d always have some interest in history, but the language, to me, was unique and it was also an opportunity to get a good paying job in the Buffalo Public Schools.”
Dr. Seals Nevergold’s fascination with French took her around the world. She studied the language at Laval University in Québec, Canada, and at the University of Dijon in France — now known as the University of Burgundy.
“In any event, I began to dream in French,” Dr. Seals Nevergold said. “Knowing someone else’s language, understanding their culture, being able to relate to it, I think, enriches us personally, certainly enriches our community and enriches our nation.”
Dr. Seals Nevergold’s career started as a French teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools. She went on to work in health education, social work and higher education administration before being appointed an at-large member of the Buffalo Public Schools Board of Education. She served as the board’s president for six years.
“There were some contentious periods, some difficult periods,” Dr. Seals Nevergold said. “But I think that at the time, we succeeded in bringing some stability to the district, particularly as it related to the leadership of the superintendent.”
Long before her membership on the board, Dr. Seals Nevergold co-founded Concerned Parents and Citizens for Quality Education, Inc. — aimed at helping parents understand the rights they had and how to negotiate with the district, particularly related to concerns that they had with their children.
“I’ve noticed in my life her zeal and her focus on doing things that empower people,” said Gerald Seals, Dr. Seals Nevergold’s younger brother. “She’s always had that drive and that energy and that focus that’s necessary to accomplish great things.”
Dr. Seals Nevergold is also the co-founder of the Uncrowned Queens Institute — something she says has been foundational for her in terms of what she’s most proud of. It started in 1991 as a project to commemorate the 1901 Pan-American Exposition.
“Some of the women developed projects to look at women in the arts, some looked at women in science, women in politics; and we decided that we would look at women, Black women, and the Pan-Am,” Dr. Seals Nevergold said. “That was really motivated because I heard a story about a group of Black women who had staged a protest rally in 1900 and I thought, ‘Who were these audacious women that they should dare to have a protest rally in 1900?'”
The project-turned-institute became a nonprofit in 2003. Today, its mission is as strong as ever: to preserve the histories of African American women and men.
“There are many other women, African American women, who may have been well known in their time,” Dr. Seals Nevergold said. “But if their histories aren’t written down and they can’t be found, they don’t exist. So that’s our goal, to make sure that we find the histories, that we write them down, that we make them available and that we preserve them.”
Something Dr. Seals Nevergold is particularly proud of has to do with a man who was a victim of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Andrew Smitherman was a journalist who was forced to flee Oklahoma — charged with inciting what was known then as the “race riot.”
“I became interested in him and started to do research on his life,” Dr. Seals Nevergold said. “What he had done, how he had risen from the ashes, so to speak of the Phoenix, to reconstruct his life here in Buffalo.”
Dr. Seals Nevergold wrote to Tulsa’s district attorney and explained the many ways Smitherman contributed to the community when he moved to Buffalo — suggesting he should have his record expunged. The Tulsa DA agreed.
“Not only did he agree to expunge Mr. Smitherman’s record, he agreed to expunge the 54 men who were African American who were indicted for inciting the riot,” Dr. Seals Nevergold said.
Dr. Seals Nevergold continues to do projects and activities that will expand the knowledge of the histories of African Americans in Buffalo. The Uncrowned Queens Institute launched its Black History project at the Buffalo History Museum in February: “Say Their Names: Honor Their Legacies.” The special exhibit honors African American elders in Western New York.
“It’s not just a remembrance because a lot of these individuals continue, to this very day, to work and to contribute to the community,” Dr. Seals Nevergold said. “These are the messages that we want to give to young people — as they look at the videos, as they read the biographies of these individuals — that you have giants in the community and they’re examples and role models for you to aspire to be.”
“Anyone can have a monumental effect in their surroundings and the people that they are surrounded by, by just making an effort,” Seals said. “Start somewhere, you know… and she’s done that all of her life. She’s just started somewhere.”
Dr. Seals Nevergold expressed another one of her treasured accomplishments. After President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, she co-authored “Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First Lady” — a compilation of letters and poems written to First Lady Michelle Obama from women throughout the United States and Africa. The book was published in a six-week span.
“There are 100 poems, letters and prayers, etc., in here that speak to not just support for Michelle Obama, but how Black women felt, themselves, about their pride, about their astonishment,” Dr. Seals Nevergold said. “We never thought we’d live to see the day when a Black man would be elected to presidency of the United States, so this is a monument, a memorium to that time and to the thoughts and the feelings of so many African American women. There are 100 in here, but I dare say that they expressed the same sentiment for hundreds, if not thousands, of other women.”
Dr. Seals Nevergold’s list of accomplishments knows no end. She’s directed the Niagara Frontier Association for Sickle Cell Disease, served as the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Buffalo and Erie County, started a foster care organization and has held a number of leadership roles on local and national boards. Everything she does is woven together by a common thread:
“I always connect them… that one, there was education involved in all of those, and two, I was working with people,” Dr. Seals Nevergold said. “Regardless of how I delivered the service, there was a service that I was delivering associated with people.”
“She’s lifted up so many people, not only in our community but across the country,” Seals said. “And that’s important in this day and age. You want to have involvement with each other that enhances everyone.”
As Dr. Seals Nevergold looks back on her life, she attributes her success to her family and the East Side roots that helped her flourish.
“We were blessed to have our parents for a long time and they always expressed pride in all of their children… That has helped sustain me and has given me the ability and the confidence to keep going on,” Dr. Seals Nevergold said. “Look within your own family, look within your own social sphere, look within your church, whatever organizations that you belong to. The role models are there, the stories are there of these people, the examples are there for you to use. The inspiration is there.”
Tune into News 4 at 4 every Wednesday throughout the month of March to see a profile of one woman in Western New York who stands out. The winner of this year’s Remarkable Women campaign will be announced Wednesday, March 29.
Jordan Norkus is an award-winning anchor who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.