BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – An exhibit on the lower level of the Buffalo History Museum is filled with portraits, highlighting the lives and achievements of about 18 men and women from Erie County.
These are Erie County’s History Makers.
“Well known people who made an impact. impacted the area, the economy, our culture,” explained Anthony Greco, the Buffalo History Museum’s Director of Exhibits and Interpretive Planning.
Among the well known people included in the History Makers display is Jessie Edward Nash, who was pastor at the Michigan Street Baptist Church for six decades.
“He was a major proponent for African American rights,” Greco said.
“He helped found the Buffalo Urban League which welcomed African Americans into this area, helped set them up with jobs, housing, etc,” he added. “So a major positive force.”
Another person highlighted in the History Makers exhibit, Mary Talbert, was a force known around the country.
She was the first African American woman to receive the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.
She also was known for her contributions to the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901.
“She helped bring an exhibit that was over at the Paris Exposition back here which featured the literary and all the accomplishments of African Americans since Emancipation,” Greco said.
Of course, it’s impossible to tell the story of Erie County’s History Makers without including chapters that are not worth celebrating.
Western New York native turned U.S. President Millard Fillmore signed the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed the capture and return of escaped slaves, even in free states.
And there are mixed legacies among Western New York’s more modern History Makers, too.
Rick James has been back in the headlines recently because his estate is being sued over allegations of sexual assault. He also had run-ins with the law in his lifetime.
But, his contributions are undeniable.
“An incredibly influential musical figure that we all know very well today,” Greco pointed out.
And James’ story is Buffalo’s story. The History Makers’ stories are the stories of the black community. They’re the stories of us all.
News 4 continues to celebrate Black History month this weekend. Watch our special, Hidden History, Sunday at noon on Channel 4.