BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — They say, “good things come in small packages,” which seems to be so true for a Black History museum on Buffalo’s East Side.
For Black History Month, News 4’s Al Vaughters and photojournalist Kim Root found the museum at Trinity Baptist Church, packed with remnants of Buffalo’s past.
Divine guidance led Bernice Wiggins to document Trinity Baptist Church’s close ties to the city’s Black community, and Buffalo at large, 20 years ago.
“So we started collecting pictures, asking everybody for photographs and what have you, and we just collected and collected,” said Wiggins, museum co-founder.
It started with a photo album, but after a few years, Bernice said it was obvious the church would need more.
“And when we realized we are going to have to have a museum because people were giving us all these different artifacts and things that they wanted to be preserved for folks to remember them by at Trinity,” she said.
Bernice, fellow parishioners, Diana Perry, and Keith Crippen who designed the layout, got the museum started. Church members were so eager to share personal histories and family histories the museum was expanded into an adjoining room and drew an admonishment from Crippen.
“And he just said, ‘you’ve got to stop. Mrs. Wiggins, this is a museum, it is not an attic,'” she added.
Trinity Baptist’s museum might enlighten even the most ardent student of Black history in Buffalo. Here you will find a number of Black “firsts.” Arthur Eve, the first African American to win a primary for mayor, in 1977, Byron Brown the first Black to be elected mayor, and the first mayor to win a fifth term.
“There is a lot of Buffalo history right here in our museum.”
There’s also a special display for the first Black president of the United States, Barack Obama and a collage of the first African American to hold elected office in the City of Buffalo and Erie County. Sherman Walker was elected supervisor in Buffalo’s old Fifth Ward, which also gave him a seat on Erie County’s old Board of Supervisors. That was in 1935.
Walker was also chairman of Trinity’s board and believed to be Buffalo’s first Black millionaire.
There’s a Buffalo City Directory from 1832, with a familiar theme.
“Colored” citizens, as African Americans were called then, were segregated to the back of the book. But Bernice’s most prized artifact, an original ticket to the church’s third-anniversary celebration in 1939, found in a parishioner’s radio, years later.
“And he was trying to repair it, and this ticket fell out. It was to our anniversary banquet and the dinner tickets were 35 cents per ticket,” Wiggins told us.
Trinity Baptist Church is located on Bailey Avenue just north of the Kensington expressway. You can book a tour of the museum by calling the church, but as you might expect Black History Month is their busiest time of year.
Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here. To submit a Call 4 Action, click here.