In the late 19th century, many African Americans moved up North to create better lives. Industrial cities such as Buffalo offered a great number of opportunities. Here, they found better jobs and better lives for themselves and their families.
Especially during and after World War I, Buffalo presented the African American community with better prospects than the South had.
Booker T. Washington was a popular spokesman and leader of the African American community. Washington was born in 1956 in Hale’s Ford, Va., and belonged to the last generation of African Americans to be born into slavery. He was extremely influential to both black and white parties, and his followers called him the “Tuskegee Machine.” His other accomplishments include writing 14 novels, including his autobiography Up From Slavery, and co-founding West Virginia State University. He died in 1915 at the age of 58.
Joseph Hodge was the first non-Native American settler in the Buffalo area. After escaping slavery in the mid 1700s, Hodge married into the Seneca tribe. He and his wife operated a fur trading post, and he often worked as an interpreter.
The National Liberty Party was a minor political party founded in 1840, consisting of abolitionists who broke away from the American Anti-Slavery Society. They believed that the Constitution was an anti-slavery document and used the document to support their efforts. The National Liberty Party’s first national convention took place in Arcade, N.Y., on April 1, 1840.
The National Convention of Colored Citizens, one of the most significant conventions in abolition movements, began on August 15, 1843, in Buffalo. The Convention lasted four days, and its participants discussed their efforts to claim the rights of other American citizens. Perhaps the most notable of speeches was by Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, who radically encouraged slaves to strive for total emancipation.
The Free Soil Party was a very short-lived political party, remaining active from 1848 until fully absorbing into the Republican Party in 1854. The FSP was formed in Buffalo at Lafayette Square (known then as Court House Park). Although short-lived, the party was groundbreaking for mainly consisting of anti-slavery members. After fusing with the Republican Party, anti-slavery Democrats also switched parties to help the cause. Martin Van Buren was the only politician of the Free Soil Party to be nominated for president, albeit unsuccessfully.
As recent films Lincoln and Django Unchained remind us, America was no playground when the Fugitive Slave Act was law. African Americans were forcibly stripped of their very humanity; they were worth less than nothing and treated as just another piece of the furniture set.
Oddly enough, this horrendous period was the cause of one of Buffalo's greatest triumphs.
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