Michigan Avenue Y.M.C.A. records
- circa 1920-1970
- circa 1975
- June 2006
Language of Materials
Terms of Access
4.5 Linear Feet (6 manuscript boxes)
In 1923, the Young Men's Christian Association of Buffalo (Y.M.C.A.), through its General Secretary Alfred H. Whitford, announced that its budget for the next year "allowed for the organization and maintenance of a 'colored' branch of the Y.M.C.A." (Williams, Lillian S. "To Elevate the Race: The Michigan Avenue YMCA and the Advancement of Blacks in Buffalo, New York, 1922-1940," in New Perspectives on Black Educational History, ed. Vincent P. Franklin and James D. Anderson [Boston: G.K. Hall, circa 1978], 132). The Association appointed William H. Jackson to head up the committee that would begin the work needed to establish the new branch. During the first weeks that Jackson was on the job, he met Welton L. Townsend on the street and they fell into conversation. Jackson told Townsend of his intentions to establish a Y.M.C.A. (Young Men's Christian Association) to serve the African American population in Buffalo. Townsend responded by giving Jackson $1.00 and asked to be enrolled as a member in the proposed organization. In this way, Welton L. Townsend became the first member in the Michigan Avenue Y.M.C.A.
Later that same year, Julien Rosenwald, president of Sears and Roebuck Company announced that he would offer $25,000 toward the building fund for the new branch if the community could raise $125,000 by December 18, 1924. The community raised the needed funds and received Rosenwald's donation on Christmas Eve, 1924.
The Metropolitan Y.M.C.A. had, in 1923, rented a building on Michigan Avenue as a temporary home for the new branch because of its accessibility to the African American community. The need for a more adequate facility for the new branch prompted George B. Matthews, a Buffalo industrialist and owner of the Courier Express to agree to donate $100,000 to the Y.M.C.A. to be used as a trust fund. "The trust became known as the Booker T. Washington Foundation and was the largest donation ever made for the support of 'Y' work among Afro-Americans in the United States" (ibid., 135). By the time of his death, George B. Matthews had contributed over $500,000 in support of the Michigan Avenue Y.M.C.A.
John Brent was chosen as architect to design and supervise the construction of the new building. Brent "was only the second black architect to receive an assignment to design a Y.M.C.A. for blacks" (ibid., 135). On April 15, 1928, the new Michigan Avenue Branch Y.M.C.A. building was opened and dedicated. Many local dignitaries attended the ceremonies.
A broad program for youth was developed stressing boys physical work and character building club work. Additional classes for adults such as music, art, home economics and practical engineering were specifically designed to meet the needs of the community of the day, both to inspire them by bringing the branch certain outstanding people who were experts in the various fields mentioned, and also to give them practical training for job opportunities which then existed in the Buffalo area. Heavy stress was laid on Bible classes and there was a distinct religious overtone to all the work which was done.
Public forums organized by the Education Committee at the branch were very popular and featured prominent African American figures. Among those who agreed to speak at the forums were: Dr. Mordecai Johnson, President of Howard University; Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois; Congressman Oscar De Priest; Mary McLeod Bethune, President of Bethune-Cookman College; Nannie Burroughs, President of the National Training School for Women and Girls; Walter White, Executive Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and Mary Church Terrell, first President of the National Association of Colored Women. The Y.M.C.A. also, from time to time, presented noted soloists, instrumentalists and choral organizations. Music was taught at the Branch on an individual basis and choral groups and an orchestra was also part of the Branch program.
A very active Ladies Auxiliary under the leadership of Mrs. Otis D. Jackson promoted financial and cultural programs for the benefit of the association and greatly promoted its early success.
Leadership was developed in a well organized boys program which was able to attract the top men of the community to assist, such names as Reverend W.H. Horner, Attorney Clarence M. Maloney and Dr. Ivorite L. Scruggs frequently appear as speakers and discussion leaders to the older boys conferences and similar groups.
Youth leaders in the high schools, such as Guy and R.J. Cameron, Russell and Cleon Service, Roy Dixon, and Leeland Jones, Jr. are names which frequently appear as one reviews the older boys' program of the 1930s. In the meantime the Board of Management was struggling to cope with the financial problem brought on by the depression of the of the 1930s. A newspaper editorial in 1931 congratulated the Branch on the meeting of its financial goal $2,500 in a year when widespread unemployment was affecting most of its members. Additional financial help had been provided by Mr. and Mrs. Matthews, who were making regular yearly contributions to the operating budget of the association.
The program continued to expand and additional quarters were purchased next to the building on Michigan Avenue which were reconditioned to serve as a dormitory for married couples traveling through Buffalo. A camp site was purchased and a camp developed at Wales Hollow.
- I. Notebooks
- II. Scrapbooks
- III. Photographs
- IV. Additional Materials
Accruals and Additions
- Administrative records
- African American youth -- New York (State) -- Buffalo -- Social conditions
- African Americans -- New York (State) -- Buffalo -- Social conditions
- African Americans -- New York (State) -- Buffalo -- Social life and customs
- Black-and-white photographs
- Buffalo (N.Y.) -- Social conditions
- Clippings (information artifacts)
- Young Men's Christian Association (Buffalo, N.Y.). Michigan Avenue Branch -- Correspondence -- Archives
- Young Men's Christian Association (Buffalo, N.Y.). Michigan Avenue Branch
- University Archives (Repository, Organization)
- Finding Aid for the Michigan Avenue Y.M.C.A. records
- Finding aid prepared by Archives staff.
- Description rules
- Language of description