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Michigan Avenue Y.M.C.A. records

 Collection — Box: 1-6
Identifier: MS-0004

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of administrative records including minutes, reports and a leather bound book which contains the "Covenant" of the Michigan Avenue Y.M.C.A., signed by the members of the Board of Managers. Also included in the collection are photographs (1927-1962) and scrapbooks which contain clippings, leaflets, programs and copies of "The Y's Messenger," a Michigan Avenue Y.M.C.A. newsletter. The final series contains additional material that relates to the Michigan Avenue Y.M.C.A. including material regarding the Coordinating Council of Negro Affairs (CCNA), a "History and Organization" of the Michigan Avenue Y.M.C.A. and memorabilia which includes a W.E.B. DuBois 1936 Appearance Flyer.


  • circa 1920-1970
  • circa 1975
  • June 2006


Language of Materials

Collection material in English.

Terms of Access

The Michigan Avenue Y.M.C.A. Records, circa 1920-1970, are open for research.


Copyright of papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the University Archives before publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Most papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures unless otherwise specified.

Historical Note

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.


4.5 Linear Feet (6 manuscript boxes)


The collection consists of administrative records including minutes, reports, photographs and scrapbooks which contain clippings, leaflets, programs and copies of "The Y's Messenger," a Michigan Avenue Y.M.C.A. newsletter.


This collection is arranged in four series:

  1. I. Notebooks
  2. II. Scrapbooks
  3. III. Photographs
  4. IV. Additional Materials

Acquisition Information

The records in this collection were deposited in the Archives by Arthur J. Griffa, Associate General Executive, Buffalo Y.M.C.A., March 25, 1975, by way of Lillian Williams, Assistant Professor, Department of African American Studies, State University of New York at Buffalo.

Accruals and Additions

No further accruals are expected to this collection.

Related Resources in the University Archives

  1. MS 170, YMCA Buffalo Niagara Records, 1852-2006

Related Resources in Other Repositories

  1. Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota

Processing Information

Collection processed by Archives staff, ca. 1975. Finding aid revised in June 2006 by Sheryl Saxby. Finding aid encoded in EAD by Sheryl Saxby, June 2006.


Finding Aid for the Michigan Avenue Y.M.C.A. records
Finding aid prepared by Archives staff.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • November 2014: Finding aid migrated to ArchivesSpace by Gabrielle Carlo

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives Repository

420 Capen Hall
Buffalo New York 14260-1674 US
716-645-3714 (Fax)