Lydia T. Wright papers
Scope and Contents
The collection contains research material on school integration including press clippings, speeches, and correspondence related to efforts to integrate the school system of Buffalo, New York. The collection includes clippings that form a sequential record of Dr. Wright's appointment, her impact on the community and issues requiring Board action during her tenure.
Meeting minutes from the Buffalo Board of Education are included in the collection (1962-1967). Additional Board of Education minutes, dating from January 10, 1968 to the present, are included in the University Archives non-university publications collection.
The collection also contains material relating to community organizations with which Dr. Wright was affiliated including the African Cultural Center, the East Side Community Organization and Build-Unity-Integrity-Liberty-Dignity (BUILD), a community action organization. Personal material in the collection includes photos of the Les Amis Social Club, buttons and photographs from the 1963 March on Washington as well as photographs of Dr. Wright at official function as a member of the School Board.
- Wright, Lydia T. (Person)
Language of Materials
Collection material in English.
Terms of Access
The bulk of the Lydia T. Wright Papers 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.
As the first African American appointed to the Buffalo Board of Education, Dr. Lydia T. Wright broke many racial barriers in order to introduce major changes to the Buffalo public school system. Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, Dr. Wright came from a home where education was highly valued. Her mother graduated from the University of Cincinnati and taught in the local public schools. Her maternal grandfather, Dr. Benjamin Hickman, attended Oberlin College and was one of the first African Americans to practice medicine in Cincinnati.
Dr. Wright attended the University of Cincinnati and Fisk University. Then in 1947 she received her medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. After her marriage to Dr. Frank G. Evans in 1951, the couple moved to Buffalo where they opened a practice on Jefferson Avenue. During her 36 year career as a pediatrician, Dr. Wright served on the staff of several local hospitals and on the faculty of the University at Buffalo's medical school.
In 1962 she made history when she was appointed the first African American on the Buffalo Board of Education. Dr. Wright's views on integration and education were quoted from a 1964 Buffalo Evening News article in her August 2006 obituary written by Janice L. Habuda: "Most Negroes look upon school integration as a guarantee that their children will learn and will soar to great heights of achievement. This is a myth. Children coming from homes where there is order and high expectations have a good chance of success in school. But children from homes where parents seldom read... where there is no routine, nor high expectations, these children create chaos in the classrooms. They are under-achievers and potential dropouts. Whether or not a child attends an integrated school, he never will succeed, unless he receives worthwhile instruction in that school."
Dr. Wright's work on the Buffalo Board of Education raised the standards for all students attending the public schools. She has been recognized for her work through numerous awards and recognitions including the Red Jacket Award of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society presented to the Wrights in 1980 for their service to the city of Buffalo. Over her career, Dr. Wright served on the Board of Directors of Planned Parenthood (1960-1962), was a Diplomat of the American Board of Pediatric, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and listed in the first edition of Who's Who of American Women. She died in Buffalo on August 23, 2006.
Habuda, Janice L. "WRIGHT - Dr. Lydia T., broke racial and gender barriers." Buffalo News. August 25, 2006
During the 1963-1964 school year, the Buffalo Board of Education was required to decide which schools would send their pupils to the new Woodlawn Junior High School, scheduled to open in September 1964. The question of district boundaries became a dispute over racial balance in the schools. Dr. Wright, a board member, developed a plan to integrate the school. Her plan would have resulted in an African-American student enrollment of 38 percent in the new school. The plan was defeated after a period of intense pressure on the Board from both integrationists and segregationists. In one case, the white neighborhoods around the school submitted a petition to the Board with 12,811 signatures protesting Wright's plan.
After the Board voted to make Woodlawn an exclusively African-American school, several organizations responded by organizing a successful one-day boycott, achieving 63 percent absenteeism. The following fall an attempt to boycott Woodlawn itself on the first day of school was a failure. During the next two years, events occurred to swing the Board toward a pro-integration position. The local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) petitioned Commissioner Allen of the State Education Department for relief. A reply was received in February 1965, demanding that the Board produce a program for integration by May 1, 1965.
In December 1964, Judge Desmond, Chief Justice of the State Court of Appeals, condemned the impotence of school boards in dealing with segregation. Pressure from Commissioner Allen, Judge Desmond and pro-integration organizations compelled "the Board to develop a liberal consensus" in the integration of the Buffalo schools. (School Desegregation in the North, Eight Comparative Case Studies of Community Structure and Policy Making, Robert L. Crain et all. National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago, April 1966).
There was publicity, if not action, for Dr, Wright's proposals to improve the quality of education. She made a plea for diversity sensitive textbooks to replace those with martinet characters like Dick and Jane. She researched, wrote and presented a plan for reorganizing the high schools so that individual schools would specialize in areas of their curriculum, such as science, music, language or the arts. This plan would have an impact on integration as well as upon the quality of instruction.
7.3 Linear Feet (10 manuscript boxes, 6 half manuscript boxes, 15 flat boxes, 1 oversize box)
The collection contains research material on school integration including press clippings, speeches, and correspondence related to efforts to integrate the school system of Buffalo, New York as well as other civil rights issues including the 1963 March on Washington. Collection also includes personal memorabilia and family papers.
This collection is arranged in eight series:
- Racial Balance in Buffalo
- Background on Integration
- Board of Education
- Community Organizations
- Personal Memorabilia
Papers were donated to the University Archives by Dr. Lydia T. Wright, Summer 1968.
Accruals and Additions
No further accruals are expected to this collection.
Collection processed by Archives staff in the 1970s.
- African American women -- New York (State) -- Buffalo
- African American women educators -- New York (State) -- Buffalo
- African Americans -- Civil rights
- African Americans -- New York (State) -- Buffalo
- African Americans in medicine -- New York (State) -- Buffalo
- Buffalo (N.Y.). Board of Education
- Buttons (information artifacts)
- Civil rights demonstrations -- Washington (D.C.)
- Clippings (information artifacts)
- Community organization -- New York (State) -- Buffalo Region
- March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (1963 : Washington, D.C.)
- Minutes (administrative records)
- Pediatricians -- New York (State) -- Buffalo
- School integration -- Buffalo (N.Y.)
- School yearbooks
- Speeches (documents)
- Finding Aid for the Lydia T. Wright papers
- Finding aid prepared by Archives staff; revised by Archive staff in 1997; additional revisions made in May 2006 at the time of encoding by Sheryl Saxby; Biographical Note was updated in August 2006 by Jessica Tanny.
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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- Language of description note