Frank P. Besag papers
Scope and Contents
The 1967 Buffalo uprising was one of a series of incidents of civil unrest known as the “Long Hot Summer of 1967.” Though preceded by individual events such as the Watts Rebellion (Los Angeles) of 1965 and the Division Street uprising (Chicago) of 1966, this succession of confrontations gained momentum and exploded across the country in spontaneous protest against unemployment, segregation, and police brutality, the most destructive taking place in Newark and Detroit. The Buffalo incident took place primarily on the East Side, a neighborhood that had been home to each wave of new arrivals to the city, starting with German immigrants in the 19th century. The largest migration of Black Americans to Buffalo came after World War II, and, as each group had done before it, they took on the low-wage jobs abandoned by their predecessors—in this case, Polish immigrants, many of whom still lived in the neighborhood. However, unlike the white German, Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants, Black people could not circumvent economic disadvantage by securing political power, nor could they combat generational poverty through education in an era of school segregation.
The 1960s were also a time of deindustrialization that affected Rust Belt cities in particular. Two of the largest steel companies in Buffalo, Bethlehem Steel and Republic Steel, laid off thousands of Buffalonians in the 1960s. Black steelworkers often held the least senior positions, and their employment was the most precarious. Unemployment was a problem across the city, and in other cities like Buffalo, but the effect was more devastating in the Black community. Police misconduct against Black people was also a major source of racial tension in Buffalo, and it was against this backdrop that the conflicts began.
On June 26, 1967, two white police officers intervened in an argument between two Black teenagers at the Lakeview Projects, public housing residences on Buffalo’s West Side. The confrontation escalated quickly into violence but ultimately ended with the residents returning home. The next night, approximately 200 people, many of whom were residents of the Lakeview Projects, responded with vandalism and arson. The action spread to the East Side where it continued until July 1, nearly shutting down the city as each night drew larger crowds. About 80 people were injured, but there were no casualties.
As a result of the events of 1967 and the preceding two years, President Lyndon B. Johnson established the Kerner Commission on July 28, 1967. The Commission’s main finding was that the unrest resulted from frustration at the lack of economic opportunity, and the report made recommendations to address this disparity. President Johnson ignored these recommendations.
In his book, Frank Besag states that the original purpose of the study was to create an objective statement as to the facts of the events as well as the causes, specifically to arbitrate the difference between reporting by Buffalo-based media and coverage by larger media outlets; however, he notes that the four types of data collected—formal records such as census data and police logs; new media reports; eye witness accounts; and interviews with residents who were not directly involved—“did not lend themselves to “factual reporting,’” and that “for these reasons [the report] is not purely factual but rather describes the perspectives of the participants,” specifically those directly involved: Police, Black residents, and Polish-American residents of the South East Side.
The study was prompted by residents who had witnessed the events. They approached the Woodlawn Education Information Center, one of three Title I-funded Storefront Education Information Centers—two on the East Side and one in Lackawanna—sponsored by the Cooperative Urban Extension Center (CUEC), a consortium of Erie and Niagara County colleges and universities. The Storefronts had good existing relationships with the residents and served to create a safe environment for the interviewees. The CUEC, under Director Robert Berner, and the University at Buffalo, under President Martin Meyerson, provided funds and appointed researchers for the study.
Alfonso, R. I. (2014). "They aren't going to listen to anything but violence": African Americans and the 1967 Buffalo riot. Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, 38(1), 81-117.
Griffin, D. (2017). "They Were Never Silent, You Just Weren't Listening: Buffalo's Black Activists in the Age of Urban Renewal" (Senior thesis, Trinity College, Hartford, CT). Retrieved from http://digitalrepository.trincoll.edu/theses/641
- Besag, Frank P. (Person)
Terms of Access
The Frank P. Besag papers are open for research. However, rights release forms for the interviews and transcripts were either never completed and/or deposited with the collection. The transcripts may only be accessed onsite within the library at this time.
Copyright: Copyright in these 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.
Frank Besag joined the faculty of the University at Buffalo’s School of Education in 1965 as an Assistant Professor. Immediately after the 1967 events, University at Buffalo President Martin Meyerson asked Besag to conduct a study on the causes.
.417 Linear Feet (1 manuscript box)
Language of Materials
This collection contains individual and group interviews which were used as source material for Frank Besag's book Anatomy of a Riot: Buffalo, 1967, a case study comprised primarily of interviews with witnesses to the events in Buffalo from June 26 through July 1, 1967. Also included are newspaper clippings about the study and a copy of the book.
The collection is arranged by interview number. The interviews are preceded in the box by the book Anatomy of a Riot: Buffalo, 1967 and a folder of newspaper clippings about the book.
The Frank Besag Papers were donated to the University Archives from September 1967 through July 1968.
Collection processed by Archives staff.
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- 2019 November 19: Contextual notes expanded and folder list edited by Marie Elia.