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UB Project Honors "Uncrowned Kings"

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – This Friday, the "Uncrowned Queens" project at UB will honor the other half of the African American community. The local and national web site formally unveils its "Uncrowned Kings" initiative.

The expanded project will recognize African American men from the past and present who have been integral to the fabric of the community. WBFO's Joyce Kryszak brings us a sample of some of the Uncrowned Kings stories that the project will preserve.

There was no crown for Luther when he was born in 1927 to Minnie and Ellis Burnette. He was the youngest of six children born to the couple on a small farm in rural Arkansas. They lost the farm when the depression came. Then, when Luther was barely three, his father died. Still, Burnette said his mother taught him that being poor didn't mean living without dignity.

Burnette said his mother never turned anyone away. She always shared what she had. That was another important lesson Burnette took to heart. The 80 year-old man has been working and sharing ever since.

He defied segregation, paying his own tuition to complete high school. He served for 40 years in the army and the reserves. He went to college in Buffalo and worked for the county.

But mostly, Burnette worked for the community.

Burnette was on the front lines of the local civil rights movement. He is a past chapter president of C.O.R.E., the Congress of Racial Equity, and worked side by side with Saul Alinsky to found BUILD, Building Unity Independence and Liberty. But Burnette said no one was handing out any crowns to him then either.

This and other unheralded stories are why the Uncrowned Queens decided there are some men who also deserve crowns. So far, about 100 and counting. Barbara Seals Nevergold is one of the project's founders. She said Burnette is typical of the African American men who were community builders in so many different ways.

She said many of them were self taught and had numerous vocations and talents. One of those men was her deceased father, Reverend Willy Brown Seals.

The self-taught minister and musician also worked at the Chevy plant to support his nine children. But his daughter said it was as a photographer that Seals made his biggest contribution. She said he reflected the view of the African American community through the lens of an African American.

Seals Nevergold said it is the diversity of those lives and contributions that the project tries to capture - both those past and present.

And she said that recognition could not be complete without one of Buffalo's leading citizen's today, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. But the mayor said he is pleased to see less recognizable men also honored.

The organization said that is a legacy that goes far beyond African American history. Seals Nevergold said African Americans were not - and are not - isolated within their own communities.

Anyone who would like to nominate an "Uncrowned King" is invited to submit a biography telling his unique story. The first round of Kings will be honored at a reception at UB's Allen Hall Friday night.

Click the "listen" icon above to hear Joyce Kryszak's story now or use your podcasting software to download it to your computer or iPod.

You can also download Joyce's full-length interview with honoree, Luther Burnette.