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Buffalo lawmakers approve BLM street signs along Fillmore Avenue

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP
Buffalo's measure expands a trend in other cities. In June, Washington, DC officially declared a portion of 16th Street in front of the White House "Black Lives Matter Plaza."

Fillmore Avenue cuts across Buffalo, from Main Street in North Buffalo to Seneca Street in South Buffalo. Soon, it will be Black Lives Matter Way.

It's a sign of the tensions in our society and exposing the racial evidence that has been sitting there for centuries. It all blew up when George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police officers in May, triggering an array of protests locally, as deaths, incidents and investigations continue nationally.

Buffalo Common Council members Tuesday voted to apply "Black Lives Matter Way" signs the length of Fillmore - not re-naming the street, but coming close.

Much of Fillmore is in the Masten District, represented by Councilmember Ulysees Wingo, who said the signs reflect social change.

"The unveiling of this movement, it is such a monumental expression of what is necessary moving forward, with the climate the way it has been, with the relations of police and African Americans. We want to make sure that we say it loud and clear and not just in the vein of the movement, but we want to make sure that we say loud and clear that Black lives do matter," he said.

The signs are another part of the re-thinking of the role of  President Millard Fillmore, a major figure in Buffalo's growth. He played a vital role in many local organizations, including helping start the University at Buffalo.

However, he also signed off on the Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Law, allowing Southern slaveowners to come North and claim African Americans were their slaves, even without proof. This was in the middle of a great national debate over slavery and abolition, which culminated a decade later in the Civil War. UB is now taking Fillmore's name off most aspects of the school.

"Until we treat all people with the same dignity and respect and the values, Black Lives Matter will be just a movement and not an expression of reality or truth," said Wingo. "We need to make sure that we are continuing as local leaders in a community that speaks truth to power and this is more than just a trail-blazing sign, this is our heart. This is our sentiment. This is our belief."

The Council's measure still requires approval from Mayor Byron Brown, which is likely.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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