Author: Kelly Carroll
The East Side, shunned and abandoned by the previous generation, is on the rise. The Dyngus Day celebration in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood attracts more attendees every year, bringing folks whose parents or grandparents knew Polonia as their home. I am among them. My maternal ancestors first settled in this area at the turn of the twentieth century, and according to census data, cohabited small houses with other Polish immigrant families. They moved a lot, and called Gibson, Cable, Schmarbeck, Theodore, Sobieski and Kosciuscko Streets home. Thanks to the recent creation of the Broadway-Fillmore Historic District via the hard work of Preservation Buffalo-Niagara, some of these modest homes will be preserved for future generations of families as a testament to Buffalo’s immigrant history.
Broadway-Fillmore has served as a neighborhood for people seeking a better life for nearly 150 years. After the initial Polish settlement of the 1870s, African-Americans arrived from the South. During the Great Migration of 1917-1970, six million African-Americans departed the untenable hardships of the Southern United States and moved to urban centers in the North. Thousands of them found labor, opportunity, and ultimately residence in Buffalo. By the mid-twentieth century, a cocktail of urban decentralization, block-busting, disinvestment, redlining, and the opening of the Kensington Expressway in 1971 resulted in the complete racial segregation of Buffalo’s East Side.
Despite these obstacles, there persists a strong African-American identity and community in this section of the city, and it is growing to welcome others. Since 2003, the City of Good Neighbors has resettled over ten thousand refugees from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Eritrea, many of whom now call former Polonia home. Despite the incredible hardships this area has faced, the East Side has proved to be both resilient and sustainable, with each new wave of settlement as a testament to this locale’s fortitude.
This Dyngus Day, when we as descendants return in droves of merriment to old Polonia, remember that it is still a neighborhood where families live. The Dyngus Day festivities are assets to the area’s revitalization, but last year, the celebrations visually left the neighborhood worse than we found it. While honoring our shared culture in our ancestral neighborhood, respect the ground that you stand on rather than defile it. The amount of garbage left on the streets and embarrassingly strung about on tree limbs along the parade route in 2018 was disgraceful. If you are proud of your heritage, do not treat this section of the city as if it is an annual fair ground. The clock did not stop in 1965 when our grandparents moved to Cheektowaga or Depew. It remains a living, breathing, community on the rise–with a bright past, present and future of which are all a part of.
The Carroll family will host a post-Dyngus Day cleanup of Memorial Drive on Tuesday, April 23rd at 11:00 am. Meet at the circle on Memorial Drive.
Kelly Carroll is a 3rd generation Polish/Irish American and grew up off East Delavan Avenue in Pine Hill. She holds a Master of Science in Historic Preservation from Columbia University and serves as the Director of Advocacy & Community Outreach for the Historic Districts Council in New York City.