Many have lauded Frank B. Mesiah, president of the Buffalo Branch of the NAACP, as a tireless advocate for equality.
Mesiah sat down with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer to talk about civil rights in the weekly “In Focus” interview series.
Here is a summary of some of the issues discussed. Watch the full six-minute interview above or at www.buffalonews.com/video.
Meyer: We hear the statement made so often: Buffalo is one of the most segregated cities in the nation ... Is that statement true?
Mesiah: Research shows that it is. But Buffalo is also, like many other cities, suffering from the scientific research that was done in the development of this country, where people who did scientific work “proved” that African-Americans were almost less than human – did not have the same kind of intelligence. It helped create a segregated system. And that scientific research ... wasn’t true.
Meyer: So you’re saying ... these stereotypes ... have sort of prevailed. How do you think that translates in the year 2012?
Mesiah: Things are not the same as they were back in 1884, but they’re not like they should be ... People are still working toward a better society of equality for all people.
Meyer: What activities [is] your group involved in to try to bring those goals to fruition?
Mesiah: We’ve been involved in voter mobilization, registering people to vote ... The NAACP [also] did take to court 13 of the 14 major lenders who still were practicing discrimination in mortgage interest rates and were charging African-Americans more interest than they were white people who had ... the same credit background ...
Even though things are changing, they still have not reached the point where we can talk about equality, because major corporations and individuals are behaving this way.
We see now with the president of the United States – people claiming he’s not an American. They can’t believe that this African-American is an American.
Meyer: Do you think that’s race? I mean, could he be [100 percent] Caucasian and still have the same life circumstances where people would make maybe the same assertion?
Mesiah: I’ve been around for a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of presidential campaigns. Never have I seen a campaign where the president or anybody competing for president would be called un-American ... To me, and to many [others], it’s because there are many whites in this country who cannot fathom the idea that somebody of color could be in charge and be the president of the United States.
Meyer: We’re here in the [Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor] ... How is this area significant to your group?
Mesiah: The Niagara Movement had its first start with a meeting next door in the Talberts’ house. From that, the Niagara Movement kind of dissolved, but it then re-created itself in helping form the NAACP ... Its prime purpose has been equality.